How to Outline a Nonfiction Book (Ten Steps)

Are you looking for ways to make writing easier? When it comes to writing, do you spend hours attempting to figure out how to proceed?

Want to write a nonfiction book but can’t come up with an outline? Don’t know how to start it? Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. The most miserable thing that can happen is having to scratch your head over some of your ideas while writing. The outline has a significant impact on your writing. Let’s take a look at how it works.

One of the most difficult things about self-publishing is coming up with a writing prompt that will pique your interest and drive sales. Even then, it does not guarantee a straightforward translation into a book.

A good outline is the first step in that process, and we will cover the most effective ways to outline a nonfiction book here.

This article is intended specifically for nonfiction writers like you who want to know how to create a book outline that includes a table of contents when you get from the idea stage to the final draft.

An outstanding outline for a nonfiction book begins with a single central concept and develops through a series of steps that allow you to map out your book in a way that can be edited, rearranged, and organized into an outline and table of contents.

Here is a step-by-step breakdown of what it takes to create a compelling outline for nonfiction books:

Step 1: Decide what your book will be about

Your book’s major premise must be identified before you begin writing your book plan. As someone who is in business for themselves, you probably cater to a variety of different clients who encounter a variety of challenges.

You may offer multiple solutions for different situations. Writing nonfiction, however, requires you to focus solely on the problem at hand and the solution to it.

The reason? The nonfiction audience demands the following things:

  • They have a significant problem to solve and are seeking a one-of-a-kind solution.
  • They prefer to deal with you as the expert, someone who understands their situation and can assist them in finding a solution. They don’t want to deal with a company through a book; they want to deal with you.
  • Readers want books that are tailored to their needs. You should treat them like you would a friend trying to assist them. As if it were written specifically for them, they expect your book to sound personal.

Defining your main idea is the next step. Have you designed a novel solution to solve the most significant problem faced by your audience? If so, what is it that you are addressing? Getting clear about your goals for the book will help and you’ll be amazed at what other pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

Step 2: Plan your book with a mind map

Now that you’ve determined your book’s central theme, you should write the book’s outline that clearly explains how your unique solution fixes a major issue your target audience faces. Typically, this is done by mind mapping.

Using this strategy, you can easily store and retrieve information since it mirrors how your brain works. Mind maps are visual representations of all information about a book that we currently have in our heads.

Your core idea should be placed in the center of the mind map, then you should expand outward by sketching a few main strands. The branches of your thoughts represent the main areas into which your thinking will be split up.

Next, you will divide each key topic into sub-topics, which will eventually cover your entire main topic. In your final step, you continue the procedure to further break your subtopics down.

Getting your book outline on paper is the next step after creating your mind map.

As you probably know, you will eventually turn your main branches into chapters, and then your sub-branches into sub-chapters, etc.

It is critical to first group thematically related branches and give them a title, before turning them into a section of the book.

For example:

In writing a book about how to change your audience’s beliefs to achieve goals, you might want to categorize primary branches according to themes like belief systems, perception, and the mind. They could be studied together in a subject focusing on the inner workings of the mind.

Assume you have branches representing the ways their thoughts lead to procrastination, achieving goals, dealing with strengths and flaws, etc. It is possible to group them into thematic categories based on how their minds impact their careers.

Your book’s flow will be defined once the top section of each tree has been numbered. Let’s look at an example: 

  • Part 1 explains how your mind works
  • Part 2 explains how your mind affects your career, and so on.

Step 3: Within a section, reorder key topics

By arranging all of the themes, you can make sure that every element has the right flow. Chapter numbers and titles will eventually be assigned to each major theme.

Step 4: Reorganize the sub-topics in each topic

This technique will now be repeated for each chapter. You must choose an order that best fits the flow of the subtopics that make up the main topic for that chapter.

There may be a need to merge two or more sub-sub-topics from the third level if there is one. If you prefer, keep it within an existing subtopic.

Ultimately, you will need to create sub-chapters from your sub-topics.

Step 5: Outline your book

Your book outline can be put together once you have completed the preceding steps.

Then, using your preferred word processor, enter the information in a numbered list, starting from your part numbers at the top, and tab to enter the chapters in the second level, then tab again to enter the sub-chapters underneath each chapter.

Subsequent sections should be done the same way.

