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Nonfiction Writing How Do You Outline A Book

By Author: Billy Alexander
Total Articles: 35

I've been a freelancer for decades. Over the years, I've developed a way of outlining a book that works for me. My system may work for you, though I must admit I'm a detail person, and consequently, my book outlines are very detailed.
As I'm writing the manuscript I check off the outline points one-by-one. Sometimes I stray from the outline and that's okay. Straying depends on sequence, word flow, and in some instances, word count. A book idea had been rattling around in my mind for months. Could a talk become a book? Apparently my subconscious answered "yes" to this question because, without any warning, I sat down at the computer and started writing the outline.
What are the outline steps?
1. Summarize the book in one sentence. This can be a long sentence, or a sentence with a semi-colon, but it must be a concise, accurate summary. If I can't do this I'm already in trouble. In management terms, this is called the elevator speech. I'm summarizing a work in words that garner attention and foster remembering.
2. Determine the chapters. Susan C. Daffron, in her article, "How to Create an Outline for Your Nonfiction Book," describes an outline as a roadmap for your project. The chapters are like towns on this roadmap. When I'm figuring out the chapters, I'm really figuring ou the broad topics. Usually this is a slow process but, because I've been speaking on this topic, determining the chapters was easy.
3. Determine the chapter content. This is a winnowing process and, as I'm doing it, I also think of headings. "An outline can be as detailed as you want it to be," according to author Susan C. Daffron. In my case, I want lots of details, and they all go into my outline.
4. Check the flow of the points. Does the sequence make sense? Do some points need to be moved to another chapter? Finally, does each point support the purpose of the book? I allow extra time for this step because it is crucial to the book's success.
5. Cite references. Not only do I cite the author and title, I cite every page number. If I'm going to quote an author, I make sure the quote isn't too long, so I'm in compliance with copyright law. Ali Luke, author of Lycopolis, says this is the time to determine the people you may want to interview. "Be flexible!" she advises. "As you make progress, you may well find things that you want to change."
6. Start work on my resource list. Because the resources are already listed in the outline, this is fairly easy. But it is also detail work and I have to ensure the website addresses are correct. One misplaced dot can cancel a reference. Starting the resource list is one of my first writing tasks.
7. Write the back cover "sell copy." In my mind, this is also part of writing a book. I start the sell copy and, as I'm working on the book, go back and "tweak" it as necessary. Like the front cover, the back cover sell copy should support the purpose of the book.
8. Compile a list of people who might be willing to write mini reviews. Today, many publishers include reviews on the back cover and the first pages. My latest book, for example, contains a one-page review of the book written by a national expert. It's the first thing the reader sees and I'm glad.
Writing a nonfiction book outline takes time, yet in the long run, it saves you time. Like a roadmap, you know where you are headed, and the stops you will be making along the way. "Spend time on the outline" is my motto and it has worked well.

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