To plan out your book or not to plan out your book…There is no question

How to outline a book

[This post was written by guest contributor Nina Amir, author ofHow to Blog a Book and The Author Training Manual.]

An ongoing debate exists in the writing world about whether or not to plan out a book prior to typing that first word. The “mappers” or “planners” say, “Plan it out! It’s more effective!” The “pantsers,” on the other hand, say, “Write by the seat of your pants! It’s more creative.”

I tend to be a pantser. Sometimes you can write a book “off the top of your head” or when inspiration hits and have the content make sense and the story turn out perfectly. Here’s what I’ve discovered, though: More often than not, with this method you end up needing to do a lot of editing and revising.

That’s why I’ve forced myself to become a planner. The reason is simple: I write my books a lot faster and more effectively.

Step 1: The Business Plan

When you produce a nonfiction book proposal, you must have a table of contents for your book (called a List of Chapters) and a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. This means you have to summarize every chapter in a fair amount of detail. (If you write fiction, you would typically write a synopsis.)

Now, you do this after quite a bit of additional planning. Usually, you’ve already looked at the market and the competition, and you’ve thought about the benefits of the book, and possibly even written a pitch and a summary of the book. So, by the time you write those chapter summaries, you’ve honed your subject or story and you really know what your book is about.

After writing proposals for several book projects, I realized something. At the end, I was so prepared and ready to write that book! My planning process had not only helped me create a marketable idea, it also had provided me with a great writing guide: those chapter summaries.

I realize that indie authors don’t write book proposals. They should, however, be producing a business plan for each book. The best template for this is a book proposal because that’s exactly what it is—a business plan used by publishers to determine the viability of a book project. So, I suggest the first step in planning any book project entails the creation of a business plan. Go through all the steps, by which I mean compiling the necessary information to complete each section, until you feel ready to complete your table of contents and your individual chapter summaries. And, novelists should write a chapter-by-chapter synopsis as well.

Step 2: Chunk It Down

When I wrote, or rather blogged, How to Blog a Book, I took this process a step farther. I broke down my chapter summary, first, into a few major subheadings or subject areas. If you aren’t blogging a book, think of it this way: For nonfiction, you can take each one of your sentences, assuming they each pertain to a different topic you plan to cover, and turn it into a subheading or a bullet point. Now the chapter content is chunked down into topics to cover. You could, I suppose, make an outline out of it, although, I’m not an outlining fan.  For fiction, take your chapter synopsis and break it down by scenes, events, dialogue, etc.

Now, because I planned to blog my book, I went even farther. I began to think in 300-500 word chunks—blog-post sized bits. Under each subheading I created more subheadings, each one the tentative title to a blog post.  If you think of in terms of a table of contents, you could have your chapter title and then under it possibly 20-25 different subtitles or subheadings per chapter. In my case, because I was blogging a book, these were blog post titles.

How to blog a book

Writing Made Quick and Easy

I blogged How to Blog a Book over the course of five months. Here’s what I discovered about the writing process itself: It was quick and easy!

All that planning left me little to think about prior to writing. All I had to do each day was sit down and knock out that day’s post, or part of the manuscript. I never had to sit and drum my fingers on the desk or scratch my head and wonder what I should write about. All I had to do was open up my Word doc and look at those tentative blog titles to know what to compose during that writing period. (In some cases I’d even written a few notes underneath the titles to remind myself what the post was going to be about, making it all the easier to get going.)

I now encourage all my clients to do as much planning as possible before they write a word. The business plan is a must to help produce a marketable book idea, but out of that comes an awesome writing guide. That guide ensures you can actually produce the manuscript easily and quickly.

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