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Want to know how to write a book?  This is the fourth post in a series that provides you with a step-by-step approach to writing a business book that will enhance your personal brand – without any need for putting your life on hold while you do so.

How to write a book

The first post was a general introduction to the series on how to write a book.   The second post introduced Step 1 in the process of developing your book and walked you through setting up a ‘war room’ for the development of your book.  The next post got you started on compiling the ideas that your book will present – Step 2 in the book development process.  Step 2 gave you a basic idea of what your book will tell your readers.

I recommend that you read all of the first three posts before you work through Step 3.

In Step 3, ‘Create Your Chapters’, we are going to go all the way from a mass of roughly sorted ideas to a first look at your book’s basic content organized into chapters.

Step 3: Create Your Chapters

Step 3 consists of five actions:

1. Sort your topic groups into logical chapters. Each of your chapters will consist of multiple topics – collect your topic groups into logical chapter groups.  For now, simply separate the collection of topic groups for each chapter into separate areas in your war room

2. Organize your topic groups in run order (the order in which they will be presented in your book).  Working one chapter at a time, simply organize the topic groups so that they flow from left to right – with the first topic group in the chapter on the left, the second group to its right, the third group to its right again – and so on.  When you finish the first chapter do the same for the remaining chapters.

How to write a book

Figure 1

3. Get your ideas in run order. When you’re happy that you have the main topics in each chapter sorted into run order, then organize the ideas within each topic group into the order in which they will flow, Post-it by Post-it.  Put the first idea in the topic at the top and work down through the ideas.

When finished this process you should end up something that looks a little like Figure 1, except, as I said in previous posts, your real-life layout will be much busier than my illustrations!  (Also, don’t forget my note from previous posts: these figures were reused from my book Winning Business Proposals – where I applied the same approach to creating a proposal not a book.  So don’t be surprised by the unusual ideas on these Post-its).

In this illustration you’re looking at a (very) small chapter.  Each column is a topic group with the ideas arranged from top to bottom in the order they flow in the group.  Then, working from left to right, you can see the order in which each topic group is introduced in the chapter.

This matrix presentation of your ideas gives you a very clear view of exactly how each chapter will flow. You can follow the development of your chapter by reading down through each column one idea at a time, and then reading from left to right one topic at a time.  This makes it very easy to reorganize your run order should you wish to do so.

4. Get your chapter groups in ‘run order’. Your war room now consists of several chapter groups that have a coherent flow of ideas and information.  The next action in Step 3 is to organize the chapter groups into the run order in which they will be presented in the book. Present your chapters from left to right and, if you run out of space, create a second row of chapters beneath Chapter 1 and again have them flow from left to right.

With this exercise complete you now you have something that looks like Figure 2.  This will give you an even clearer feel of how the logic of your book will flow you – you can see every idea and every topic presented to you in the order in which they will be presented to your readers.

How to write a book

Figure 2

How large should your chapters be?

As you work through this exercise you may question if you should be planning for a small number of broad/deep chapters or a larger number of narrow/shallow chapters.  In my experience email, SMS and Social Media communication has made most people impatient readers with lower attention spans.

In the interests of readability I suggest that you err on the side of having too many chapters rather than too few.  Make your book easy to digest in small morsels if the reader wishes to approach it that way.  Break your chapters down until each covers a chunk of content that communicates a single aspect of your overall message – if it strays into multiple aspects then it should be multiple chapters.  Make it as easy as possible for your reader to digest your book.

How to write a book

Figure 3

5. Finally, create chapter titles. You will probably have already given each chapter group a working title earlier in the process, but I always find that the best chapter titles start to suggest themselves when I see all of my material in this logical flow order.

Look at your book’s title and at the content of each chapter and assign each chapter a title that clearly indicates what it covers – look for chapter titles that suggest a logical flow of ideas through the book. Don’t worry about creating perfect chapter titles at this stage – for now all the chapters need are good working titles. You can refine them later as the book develops.

A Post-it per chapter group does this job nicely (see Figure 3).

Finally, when you’ve named your chapters organize them in the logical running order you foresee them appearing in the finished book.

Next steps.

Look how much your book has developed.  You can see the entire flow of your book just by scanning your war room walls.  What’s more you can organize and reorganize the flow of ideas as many times as you wish until it feels as if it all works well together.

You’re getting close. At this stage I guarantee that you are going to spot some gaps in the your book’s logic – some areas that you will need to flesh out with additional content to make the book flow more effectively.  Plugging those gaps is the subject of the next post: Step 4: ‘Refine Your Book’.

Any thoughts or questions on how to write a book?

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