How to Plan the Structure of Your Book

Although non-fiction books don't contain the classic narrative arc of novels, they still need to take the reader on a journey of understanding.

To write a good book, you need to get inside your reader’s head. You need to see the world as they see it, and structure your content so that it connects with the person reading it—and that person is not you!

Your uniqueness is great when you want to articulate a concept that stands out. But you also need to be able to see the world as a reader sees it, if you are to understand, empathize, and communicate with them through that wonderful medium that is your book.

Think very specifically about the people you want to read your book. Picture a couple of specific clients, or colleagues, or acquaintances. Think about what they want, what questions they most often ask you, the way you typically present your ideas in a conversation or a presentation. With that picture of your reader and their needs in your mind, it’s time to set up a plan for your book structure.

1. Start with your book’s central idea.

In one sentence, what’s your book about? Don’t worry about making it sound great or whether it will make sense to anyone else just yet—this sentence only needs to make sense for you.

If you’re writing a how-to book, a good way to structure your central idea is “how can I . . .” for example, “how can I help female entrepreneurs create a distinctive brand?”

2. Make a mind map.

Get a blank piece of poster paper and write your central idea in the middle of the page. What other ideas does this sentence spur?

Start drawing a mind map, with lines pointing from your central idea to each related idea, then lines pointing from each related idea to more related ideas.

Keep brainstorming – can you think of any real-world examples related to these ideas? What about statistics, quotes, case studies, or stories in the media? Add them to your mind map. Even add reminders to look something up, or to call so-and-so about her experience – you’ll forget them if you don’t.

3. Organize your mind map.

Review your mind map (which probably looks like a big mess right now) and see if there are any common themes that come up. Have you said the same thing twice? Or are there a couple of ideas that are related, but they’re on opposite sides of the page? Use some colored highlighters or pens to link related items.

Then sketch a new, more organized, mind map, grouping the common ideas. These ideas will become the main sections or chapters of your book.

If your book is a how-to book, think about the process you use to help your readers achieve the results they want. How can you group the ideas on your mind map into the steps of your process?

4. Plan individual chapters.

Write down each chapter/section topic on a blank page (don’t worry about the actual chapter titles yet – you can work on these later. Right now, we’re just organizing your brain).

For each chapter, which points do you need to cover to discuss that topic in detail? Once you’ve listed those points, can you break any of those into smaller points? Are there any examples you can use to explain an individual point?

List out the main points you’ll cover in each chapter, the examples you want to use, and even your quotes.

Describe each point at a high level (either in bullet points or a couple of paragraphs), and do the same for each example. Include links and references you can use to look up more information if you want to go into more depth.

5. Write your book!

Once you’ve broken down every point in your plan into as much detail as possible, start writing your book. The more detailed your plan, the less you’ll have to write.

As you get started, you’ll see that because you’ve planned so thoroughly, the writing can proceed much more smoothly. Essentially, you’re just putting flesh onto the skeleton of your notes. (Welcome, Dr. Frankenstein!)

Photo by Giulia May on Unsplash


If you need more help with structuring your non-fiction book or if you’re interested in my other services, please view the tab “Services” on my website.

Coming in 2022: my new online course on writing book proposals! In the meantime, check out my course on building your author platform:

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