An outline can be drafted easily by following these steps:

  • Your book’s structure consists of the following major parts. A narrative strategy would put them at the beginning, middle, and end of the story; however, you chose to arrange them. In your expository nonfiction, you’ll outline the key topics.
  • Let’s examine each component individually now. Jot down all the things you wish to cover in that section.
  • Take a close look at each of these sub-points to see what you can combine, what you need to separate into distinct points, what points can be subpoints of others, etc.
  • Organize the sub-points in the order you wish to address them. The sub-points are likely to overlap in some respects, so decide where you want to go into greater detail and where you just want to briefly touch on them.
  • Determine how much space you wish to dedicate to each sub-point. Then you won’t linger too long on topics that aren’t particularly relevant.

Plan, but don’t let your plans become rigid. As you conduct your investigation, you may find something you hadn’t considered before and would also like to explore further. When you write, you can change or cut things as you need.

Step 6: Select your style guide

Writing consistently is made easier with the help of a style guide. There’s a whole range of things to consider, from using the first person or second person to how you’ll write out numbers. The choice of a style guide before writing doesn’t necessarily have to be decided before you begin. However, it will make the task much more efficient. You will save time in the long run by writing consistently from the start.

Step 7: Pick your front-matter sections

Your book outline is complete, so now it is time to give it a thorough table of contents and place the front matter before the book outline.

Front matter typically includes one or more of the following sections. Adding items from this list is entirely up to you:

  1. A testimonial page or pages (optional)
  2. An overview page (mandatory)
  3. A copyright page (a vital element required on the title page)
  4. A quote or a message (optional)
  5. The dedication page (optional)
  6. Table of contents (not compulsory, though highly recommended)
  7. If possible, include a foreword from an authority in your field
  8. Preface (optional) – This part is yours
  9. Acknowledgments (optional)

Step 8: Write your book’s introduction

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to introduce your book to readers. A book’s introduction is not a synopsis of its content; rather, it is a sales pitch intended to inspire people to purchase it.

Its purpose is to entice readers by giving a glimpse of the results they might expect, but not divulging any secrets, which will be revealed later in the book.

Your introduction is the most important chapter in your book.

Towards the end of your introduction, you will begin your first chapter.  

Step 9: Pick a back matter section

Adding the necessary back matter pages after your book’s main body is the final step in completing your book outline. You have a few options to choose from below:  

1.       Afterword (optional) – Your closing statement could serve as your parting words for your book.

2.       Appendices (optional) – This can be used for additional information that does not appear in the text of the book or does not work there.

3.       Glossary (optional)

4.       Index (optional)

5.       Reference (optional)

6.     About the author (highly recommended) – Here’s where you let your readers know how to get in touch with you.  

Step 10: Prepare Your Book’s Table of Contents

Putting together the table of contents is the last step. To start your book outline, you need to identify the section, the topic, the subtopic, and the sub-subtopic, and then come up with a title for each one.

Even though a table of contents reveals only chapter titles, every title should read clearly and invite the reader to read further. The table of contents functions differently from the body book plan, which is a guide for writing your book. It serves as a navigational tool for the reader and can serve as another sales tool (more on that later).

You should craft your table of contents items in a way that motivates the reader to read each section along with following a logical flow within the book.

In addition, the chapter titles will appear at the top of every left-hand page, where there is only a limited amount of space, so they should be written in as few words as possible.

Besides serving as a secondary sales tool, your table of contents can act as a marketing tool too. Readers will be drawn to your book by its cover and title. Once they have picked it up, they will read the marketing blurb on the back cover. A potential reader may then skim over your table of contents and explore a few pages at random.

If your table of contents catches their attention, they will move on to your introduction. Your section titles must be interesting – authors have to keep their readers interested!

It’s time to write!

Having created an outline, you have accomplished most of the challenging parts. Once you have a style guide, it’s only a matter of writing your ideas down — or typing them into your computer — and making sure the little things are in order. Now that you’ve got your favorite drink, and are comfortable, it’s time to get to it.

Bottom Line

Congratulations on making it all the way! You’re now ready to begin drafting your book outline. Following these ten steps will ensure that you’ll write a great non-fiction book without having to waste your time.  

Your non-fiction book outline will be a great success if you follow the steps listed above. 

I wish you the best of luck with creating your non-fiction book outline!

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