A Simple 5-Step System for Structuring a Compelling Book

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Do you have a book idea but are confused about how to structure it in an engaging way?

Perhaps you’ve gathered lots of content from previous blog posts, articles, audios or videos. You may even have some journal entries you can use.

Now what? How do you transform this mass of content into something resembling a nonfiction book?

I have a simple 5-step system for structuring your book I teach in my Create a WOW Book Program that I’ll share with you here.

Step 1: Take an Inventory

The first thing you’ll want to do is take an inventory of your content. Here’s how I do it. I open my spreadsheet software and make two columns. The first column’s heading is “Title” and the second column’s heading is “Topic.” In the first column, I put the titles of pieces of content I’ve gathered. In the second column, I type the main topic that each piece covers.

For example, I’m working on a book about “How to Create a WOW Book.” One of my previous blog posts is entitled, Conquer the Flashing Menace: How to Get Your Ideas Out of Your Head and Down on Paper.

So, I would put that title in column one. Then in the Topic column, I would type something like “Writer’s Block.”

Go through and do that for each piece of content you have. Review your list and bring some consistency to your topics. In other words, if I put “When You’re Stuck” as the topic for one title and “Writer’s Block” for another, I’d choose one topic title and be consistent. In this case, I’ve decided to put anything to do with being stuck under “Writer’s Block.”

Once you’ve put topics next to each piece of content, sort the list by topic.

Step 2: Create Your Outline

Organize the topics in your list to create an outline from the subjects you have. You do not need to use every topic. Be willing to set some topics aside for future books. Some people who’ve been writing for years may have so much content they could write multiple books. Keep your outline streamlined and tightly niched.

So, continuing with my book example, my topics are:

- How to Decide Which Book to Write
- Gather Your Content
- Conduct Research with Facebook Groups
- Infuse the WOW Factor
- Create an Outline
- Structure Your Chapters
- Work with Your Creative Cycle
- Writing Tips
- Getting Past Writer’s Block
- Editing Strategies
- Production
- Marketing

Step 3: Expand Your Outline

Now that you have an outline, take each topic (aka chapter) and create subheadings. You’ll use the content you’ve already written to help you decide on these subheadings. You may realize you’re missing information and need to fill in a gap somewhere.

In my example, here’s a more detailed outline for the “How to Decide Which Book to Write” chapter:

How to Decide Which Book to Write
- Content
- Business Tie-In
- Audience Demand
- Experience, Knowledge & Expertise
- Passion

Step 4: The Story Sandwich

The primary strategy that can help you structure your book and infuse the “WOW” factor is to use what I call The Story Sandwich. Here’s how it works.

Start each chapter with a story – preferably one of your own. This reconnects the reader back to you and keeps them interested. There is power in a well-crafted story that creates a connection with your audience. So start each chapter with a story.

Get to the Meat. Explain the principles gleaned from or illustrated by your story, and continue with the meat of your chapter.

Add Supporting Stories. Include more stories that corroborate what you’re teaching. These can be other people’s stories. For example, in my “How to Decide Which Book to Write” chapter, I could ask participants in my Create A WOW Book Mentoring Program to send me a written explanation of how they evaluated their book ideas using the 5 elements in my outline.

This does three things:

- Gives the reader real-life examples of the principles I’m teaching. People learn best by example!
- Helps me beef up the content of my book without having to write more myself.
- Builds in marketing-leverage from the get-go. People who have stories in the book will want to promote it.

Step 5: Summary and Take-Aways

Some ideas for end-of-chapter wrap-ups include:

- Recap what the reader should have learned in the chapter.
- Give the reader ideas for applying what they’ve learned to their situation.
- Include thought provoking questions.
- Issue challenges.
- Assign homework.

That’s it – the simple 5-step system for structuring a compelling book. Now it’s your turn. Take an inventory of your content and start sorting. I’d love to hear if you found this method helpful! Please post your comments and questions about the system below.

Marnie Pehrson
Marnie Pehrson, the creator of IgnitePoint.com, is a best-selling author, speaker, and online publicist who helps Light Bearers build influential online platforms. Marnie is also a wife and mother of 6 and the author of 23 fiction and nonfiction titles.
Marnie Pehrson
Marnie Pehrson
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  1. Marnie,

    I love your story structure, especially the story sandwich. Giving people real-life stories and examples are essential to make a book compelling. One of my college professors phrased it as “Put toads in your garden.”

    Lynne Klippel’s post http://businessbuildingbooks.com/50-shades-of-book-buyers parallels what you’ve said when she stresses writing for and not to your reader.
    Flora Brown recently posted..Here’s A Chance to Be in My Next BookMy Profile

  2. FABulous distillation of your process. Your friends excitedly clamor, “Marnie’s done it again, another great idea made real.” You have a gift girl.. of doing so much and making it look like a breeze. Thanks for sharing the ‘inner workings.’ LOL, love it!
    Adela Rubio recently posted..Rituals for Awakening: Let’s Celebrate the Light!My Profile

  3. Nice article, Marnie. Thanks! You never fail to provide quality content.

  4. Great Content Marnei
    I am working on a book and this couldn’t have come at a better time.
    You are always very generous with you content. Thanks for sharing.
    I have a small but strong following on linkedin at
    https://linkedin.com/in/BizCoachOjo

    Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help promote your book
    Blessings

    Augustine

  5. Great Article Marnie- Your ideas on using stories are spot on. I like to think of structuring a chapter to appeal to the right brain with stories and the left brain with logical content. Your story sandwich idea makes it easy to do just that.
    Lynne Klippel recently posted..Looking Back and Looking Ahead: 2013 TrendsMy Profile

    • Thanks, Lynne! You’re absolutely right about the left brain-right brain thing. I know I love a good story. When I’m talking to someone new, they might tell me about their business or what they do, but I never fully connect with them until I hear their story. Our stories creates connections and makes us memorable. It will do the same thing for a book.

  6. Well, Marnie, I’m probably not the only one who is still doing this sort of thing with a bulletin board and sticky notes, right? I want my ideas looming over me in real life, not just on my computer screen, so I can’t click away and ignore them. I have to look them in the eye every morning and that motivates me to bring them to life. Old technology, I know…

  7. The first writing teacher I ever had in junior high used to say almost your exact words “wrap a story around every fact explain.” Your structure is useful, especially for beginning writers who just simply don’t know how to start. Thanks for sharing this with us.
    Sue Painter recently posted..Is E-Coaching A Good Match For You?My Profile

    • When I was learning to write fiction, my writing coach taught me the importance of “showing versus telling.” Stories show. Without stories and examples, I feel like I’m just lecturing and putting everyone to sleep. :)