I use this simple template to create an outline for writing a book (non-fiction, that is.)
A template removes the overwhelm that comes with a project, especially a big one. And a book is a big project – one that can be so intimidating that once get started, you can easily hit a wall.
Here’s how this outline template works. Let’s say you have brainstormed ideas for your book, sorted them, and placed them in “buckets” for each chapter. (Use this simple method to get started with that.)
The average non-fiction book is 12 chapters long. The average chapter in a non-fiction book is 2,000 words – the same length as a longish article or blog post. So if you write the equivalent of 12 longish blog posts, you’ve got a book.
So once you have 8-12 or so “buckets” of content, you’ve got a big-picture framework for your book.
Now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty.
The next step is to organize the content inside each chapter. Once you have that in place, then you’ll write your book one chapter at a time.
In fact, if you submit a book proposal to a traditional publisher, the editor expects a chapter-by-chapter synopsis as part of your submission package.
So your chapter writing outline is not just a tool for you to use as you write, but it’s also an important element in the book marketing process.
An outline for writing a book gives you a starting point by offering a ready-made structure. Each chapter has a hook followed by a main point, material that supports that point, and a takeaway that transitions the reader into the next chapter.
Use the material you gathered into your chapter “buckets” to fill in the outline. You can record each of these outline elements in bullet points or in paragraph form – whichever is easiest for you.
Once you put together your outline draft, you may discover that some chapters lack one or more of the five pieces of your outline. That is useful information to know. It shows you what material to flesh out in your research to allow you to create a complete outline.
And keep in mind that your outline isn’t a final product. As you write your book you will decide that some pieces you placed in one chapter are better suited in others. Or you may come up with a more enticing hook for one chapter or a more practical takeaway for another.
Your outline gives you a starting point to jumpstart writing your book, but it is a fluid document.
Here are the five elements you need to create an outline for each of your book’s chapters. (You can download your own copy of this template, too.)
Your chapter, most likely, won’t open with your thesis statement. Instead, you’ll open each chapter with a hook. Your chapter hook grabs your reader’s interest and reels her into the chapter. Beyond that, the hook sets up the chapter.
And since you want your outline to be as true to your chapter format as possible, record the kind of hook you will use for the chapter, whether it’s a summary hook (one that summarizes the main point of the chapter) or a creative hook (one that captures the reader’s attention, such as a provocative quote, a funny anecdote, an intriguing fact, a common misconception, a problem or mystery to be solved, an inspiring promise, a surprising statistic, a comparison, contrast, conflict, a zinger or punch statement.)
You needn’t write out the hook in your outline. You simply want to make note of it so you’re set to write once your outline is completed. And you can change your chapter hook as you start writing your book. (Here’s a quick tutorial about how to write a hook.)
Next, write out the chapter’s thesis statement. Don’t be fooled into thinking the term “thesis statement” is for academic papers only. A thesis statement is the main point of the chapter.
Your thesis statement accomplishes two things. First, it presents information. In addition, a thesis statement persuades, convinces, sways, leads, influences, motivates, advocates a viewpoint, or otherwise wins over the reader. Your thesis statement presents your position and explains what you’ll discuss in the chapter.
It’s a good idea to write out your complete thesis statement in your outline. Editors want to see it as they review your book proposal. And your thesis statement acts as a summary for your chapter content. You can refer to it as you write the chapter to keep you on track.
Your supporting content makes the case for your chapter thesis statement.
This is the guts of your chapter. Some writers say that the hook and main idea make up about 15% of a chapter and the takeaway/callback/transition are just 5%. That leaves you with 80% of the middle of the chapter to fill up with supporting content.
Your supporting content provides a point-by-point argument for your thesis statement.
You needn’t write out a complete explanation for each point in your outline. Instead, this is a good place to create a bulleted list or short phrases that you can write out in full later. Here’s how to outline the points you want to make:
Now that you’ve made your point and provided supporting content, explain how the reader can apply it. The chapter takeaway gives the reader something can “take away” with her and apply to her life, whether it is an action step, an explanation, or a deeper understanding of the chapter principle.
Write out the chapter takeaway in a full sentence in your outline. If you're stuck, these Templates for Takeaways may help.
A “tie back” is a reference to the book’s opening hook. Mention the story, statistic, or fact from the opening and tie it to the chapter takeaway. The tie back technique allows you to bookend the introduction and conclusion of the chapter with a tidy capstone. You needn’t include a tie back in each chapter, but use it when you can to frame the chapter and complete it.
Then in your outline, make note of how you will transition to the next chapter. That is, how does this chapter’s main point lead to the next one?
Download a copy of the chapter outline template here and use it to organize your chapter content.
Now that you’ve got an outline for writing a book, what’s next?
Use your outline to write a chapter. Then another. And another. (This simple book writing plan can help.)
Soon, your book will be finished.
Do you use an outline to write a book? Share your ideas in the Comments.
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