How are you going to organize your book?

Posted August 26th @ 6:59 am by Roger C. ParkerPrint

Ideas and tips for organizing your book and creating a table of contents.

After creating your book’s mission statement, (Question 26), identify the steps that readers must take to solve their problems or achieve their goals.

Organize your book for easier writing and higher sales

Once you’ve organized your reader’s journey into a few key segments, you’ll find it easier to identify the chapters that will appear in each section of your book.

Writing like Shakespeare (and Steve Jobs)

William Shakespeare and Steve Jobs both understood the importance of chunking.

Chunking refers to organizing a complex message–like a play, a MacWorld presentation, or your book–into a simple structure with a beginning, middle, and end.

Steve Jobs’ MacWorld presentations were legendary, as Carmine Gallo describes in his bestselling book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience.

Steve Jobs built his presentations around Shakespeare’s 3-act structure.

Indeed, if you study the structure of Carmine Gallo’s book, as shown in the mind map of the book’s contents, above, you’ll see that it, too, is based around a 3-act beginning, middle, and end.

Why is chunking so important?

Chunking benefits both authors and readers.

Chunking is a key productivity and personal development tool. Chunking takes complex, often-overwhelming tasks, (i.e., write a book), and breaks them into a series of easier-to-complete tasks, (i.e., prepare an introduction to Chapter 3) or (finish chapter 8).

In the case of Carmine Gallo’s Presentation Secrets, the problem of an 18 chapter book is that it sounds like a lot of work to read.  Yet, the same number of chapters appears a lot more manageable when organized into 3 sections. (Notice, in the example above, that Carmine Gallo renamed the sections of his book acts and the chapters are called scenes.)


Equally important to both authors and readers, each of the sections provides an important landmark, a way of measuring progress. Just like you enjoy a feeling of progress when you pass from one time zone to another while driving across the country, there’s a feeling of completion and “fresh start” when proceeding from section 1 to section 2, and when you leave section 2 and enter the section 3 home stretch.

Evaluating ideas

Organizing a book into sections also makes it easier to determine where facts, ideas, and stories should appear in your book. Does this idea belong in the beginning, middle, or the end? Once you’ve identified the section where the idea should appear, it becomes easier to identify the chapter within the section.

Equally important, after you become accustomed to thinking in terms of sections and chapters, it becomes easier to discard ideas which don’t logically fit in any of the sections!.

Other book organizing options

Although the 3-part structure is extremely popular for nonfiction books, other options are possible. You can choose to organize your book into a 2-part, “before” and “after” structure. Or, organize your book into 4 or 5 sections.

Another example of simplifying a complex topic by organizing it into sections is Roy Peter Clark’s bestselling book, Help! for Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces. Roy organized Help! for Writers in 7 sections.

Each section addressed a major problem area, i.e., Step Three. Finding Focus, Step Six. Assessing Your Progress, etc. Each of the sections contained 3 chapters. And each chapters contained 7 ideas.

Once the 7-3-7 structure was created, the writing that followed was a lot easier.

Tips for organizing a “how to” book

Before starting to write your book, or create your book’s table of contents, think about the overall structure of your book in terms of the primary divisions, categories of information, or steps, you want to describe.

Here’s another example; if your book is going to describe how readers can address a problem or achieve a goal, consider a 7-day book or a 30-day book:

  • 7-Day Book. A book describing how to solve a relatively simple problem in 7 days could have 7 chapters, one for each day.
  • 30-Day Book. A more complex problem or goal, however, would probably benefit from a longer, more realistic time frame. In this case, the book could have 30 chapters organized in 5 sections, Week One, Week Two, Week Three, Week Four, and Final Days.

The time you spend choosing an organizing framework for your book will be repaid many times over in the weeks, months, and years that follow. Indeed, the organizing framework you choose for your book may, itself, become one of the distinguishing benefits that sets your book apart from the competition.

Jennifer Grappone and Gradiva Couzin’s popular book, Search Engine Optimization: An Hour a Day, provides another example of successful book organization.

The book, part of a growing An Hour a Day series, succeeds because an hour doesn’t sound like much time.

If the books were presented as 12 week programs, however, they might not sell as well. But, an hour a day seems doable!

Researching on Amazon

As you research competing books in your field on, get in the habit of using the Look Inside! feature, to explore each book’s table of contents (see Question 24). You may be surprised to discover how popular it is to organize books into parts and sections.

Learn more about organizing your book

Learn more about organizing your book during Published & Profitable End-of-month Book Coaching Call, Tuesday, August 28, at 4:00 PM Eastern Time. No charge, includes handouts.  To participate, just call 605-475-6150 and enter PIN 513391#. Before the call, download a copy of my 99 Questions to Ask Before You Write and Self-publish a Brand-building Book.

No Comments Yet

You can be the first to comment!

Leave a comment

OpenID Login

Standard Login