You’ll need an outline. Write down a half-dozen or so basics, then do some free-association thinking, some brainstorming.
I’ll discuss later a variety of book types, but one popular form is the memoir. If you are going to write a memoir, the story of part of your life, as you experienced it, it will be not the whole truth, but some of it, and none of it should be false, although nobody’s memory is perfect. You start with a simple outline and then fill in the details.
Here is a very simple preliminary outline for your memoir:
· Crisis: catch the reader’s attention with something dramatic.
· Background: what led up to it.
· Outcome: what followed, immediately and in the long run.
· Lessons learned: what did you learn and what can others take away?
Let’s analyze my own memoir with respect to this outline:
· Crisis: In the first book that I wrote, Ting and I: a Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion, the first chapter describes the life-and-death situation my wife, Tina (born “Su Ting-ting” in China), faced due to an exacerbation of her multiple sclerosis that left her quadriplegic, on a ventilator, fed and medicated through a gastric tube, with the prognosis that she would live only a few months.
· Background: Who are these people? How did they come to this point in their lives? What is the cause of the crisis? What is the possible resolution? How likely is that? The next chapters traced Tina’s life and mine to our meeting, our parting, our re-uniting, and our marriage. Then her multiple sclerosis worsened.
· Outcome: What followed from the crisis? What are the implications both for the writer and for people who he/she really cares about? Tina’s life as a quadriplegic and mine as a caregiver and care-manager was described.
· Lessons learned: What did the writer take away from this experience? What should others learn as well? Themes were the power of love, the importance of marriage, the value of life even when seriously disabled.
That was pretty easy, wasn’t it?
Because memoirs are stories, we can profit from the advice of S. Evans (2015) with respect to novels, start with a bang: “The beginning of the story is what is going to capture the reader….” He says to make them wonder about the outcome of something. Sketch the setting, the way a cartoonist would. Introduce the main character, someone to like or dislike strongly. Give only a little background information.
The memoir will have lots of stories. As with fiction, the writer needs to make sure the reader learns the answers to the questions journalists pose for themselves: Who? What? When Where? Why? How? The little stories need to start with implicit headlines to alert the reader to what is coming: “It was a dark and stormy night….” Snoopy knew what to write! [Though Edward Bullwer-Lytton’s opening line has often been mocked.]
Another popular type is the how-to book. Let’s develop a short outline format:
· What you are trying to do.
· Why it is important to you.
· Materials you’ll need.
· Step-by-step instructions for accomplishing it.
· What the outcome should be.
· Sources of information and materials.
Again, the outline is straightforward. We’ll discuss this kind of book in more detail below, too.
For this book of mine, WYBWM, I had an outline of approximately 30 chapters. I put the outline at the beginning of my manuscript, and then I copied it again and added it below the first one. That’s where I planned to write the details under the various headings of the outline.
As I went along, I checked off in the first outline the sections that I completed. If I added new sections, I put them both in the initial outline and in the outline that forms the framework for the body of the book. I recommend you do this also. Hopefully, this keeps you on track.
With an outline, you are already getting a good idea of what you’re going to need to finish writing the book. If it is a memoir, look at letters, memorabilia, programs, publications of yours, photo albums, and records of a vast variety of types. If it’s a how-to book, you’ll want to be gathering written materials and videos other people have used to try to explain what it is that you will be explaining.
Since WYBWM is essentially a how-to book, I have indeed spent some time gathering materials prepared by myself and others to help guide and support its writing.
Recently, Britain’s Ginny Carter, “The Author Maker,” wrote a fine book on outlining as the key to writing your book. I wrote the following highly enthusiastic review of it for amazon.com:
THE BUSINESS BOOK OUTLINE BUILDER
Ginny Carter refers to herself as The Author Maker, and she does in Britain many of the same things I do in America: we help others to write and publish their books. She and I have corresponded occasionally, and she is a pleasure to know. When I saw her book I was inclined to like it, and my expectations were upheld.
As it is a book about outlining a book, the crucial step in building a framework on which the whole edifice depends, I’ll adopt her own outline to tell you about the book…which you should get if you are planning to write a non-fiction book relating to a business you have or wish to have.
Ms. Carter starts with a bang, as you should, “When we open a business book it’s a bit like stepping into the author’s imaginary home; each room holds a different aspect of their thinking and knowledge.” She’s personal, direct, interesting, and conversational.
We are reassured we will not be wasting our time in reading this concise guide: “In this guide, I use the exact same techniques I use with my clients. So I know they work, and they will for you too.”
Taking her own advice, offered later in the book, she quickly offers a helpful download in return for our precious email address.
Then she gets right to it:
Step 1: What Do You Want Your Book to Achieve?
“It sounds like a funny question, doesn’t it? You’ve probably been dreaming of writing a book for quite a while, so asking why you want one seems beside the point.” But this is exactly on point.
Your goals in writing the book will shape everything that follows, so they need careful attention. You can’t get There if you don’t know where There is. Your goals will shape your writing and your book promotion. A “business book,” as she defines it here, is a book that furthers a business you have or hope to have. Most “businesses” make money, but some are charitable or even hobbies that enrich the lives of their “proprietors.”
A well-done book will add to your gravitas, your credibility, your client or email list, and your sense of satisfaction. Stephen King once noted [in his memoir, On Writing] that it will not likely help you get dates, but that is another issue.
Step 2: Who Do You Want to Read Your Book?
You might answer “everyone.” More modestly, you might want friends and family to be sure to marvel at and mull over your magnum opus, but a “business” book has as its targets prospective customers and those who influence people to become customers. If you are a writer, you are looking for gigs. A coach wants those who would want to be coached. Medical and legal professionals, for example, seek to raise their stature (and their incomes) by being authors, authorities…while giving the readers something of value instead of self-aggrandizement, which does not sit well with most who read books.
You have to target your audience, often the more specifically the better, as those who know you are talking about them will resonate to your message the way others will not. Targeting often involves an awareness of demographics, as well as a knowledge of needs and interests.
Step 3: What's Your Book About?
“Your book needs to have a BIG MESSAGE. And that message should be the answer to a single, burning problem or question – the very one your readers are grappling with right now.”
Here’s her formula that can work well for most of these books:
“I want to help _________________________ (your target readers) to
___________________________ (your big message) so I can _________________ (your goal).”
If this review were a book, my example would be: I want to help aspiring non-fiction authors to decide to buy this book so they and their writing coach will prosper.
That was easy.
Step 4: Let's Outline Your Book!
Ms. Carter gives several detailed examples of outlines that can work well. She has selected five types of “business” book:
1. Transformational memoir (your story and how your readers can learn from it)
2. Coaching programme into a book (the method by which you help your clients make a transformation)
3. Inspirational book
4. Self-help guide
5. Collection of interviews
Step 5: How to Market Your Business in Your Book
You’ll want to trade some additional material of value for email addresses, and a wise businessperson will include snippets about the business within the text. See her book for additional comments.
There’s lots more in this book that a review cannot cover, and I invite readers who hope to become authors to get this book.
About Ginny Carter
I’ll let her book tell you: “….So after some soul searching she gathered the courage to follow her dreams and put this talent, together with her lifelong writing skills, to more powerful use as a business book ghostwriter and book writing coach.”