See How Easily You Can Structure Your Book with This Method

One Question Will Reveal How to Organize Your Content

While it’s true a thousand-mile journey begins with a single step, this is also true: If that first step is in the wrong direction, you’ll end up in the wrong place!

Like this Air Asia flight, you could end up in Melbourne instead of Malaysia!

When it comes to structuring a book, writers can go wrong a lot of different ways. In a recent post, for example, I wrote about the importance of firmly grasping your audience’s needs before you set out to write. Too many writers start scratching before they know where the reader’s itch is.

Courtesy of Unsplash

So it’s important to know what your readers’ pain points are, but it’s also important to mine your own wisdom for all its worth.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a relatively simple way to do this? An easy way to access your best content on whatever topic you’re writing on? A way that guarantees your first step is the right one?

That’s what this article is all about. I’m going to share a question and a process for helping you access your best content and structure it into book form.

Start with This Question

Ask yourself:

What is the most important thing I have to tell people about [fill in your topic of interest]?

Go ahead. Fill in your topic of interest and answer the question. Here’s another way to get at it:

The most important thing I have to tell people about _______________ is ______________________.

Now Keep the Momentum Going

Now that you’ve started, keep going.

Keep brainstorming the most important things you have to tell people about your area of interest.

Don’t think too hard, and don’t get hung up on your tools. A blank Word doc will work. So will a pad of post-it notes.

Just go.

Keep filling in the blank: The most important thing I have to tell people is _______________

And the next most important thing I have to tell people is ________________

Another important thing I have to tell people is ___________________

If you can, shoot for big sweeping ideas, big categories that are likely to have many subcategories.

Keep going until you’re either tired of the process or have over 20 ideas.

Take Stock

Look at what you have now. Do you see some ideas that are closely related to others?

Do you see a sequence for your ideas that would make sense? Do they build on each other? Do some ideas seem more fundamental and others more practical?

Start grouping and ordering your ideas.

Now notice the gaps. What have you completely missed? Fill those in as best you can.

Your Book Is Born

Guess what? You just outlined the content of your book.

You have the buckets. Now all you have to do is fill them.

Download the Book Structure Template

If you’d like to download a fillable PDF that walks you through the above process step by step, click here. The template also includes a bonus step: how to create a compelling table of contents for your book. To download your copy, click here.

Question: What book are you working on? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I am writing a book called GLORY CHASER about discovering God’s glory through loss. It’s a book that explores the uses of the word/concept “glory” topically through the Bible in the areas of Creation, Presence, Worship, Face, Suffering, Community, Justice and Heaven. My own story of losing my husband to cancer drives the arch of the book through those topics.
    **This exercise above helped me brainstorm a bunch of new blog topics this morning! Thanks, Chad!

    • Dorina, terrific! And thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

    • Chad R. Allen

      So glad to hear this, Dorina! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  • This so helpful. I just finished 60 days of writing my first book but need to structure it, come up with chapter and section titles. It would’ve been best to have this before I started but it will help me prep second draft before sending to an editor 😀

    • Chad R. Allen

      Terrific, glad to help, Sovann. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

  • Richard Brooks

    I continue to work on a practical theology/pastoral care book for Christians titled: Be There How To Embrace Compassionate Presence with Those Who Are Near Death. My problem is that I like the concept of Be There: Embracing Compassionate Presence that I keep adding another subtitle to it….I have about 5 subtitles to it…making it hard to narrow my scope.

    • Chad R. Allen

      Which subtitle is closest to the need of your audience?

      • Richard Brooks

        Great question! I believe once I answer that, then perhaps I will have a book. How do we look to our past ministry experiences and what we want to teach others about what we’ve learned versus what our audience needs?

        • Richard, you definitely have a book and five themes. 😀

  • Pat W

    While I’m not a a book stage yet, I still find this useful to help me develop a theme for the blog I am planning to launch. Thanks so much.

    • Chad R. Allen

      You’re welcome, Pat! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  • Thanks, Chad, I appreciate the practicality of this post.

    • Chad R. Allen

      You’re welcome, Julie, and thanks taking the time to read and comment.

  • Chad, this is very helpful to me right now. I’m writing my first book. My agent just asked me to start over with my table of contents and chapter summaries by reflecting on the reader’s felt need. And use my experience for this book’s theme and my authority in ministry, teaching, etc. to give the reader the promise of what the book is about. I love this method and it’s a simple way organize my contents without overthinking the process which is my tendency. Thank you!

    • Chad R. Allen

      Love it, Karen, you’re welcome. I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

    • Tracie Heskett

      Karen, thanks for describing concisely where you are currently in your process. This, with Chad’s great post and outline, will be a help.

  • Tracie Heskett

    This is fantastic 🙂 Why do your best (most helpful) posts always arrive when I’m buried with other writing work? ~ Hope I can remember to go back and find this to work with soon.

    • Chad R. Allen

      Tracie, I hear ya! One idea is to place it on your calendar for a time when you anticipate things will be quieter…

      • Tracie Heskett

        I’m back reviewing this already because I had the opportunity to “pitch” one of my book ideas to someone in ministry and she can see a need for it in her sphere so that’s very exciting for me right now. I’ll have to think about how others might feel this need as well. At least now I know which book idea is floating to the top at the moment. 🙂

        • Chad R. Allen

          Awesome, Tracie!

  • Jenny gehman

    Chad, your offerings to us are helpful, useful and applicable. Not only do you encourage us writers to know & meet the needs of our audience, you lead us in this by example. Thank you!

    • Chad R. Allen

      So welcome, Jenny, and thanks for reading!

  • Chad, that is so simple that it is profound. On a small scale,
    with fewer things to tell, it would be a good blog post model as well. Personally, I will start small with it and go from there to get a little practice on some small things. Maybe someday I can tell you about something I did that is big! At this point, I consider most of what I did in the past as practice. My best work is probably a 37 to a 45-page booklet, depending on what font the reader uses. Even that could be improved by the method you outlined.

    Thank you very much. I have learned much from you. I consider you one of my top
    3 writing instructors. ( I believe you may personally know the other 2.) Please consider it a great compliment as there are hundreds out there, many who I have subscribed to, then shortly after unsubscribed.

    • Chad R. Allen

      You’re so welcome, Paul, and thanks for taking the time to comment!