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How To Structure Your Non-Fiction Book

By Sophfronia Scott

You have a non-fiction book in mind. You know it’s going to be great and it’ll help a lot of people. But you also have mountains and mountains of material–so much good information! So much excellent research! How do you organize it all to create a powerful book? Here are the basic building blocks of a non-fiction book. Keep these in mind and you won’t get overwhelmed by your material.

1.) Think About Your Reader

When you think about your reader you’re thinking two things: “What does the reader get out of my book?” and “What kind of relationship do I want to establish with the reader?” One of your duties as an author is to offer your reader something of value which could even change their life for the better. Ideally you’ll make it clear what this value is when you title the book. It’s pretty clear, for instance, what you’ll get when you pick up Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. This could also provide the structure for your chapters. If you’re teaching how to improve your golf stroke in 10 steps, you could include a chapter on each step. You don’t have to make it more complicated than that.

As for your relationship with your reader, what do you want it to be? Will it be a teacher/student relationship? Peer-to-peer? A storytelling relationship? If you’re writing a biography, you may want to be a storyteller and have your reader be a listener. Will your voice be friendly and homely? Or authoritative and formal? The point is that you’re always asking yourself “To whom and I speaking and how do I want to be heard?” What choices will best suit your audience?

2.) What’s Your Theory?

Theory is how the writer is proposing to make his ideas play themselves out. It’s how it all works. In Anthony Robbins’ book, “Awaken the Giant Within”, he’s making the point that you are in control of your decisions and you can really tap into your human potential. Well, how do you do that? His theory of how you do that is to become aware that you are in control of everything that happens within you. You are in control of your emotions, of making choices, of creating what he calls “neuro associations” that will draw you towards a positive behavior or help you move away from a negative behavior. That’s his theory.

I’m assuming if you have already decided to write a non-fiction book that you have a plan that you’re presenting to the world. Non-fiction books are often the result of what you do in your everyday life; you may notice that things could work better if people did things in a different way. Maybe your how-to just makes more sense, or it fits your readers better than someone else’s theory. That’s why it’s important for you to have your own ideas. It truly is about what you’re bringing to the book, how much you’re putting yourself into it, because that’s what brings energy and vitality to the work and makes a lasting impression on the world.

3.) What Stories Will You Tell?

Stories are a crucial ingredient in non-fiction books. They are what will help bring your points home to the reader and make them real. Most writers use anecdotes from their professional lives. Life coaches use stories from clients, real estate brokers use stories from people they’ve worked with. Stories help the reader see that 1) other people have dealt with the same problems and 2) the writer has direct experience and knows how to bring about a successful solution.

When you use stories you’re also using an ages-old technique–it’s even used in the Bible, where stories (or parables) are told to educate the reader on complex concepts. I think our brains still respond positively to this technique. Stories can be a softer way of taking medicine–that spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down!

4.) What’s Your Call to Action?

When you craft a call to action for your reader, you are designing a way of telling them, “Here’s what you do now that you have this information, here’s how you make it work.” Let’s use a weight loss book as an example. Maybe the theory is about overeating. If you were writing this book, you might want to include calls to action throughout the book giving the reader different strategies about how to avoid overeating. You’ll include how not to overeat in restaurants, how to avoid overeating at bedtime, how to avoid overeating while traveling or at buffets, whatever.

In some books the author will present questions and exercises. That’s part of a call to action because it makes the reader stop and absorb what they’ve just learned and even to design their own action plans based on their own unique circumstances. In our example above, you might challenge the reader to choose two alternative things they could do instead of overeating.

What’s Next?

Now you have to write the book! Keep this structure in mind and you’ll be well on your way to creating a powerful book that will inform, educate and–in the best of all possible worlds–change the way we live for the better.

© 2006 Sophfronia Scott

About the Author: Author and Writing Coach Sophfronia Scott is “The Book Sistah” TM. Get her FREE REPORT, “The 5 Big Mistakes Most Writers Make When Trying to Get Published” and her FREE online writing and book publishing tips at http://www.TheBookSistah.com

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