When you start working on a project as significant as a book, you usually have a lot of questions. What should I write about? What if I leave out something important in my topic? What if I write too much, and no one even finishes half of the book? How do I make sure the topics flow? In short, how do I know it will be good?
While a lot of parts influence a thoughtful, well-organized book, one of the most important is planning. If you do the work to consider how your book should be organized, think through the support, and research other books, you are much more likely to produce a book that is valuable and clear.
However, if you adopt a “fly by the seat of your pants” mentality and instead just start putting words on paper until you have a lot of pages, you’ll most likely create a book that is confusing and shallow. You’ll also probably end up wasting time chasing rabbit trails that don't belong.
So, how do you know you’re developing your book effectively? We suggest you approach planning your book in these four areas:
1. Decide on a Focused Topic
Most writers have an idea of the subject they want to write about. However, writers sometimes forget to consider the scope of their topic and whether they need to narrow or broaden the main point of the book.
Here are a few points to consider:
#1. Amount of support
While you’re considering the topic, take some time to write down what major points you’ll need to include. One way to approach this is to pretend you’re briefly explaining your topic and what it will cover to a friend. What do you say?
These sentences will often give you an idea of the content you’d need to include.
If you find you need to talk for a long time to explain the topic and feel overwhelmed about even covering all of the information, your topic may be too broad. However, if you don't have much to say when you explain the point, you probably need to broaden your idea.
#2. Target audience
Your target audience is essential to define, because it will guide the content you cover and even the length of the book.
What do you expect them to already know? How busy are they, and will they have time to read a long book? Do they need to be persuaded or do you expect them to easily agree? Answering questions like these will create parameters for your topic.
As authors determine their focus, they should also be considering what genre the topic would best fit in. Some topics will have only one genre that will work, but some topics might suit more than one genre.
For example, perhaps you would like to write a memoir, but your story could also work if you frame it into major lessons learned, making it fit more into the self-help genre.
Thinking through these three points will help you focus the topic of your book.
2. Develop a Detailed Outline
Some writers love creating as detailed of an outline as possible, while others despise outlines and feel boxed in. You certainly want to adapt the process to how you best work, but challenge yourself to work on detailed outlines to see how they work for you.
Creating an outline for your book will not stifle your creativity. Rather, it will force your mind to be more creative because it has to think about the whole topic and how to communicate it.
You can use Word to outline your book, paper (make sure there is a backup copy!), Evernote, Scrivener, and even a white board. But you must list out all of your major points and sub-points. This will help you see how everything works together, how it flows, and if there is content missing.
Outlines also save you time, because you’re planning out your work so that when you sit to work, you know exactly what to write.
3. Determine the Necessary Support
Now that you have your topic and outline in place, think about how you’ll support each sub-point. First-time authors often struggle with writing that is generic and surface-level. Planning detailed content can help combat this temptation.
You may need to brainstorm personal illustrations, or you may need to interview people. Your topic could require statistics and studies. You’ll probably need to read other books and weave in the support of other reputable authors. Be sure to think through how you will support and prove your main topic.
4. Discover Your Book’s Comp Titles
Simply put, comparison titles (or “comp” titles) are books that are similar to yours. Setting aside time to research comp title is incredibly valuable, as it will help make your book distinct. Researching will give you ideas to make your book better, and will show you what other authors have and have not done well.
Researching comp title will often coincide with the first 3 steps. As you begin to narrow down the focus of your book and define its genre, you’ll certainly want to look at other titles to ensure your book is distinct. Comp titles will also help guide steps 2 and 3.
To achieve success as you research, be sure to review the major points of other books. Look at how their Table of Contents is organized, and read a couple of chapters (at least) to get a sense for how they are backing up their points. Make sure to write down what you do and do not like about each book.
In addition, research titles slightly outside your topic. It could be that the layout of one book gives you a great idea. It may also be that you read from an author you don't agree with, but come across something useful, or simply strengthen why your beliefs in your topic.
Conducting research will help you see what other authors have said, where the holes in the topic are, and how other authors have supported their points. This will also help you fill in any gaps on your topic currently missing in other books.
Your Book’s roadmap
Following these steps as you start a book will help you ensure success as you move forward with the your content. But what if you’ve already finished your rough draft? Is it too late to plan your book?
The good news is that this process applies just as much to a rough draft. If you already have words on paper—great. Now, you’ll take these 4 steps and apply each of them to the manuscript you already have.
If you would like help planning your book, you can contact us about our Roadmap Outline. In this service, one of our skilled editors works with you to plan your focus, develop an outline, brainstorm support, and research comp titles. Please visit Publish Your Book and fill out the submission form for more information