Once you’ve finished your research, you’ll probably have dozens or even hundreds of ideas. However, don’t let the sheer volume overwhelm you. You can take all of these notes and thoughts and turn them into a great outline. Here are the steps to take as you outline your content.
Before you start your outline, it can be helpful to know that there are many ways to outline a book and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. It’s all about what works for your creative process and makes it easiest for you to write.
Many new authors like to use mind maps when they’re in the beginning stages of their outline. If you haven’t seen a mind-map before, it is a brainstorming device lets you draw visual connections between your ideas. Instead of “reading” your ideas in a list format, you organize them visually.
Two good free options for mind mapping are Mind Mup and Bubbl.us. Both of these are web-based so you can use them on any device that has internet. But each has a premium version with additional features that can be helpful during your brainstorming session so you may outline your content more easily.
If you’re looking for a program-based mind map that’s free, you might want to consider FreeMind. The great thing about this tool is that you can export your mind map when you’re done into a variety of formats including: PDF, JPG, HTML, or SVG. You can download FreeMind through SourceForge here.
Once you have your mind map, it’s easier to outline your book because you can see all of the parts of it at a glance. If you’re having trouble with your outline, consider turning it into a series 10 questions your audience wants answered. Each question is a chapter and every subtopic is a supporting question. So for example, your might have an outline that looks like this:
Chapter One: What Is Calligraphy?
- Where Did Calligraphy Originate?
- Why Do People Use Calligraphy Today?
- What Can I Do with My Finished Calligraphy Work?
Chapter Two: What Supplies Do I Need?
- How Do I Know If I Picked the Right Pen?
- Do I Need to Use Specialty Paper?
- Which Ink Should I Buy?
You can use as many questions as needed in each chapter to share your information. Some chapters may need several questions to cover all of the points you want to share while others may only need three or four questions. Don’t get hung up on how many questions you have right now.
Another way you can write your book is list style. Each of your chapters is an item from your list. For example, you might be writing a book about puppy training. Therefore, you could call it 12 Things Every New Pet Parent Should Know about Their Puppy. Each chapter would be one item from the list. Your outline might look something like this:
Chapter One: How to Feed Your Puppy
- Choose the Right Dog Food for Your Puppy
- Set Smart Boundaries When It Comes to Food
- How to Discourage Your Puppy from Begging
Chapter Two: Puppies Need Training from Day 1
- Don’t Wait to Train Your Puppy
- Make Training a Fun Game for Your Puppy
- Practice Patience and Kindness during Training
For some topics, it might be easiest to write your book in a step-by-step order. This is usually best if your content will be a how-to or tutorial style. Each chapter could be a step and the subtopics in your chapters would be the action items your reader needs to do in order to complete the step. For example, if your book is about podcasting then your outline might look like this:
Step One: Get A Microphone
- What to Consider Before Your Purchase
- How to Compare Different Microphone Brands
- Finding a Great Deal on a New Microphone
Step Two: Set Up Your Microphone
- What You Need to Know about Installation
- How to Add the Software to Your Computer
- Testing Your New Microphone
You could also outline your book and use each chapter as a case study or profile. This can be helpful when you want to highlight a person or company and use them as examples. So you could publish a book about 10 Awesome Women Who Took Control & Changed Their Lives. Your outline might look like this:
Awesome Woman #1: Rosa Parks
- How Rosa Parks Became Synonymous with World Change
- The Early Years of Rosa’s Life
- What Girls Today Can Learn from Rosa
Awesome Woman #2: Ernestine Shepherd
- Why Ernestine Became a Body Builder at Age 70
- How Girls Today Can Be Strong Like Ernestine
- Why Age Should Never Keep You from Your Dream
You could also do an outline by thinking of each chapter as a content series. For example, maybe you normally write 500 word blog posts. Turn each chapter into a blog post series. For example, if your book is about starting a web design business then your outline might look something like this:
Chapter One: What Every New Web Designer Should Know
- Post #1: Don’t Get Bogged Down Creating Your Own Site
- Post #2: How to Make A Portfolio that Will Knock the Socks Off of Clients
- Post #3: Why You Need to Guide Your Client through the Design Process
Chapter Two: How to Find Your First Web Design Clients
- Post #1: Get Clients from Awesome Referrals
- Post #2: Partner Up with Another Smart Freelancer
- Post #3: Create An Amazing First Impression at Business Events
By approaching your outline in this way, it’s easier to break down your thoughts and organize them. It can be freeing (and fun) to think of your book as tiny blog posts that you can stack together how you want. You may also be interested in reading a post I have written, entitled Outlining Your Book and Visualizing Your Goal.
Ultimately, you need to remember your outline isn’t set in stone. You can always go back and edit it a few times. You can even move around information as you need to.
I’m author, publisher, and entrepreneur Connie Ragen Green and would love to connect with you. If you’re new to the world of online entrepreneurship please check out my training on how to sell yourself at Sell Yourself and Your Stuff and learn how to gain an unfair advantage when it comes to building a lucrative online business.