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Self Publishing: How to Outline a Nonfiction Book

Self Publishing: How to Outline a Nonfiction Book

Outlining is one of those things writers and business owners don’t really look forward to. At the same time, outlines are so helpful that they can’t be ignored. When you create a great outline, you don’t have to deal with writer’s block, disorganization, and poor execution of your writing.

As you can probably tell, I highly recommend you create an outline before you start writing a nonfiction book. Otherwise, you might never finish. I think it’s a big reason why so many people start and stop writing projects—they don’t have an outline to follow through with.

Sure, maybe you’re one of those people who can fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to writing. That might be okay with fiction, but nonfiction is a whole different beast. You have to organize your research, thoughts, and insights in a way that flows and makes sense to the people who are trying to learn from your writing.

Nonfiction isn’t something you can just make up – it’s something that needs to have form, truth, and structure behind it. That means outlining is perfect and essential for nonfiction writing.

To Get Started Writing An Outline…

The first part of this is figuring out what you’re writing. That might seem very basic, but it’s important to figure out what your exact topic is and the unique angle you’re going to take before you really get started. You also have to identify the exact audience you plan to target with your writing.

That’s one of the most important things right there – who is your audience? If you don’t truly understand your audience and what they need and want, then you probably won’t write nonfiction that’s worth reading.

If you have a solid understanding of your audience, then you’ll know exactly what needs to go in your book. Not only will it sell better, but it will have more of an impact on people.

That’s why I recommend you immerse yourself in your niche. Get to know people through social media, forums, and so on. Pay attention to what’s out there already – you need to know what the competition is doing.

Take a look at competing books and what they’ve included in their table of contents. Read those competing books. Your goal here should be to figure out both what is expected within your niche as well as to find ways you can stand out.

Read reviews of books that have both very positive and very negative takes – what do people like and what do they feel is really missing?

If you can figure out what’s missing in the work that’s already out there, then you can figure out how you can make your work unique. And that’s going to be very important, especially if you’re targeting a competitive niche. You have to stand out and have your own thing going if you want anyone to pay attention to you.

After you’ve done this preliminary digging, then you can start to brainstorm some main ideas for your book. Ideally, (especially if this is your very first nonfiction book) I highly recommend you choose a very targeted and specific topic within your niche. That will help you focus and it will increase the chances that your book will do well.

Start Your Research

After you’ve chosen your main book idea and you know the direction your book is going to take, it’s time to do some research. Get as close to primary, original sources as you can. Make sure you check multiple sources so you know you have the right information.

You can start your search on Google—just be sure you target sources and sites of authority.

It’s very important that you cite and organize your sources as you put them in your outline and refer to them when you write your book.

Remember-- you never want to plagiarize or use any information without credit. You want to synthesize the ideas that are out there, put your own spin on them, and give credit where credit is due.

Fill In the Blanks

After you’ve organized your research and brainstormed the main ideas for your book, it’s time to come up with the specific topics you’ll include in your book. It’s time to fill in the blanks.

Organize what you have so it makes sense. If you’re teaching people to do something, make sure you put it in a true step-by-step manner. No matter what the specific type of nonfiction, make sure it’s chronological or makes sense in some other way.

As you go through your initial ideas and research, you’ll probably get inspired by even more ideas to fill your book with. This is a great thing. Brainstorm and put as much as you want into your outline.

Make it as easy as possible for yourself once you really get started writing. You don’t want to have to think while you write – you want to just let the ideas flow freely.

An Outline Template

I hesitate to give you a template for your outline. Really, your outline should take the form that helps you the most. What works for me might not work for you, and vice versa. With that said, I’m including a template here that you can use to get started with. Please don’t think that this is the only way to do it—it’s not. Use this as a starting point, if you want, and turn your outline into whatever you need it to be as you get more familiar with the process.


Your Title:

Your audience:

The tagline or blurb for your book:


(Tell them what you’re going to tell them)

Body Point 1:




Body Point 2:




Body Point 3:





(Tell them what you’ve told them);


You get the idea. Add in your research, thoughts, and insights. Fill your outline out—it might grow to be quite long. Turn it into a resource you can easily follow as you write your nonfiction book.

Create some sort of template for yourself with your outline. Break it down, organize it, and include the very best ideas you’ve brainstormed.

Now That Your Outline Is Done…

Now that your outline is done, it’ll be easy to get started writing. You won’t have any worries because most of the hard work is already behind you. If you follow this process for nonfiction outlining, then I bet you’ll discover that your productivity skyrockets and you get so much more done than you ever thought you would.

I want to make it clear that just because you’re creating a very detailed outline, it doesn’t mean you’re blocking yourself creatively. In fact, you’ll probably find that you can be even more creative because the framework of what you’re writing is already there. This allows you to explore new ideas and include those ideas in your writing instead of struggling to rehash the most basic ideas.

Be Flexible

Be flexible within your outline. It’s okay to take a new direction and add and subtract things from what you thought you would include. In fact, it’s this type of inspiration and creativity that can only happen once you have an outline.

I hope you find that creating an outline like this helps you become so much more productive. This is an easy method and it can be much quicker than trying to wing it.

Outlining Doesn’t Have to Take a Long Time…

Depending on the scope of your work, the research for your outline might take just an hour or several hours. It will take longer, of course, if you’re writing a more involved piece.

The point is that outlining gives you freedom and helps you write more successfully. Even if you don’t tend to create outlines for yourself yet, now’s the time to get started. You can become so much more prolific as a nonfiction author.

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