how to write a book outline

How to Write a Book Outline

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Have you ever wanted to self-publish a book? As a registered dietitian nutritionist, you might have dreamed of sharing your personal story or your knowledge of nutrition, but the thought of beginning feels like such a daunting task. Perhaps you might have tried to write it, but you get stuck on what to write next. In this article, we will discuss the step-by-step process on how to write a book outline for your non-fiction book.

What is a Book Outline?

A book outline is a pre-writing tool that serves as the skeleton of your story. The purpose of learning how to write a book outline is to help structure and organize your ideas before writing your first draft. It is a way to visually see the roadmap of your story and help you to stay focused on what needs to happen next and prevent you from getting stuck or wandering off course.  

As a new writer you might be asking yourself:

  • Why is it important to write a book outline?
  • What are the necessary steps for creating an outline?
  • What are the different parts of a book outline?

Now, let’s dive in and breakdown each question to help you get started on your journey of becoming a self-published author of your non-fiction book.

Three Main Reasons to Write a Book Outline

Below we’ll discuss the three main reasons to write a book outline.

1. Serves as the Skeleton of Your Non-Fiction Book:

A powerful outline serves as the skeleton of a great story because it can help you construct and organize your ideas in a sequential manner. Although it might be a tedious and challenging task at first, it can help you determine who the target reader is and the purpose of your book.

2. Helps Prevent Writer’s Block:

Writer’s block is the inability to begin or continue writing that typically occurs due to:

  • Lack of direction – not knowing what to write next
  • Not having enough ideas – sometimes writers get stuck waiting for inspiration to come to them
  • Having too many ideas – sometimes we might have too many ideas floating around and we cannot pick the right one(s) for our story

This is one of the main reasons why beginner writers give up on writing their book. Therefore, creating an outline can resolve this because it keeps you focused on what to write next versus staring at a blank page.

3. Allows You to be More Efficient with Your Time:

An outline can help you save you time because a detailed and organized draft is a book that is essentially halfway done. Your writing will flow quicker, fluidly, and more focused on quality instead of what should you write next.

Three Effective Strategies to Write the Outline

1. Identify the Purpose of Your Book

One of the best practices for writers to follow when identifying the purpose of their book is to answer the 5 Ws:

  • Who: Who is the story about? Who are my readers? Is your reader a beginner, intermediate, or advanced?
  • What: What do you want to write about? What do you want your readers to learn from your book?
  • Where: Where does the story take place?
  • When: When does the story take place?
  • Why: Why do I want to write this book? Why does the reader want to learn this information?

2. Create a Mind Map

How to write a book outline with a mind map. Image show what a mind map looks like on paper.

Here are some steps you can follow to use a mind map to help create a table of contents for your book outline:

  1. Start by creating a central topic or theme in the center of your mind map. This could be the main idea or topic of your book.
  2. Branch out from the central topic and create subtopics that relate to your main idea. These could be chapter headings or sections within your book.
  3. Continue to branch out from each subtopic and create sub-subtopics that relate to each one. These could be more specific details or ideas that you want to cover in each chapter or section.
  4. As you create your mind map, group related ideas together and try to identify any gaps or overlaps in your content.
  5. Once you have a comprehensive mind map that covers all the topics and subtopics you want to include in your book, you can use it to create a table of contents. Simply list the main topics as chapter headings and the subtopics as section headings within each chapter.

3. Create a Table of Contents

From the mind map, you can create your table of contents, which is the section that lists the parts and chapters of a book. When writing your table of contents, there are some things I want you to think about:

  • Think about the topics you want to cover in your book.
  • What do you want your readers to learn?
  • What pressing problems will your book solve for your readers?
  • What benefits will your readers get from reading your book?

Parts of a Non-fiction Book

The different parts of the book outline are listed below. However, please note that not all parts are required and are based on your preferences, type of book you are writing and page length you are aiming for.

Front Matter

  • Copyright page: This page includes the copyright notice, edition information, publisher information, any disclaimers, and the ISBN number. On this page you can also give credit to the editor, illustrator, and cover designer, if appropriate.
  • Foreword: The foreword provides general context for the main copy of the book and is written by someone other than the author. It’s typically signed with the foreword author’s name, city of residence, and date. This part can vary.
  • Table of Contents: This section lists all the major components of the book. Needed for all eBooks, and many nonfiction books. Not common in fiction books.
  • Preface: The preface brings to light the origin of the book and how it came to be. This section is written by the author. This is also typically signed with the author’s name, place, and date, or name company name, and website. There is some flexibility here.
  • Introduction: The introduction of the book, written by the author, helps to introduce the reader to the content of the book, its purpose, and the way the book is organized so readers know what to expect.
  • Acknowledgments: In this section, the author thanks those who helped with creating the book and bringing it to life. This section is usually found in the front matter, but it’s not uncommon to see it in the back matter of books as well. It’s your preference.

Body Matter

The body matter is also sometimes called body text or book contents. This is the longest section of your book that includes the main text of your story. It consists of parts, chapters, and sections.

Describing a book's body matter with an image of stacked books in the background
  • Parts (optional): This is ideal when you have multiple chapters focusing on a specific topic, it is easier to consolidate them into relevant parts of the book that is easier for the reader to follow. For example, part I might include chapters 1 – 5, part II might include chapters 6 – 10 and so on. Each part must have a number or a title name.
  • Chapters: This section contains most of the text of your book. This portion can be divided into parts or sections. Each chapter must have a number or a title name. Your opening chapter should always start on the right-hand page.
  • Sections (optional): In some instances, chapters can be divided into sections. Each section must have a section number or title so the reader can identify the topic being discussed within the chapter.

Back Matter

  • About the Author: This is where the author gives a brief summary of their professional career, such as previous work, education, certifications, as well as a line or two about their personal life.
  • Appendix: The appendix (or appendices) is the perfect place for details that would be too cumbersome to include within the body, but support the findings or narrative of your book, such as tables, figures, charts, and statistics.
  • Endnotes: Endnotes should be organized by chapter and align with the numbers referenced within the text. On the other hand, footnotes appear at the bottom of the page where the work is cited, whereas Endnotes are placed at the end of the manuscript in the back matter. Most readers, writers, editors, and publishers prefer the use of endnotes over footnotes.
  • Glossary (optional): A glossary is a collection of terms from the book, typically listed in alphabetical order. The purpose of including a glossary in your book is to explain new, less common, or unique terms, providing clarity for the reader.
  • Bibliography/References (optional): A bibliography, or list of references or works cites, is a comprehensive list of books. research studies, or other sources that have been used in the book.
  • Index (optional): The purpose of an index is for the reader to quickly and easily be able to find specific terms within the text. This back matter is made up of an alphabetized list of keywords and terms and indicates what pages in the text these terms can be found. This page is found on the right-hand page (recto).

While this was a comprehensive post on how to write your book outline, it’s by no means an all-inclusive list. This article was intended to help beginner writers get started, stay focused & organized, and efficient through the writing process. If you would like to learn more about self-publishing on Amazon, you can join the Click to Publish course below to get your dream book to come true.

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