So you decided to write a book.
You have been slogging for a while and bit by bit you have added several thousand words to your trusty folder or notebook.
Now, you are not able to move forward. You have been stuck here longer than you wanted.
You know you have the words down. And, words make the book. But your words do not look like a book.
Does this sound like you?
If yes, then you need a structure.
A structure can help you to convert your words into a book.
It can help you turn your sincere but unmanageable word dump into palatable prose.
A good structure also makes a subject interesting for your readers and allows you to hook them. When that happens you get an opportunity to build a connection and serve them with your work.
Five Structure Options For Your Book
Structure of a book guides how you organize ideas or content. It is different from the format that guides how a book is laid out in terms of appearance.
Here are some possible structures you can use to write a nonfiction book.
#1 | Personal Narrative Driven Book
You can start with a personal narrative and even make a detailed section out of it. You can then have a section or two where you go deep into tips or tricks of what you are trying to teach.
Check out Stephen King’s On Writing if you want to see this format in play.
King has organized On Writing into five sections:
- C.V.: In this section King highlights events in his life that influenced his writing career;
- What Writing Is: King urges the reader to take writing seriously;
- Toolbox: He discusses English mechanics;
- On Writing: King details his advice to aspiring writers; and
- On Living: A Postscript, here King describes his van accident and how it affected his life.
This is one of my favorite structures. With this, you can make your personal narrative part of the book which makes it easy to differentiate your book from others. Something to keep in mind here – unless you are calling your book a memoir like Stephen King – you need to tell your story in a way so that your personal narrative does not overpower the theme of the book.
#2 | A Story for Every Chapter
There is another structure that is simple to follow where you begin each chapter with a story, then use it to lead into the meat of that chapter.
#3 | An Essay Collection
If you are a blogger and have a good body of work then you can convert your blog posts/essays into a book. You can even plan for it and write your blog posts on a theme with an intent to convert it into a book.
Seth Godin, the ace marketer, personal development blogger Steve Pavlina, Leo Babauta who writes on mindfulness and Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of Basecamp come to mind as people who have used this structure for their books.
Jason Fried wrote about the genesis of their first book Getting Real in a post about selling by-products.
Getting Real is a by-product. We wrote that book without even knowing it. The experience that came from building a company and building software was the waste from actually doing the work. We swept it up first into blog posts, then into a workshop series, then into a PDF, then into a paperback, and then into a free online book. That by-product has made 37signals over $1,000,000 directly, and probably another $1,000,000+ indirectly.
James Altucher’s I Was Blind But Now I See was based on his blog posts and it did pretty well.
#4 | The Manifesto
And, if you are worried that your book will turn out to be a short one then create a manifesto.
If you have a personal manifesto – a document that sums up your beliefs and you think it will be useful for other people – you can turn that into a manifesto-style book.
A manifesto can be a statement of principles, with or without a call to action. When you base your book on it you can challenge current assumptions and give readers food for thought or drive them to change.
Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work, is a good example of a manifesto that has now turned into a classic. I am glad to have played a small part in promoting it by creating No Idling. This is a really interesting example of how you can create a book to seed another book.
#5 | The Manual
I wrote my book on digital marketing as a manual.
There were very few stories but it worked because it wasn’t a boring manual. I wrote it in modular form where each chapter was a standalone unit.
It also worked well to the extent of some readers calling it ‘the bible of digital marketing’. It got such feedback because the timing was right, I kept it tight, offered a good mix of data and words and maintained high publishing standards to come up with a solid product.
These are not the only structures you can use but I thought of sharing some inspirations to get you started.
I hope this will be useful if you are in the middle of writing a book and are not sure of how to make your big brain dump a palatable bundle of text, and even if you are thinking of writing a book.
Let me know if you have a question or if you are planning to use one of these structures to write your book.