Last Updated on February 15, 2022
It’s been buzzing around your brain for months, maybe years: that nonfiction book idea you can’t seem to swat away. Maybe it’s a guidebook based on your area of expertise, or a memoir featuring letters your parent wrote home during the war. Now, as a new year approaches, you’re ready to transition from insistent idea to written words.
Perhaps you’ve already made notes, even developed a cursory outline, but can’t seem to get past those preliminary steps because the notes are unfocused and the outline sprawling and shapeless. If you find yourself stuck in the research-gathering, outline-making, preparatory stage of your book-writing process, it might be time to try some new steps.
Here are three actions that I often suggest to my clients who have an idea for a nonfiction book they want to write but don’t quite know how to begin. While these steps may appear to be overly simple, they can effectively help you construct the bones of your book. And once your idea has an authentic skeletal structure, the words will follow.
1. Come up with 10 chapter titles.
It may seem premature to develop chapter titles before you’ve written one word of your book, but doing so is an efficient way to begin to organize your material. Dividing your general subject into ten sections, and devising a logical progression from one section to the next, allows you to get a sense of the overall architecture of your proposed book. It can be helpful to create compelling chapter titles to remind you of the need to entice your reader, but don’t get too hung up on being clever at this stage. These are only rough draft titles to help you nail down the structure.
2. Brainstorm 5 potential book titles.
In the mainstream publishing world, a final book title is often decided after the manuscript is complete, because editorial changes and marketing decisions play an important role. But brainstorming book titles before you write your book is a way to jump-start the writing process by compelling you to pinpoint not only your core subject but why it will intrigue your readers — and just who comprises your audience. You may want to look at current book titles in your genre to get a sense of what’s out there. Crafting potential titles forces you to treat your book idea as if it were already a book and to thereby realistically assess what your book is about and why, in today’s marketplace, people will want to read it.
3. Write 1 short summary paragraph.
Summarizing your proposed book in one short, pithy paragraph will not be easy, given that you have yet to begin writing the manuscript. Again, you might consider this exercise premature because you’re not at all certain at this point what will be included in the final draft and how the material will be presented. But by describing in a summary fashion what you intend to impart to your reader, you will be creating a mini-blueprint of your literary objectives. For a bit of guidance as to how to write a very brief book summary, check the bestseller lists that offer two or three sentence descriptions of the week’s bestselling books.
This “10-5-1” plan to propel you from idea to first draft has proven helpful to many writers with whom I’ve worked. Here’s to your success in turning that buzzing-in-your-head idea into a book that could create some real buzz.