How to Start Planning Your Book

July 8, 2013 Mark Sherbin

You’ve been meaning to get started on your book.

Yeah, just as soon as you have time. And a concept. And having a clue about how to write a book would be nice. Okay, really all you’ve done is talk about writing that book. You’re starting from scratch. But don’t worry — there isn’t a single author in the history of writing who hasn’t been exactly where you are right now.

Writing a book is hard, but not as hard as you’ve trained yourself to believe. All you need is patience. It also helps to know what direction you’re headed before you take off.

Where’s my book, you ask? Well, I’m in the business of ghostwriting. People pay me to listen to what they have to say and translate it to the page. The sensitive nature of this discipline requires me to keep mum on the titles I’ve helped compile. You’ll have to take it on faith that I know just what the hell I’m talking about.

The first step doesn’t have to be a leap. You can get started planning your book without sinking much time into it at first. Take a look at five steps to help you get started planning your book.

1. Think about your goals

Have you ever thought about why you want to write a book? If you answered “personal glory,” this article ain’t for you.

Writing a book can be the pinnacle of your content marketing strategy. It can be a centerpiece for business development, a strong lead gen tool, and a thought leadership tactic that pays huge dividends in guest blogging and other channels.

Ask yourself why exactly you plan to write this book. Consider what you want to get out of the experience. Make a list and prioritize each of your goals. This list will help shape the writing the process.

2. Narrow down your topic

The absolute first thing you need to know is what you’re planning to write about. This isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. Just because you get fired up about a topic doesn’t mean anyone else will care.

Think very carefully about your topic. It’s important to bat around a few ideas before you’ve decided on one. Your first inclination isn’t always your best.

Here are a few tips for narrowing your topic.

  • Use your content marketing to your advantage. Figure out which topics resonate the most with your audience.
  • Watch forums and social media to find knowledge gaps in your target audience. Choose topics that get your audience buzzing.
  • Find out if other people have written about your topics. Decide whether or not you can bring a fresh perspective.
  • Weed out topics you’re less familiar with. Choose topics that are most relevant to your market.

Accomplishing these tasks will help you set a strong foundation for the next step in the planning process.

3. Define an audience, themes and a value proposition

Now, it’s time to turn your attention to the high level concepts governing the content of your book. Here, you’ll need to look at your audience, the messages you want to deliver to them (themes), and what you expect them to get out of it (value proposition).

Here are tips on defining each.

  • Audience: Your business should already have a well-defined audience to which it markets. If you chose the right topic, it’ll fall within the interests of that audience. Still, it may only appeal to a smaller portion of your overall audience. This can be a good thing because it’s easier to speak to a more specific group of people.
  • Themes: Themes are messages that your book will drive home over and over again. The best way to approach this is to ask, “If the reader only leaves with three or four concepts, what should they be?” They’re the key ideas your book reinforces.
  • Value Proposition: Your reader wants to know what’s in it for him. What value will your book provide its audience? Build out a list of possible takeaways. Prioritize them. Understand why exactly your audience would want to read your book and use these propositions to deliver on the value you promise.

Next, you’ll want to reach into the vault for core ideas.

4. Compile content you already have on the topic

Content marketers taking the right approach to their jobs have already built content around the core topic of your book. That library of content is a goldmine of ideas.

Think of your blog posts, ebooks, white papers, social media updates and other content as a “swipe file.” Copywriters use swipe files all the time. Usually, the content they “borrow” is inspiration from other writers. In your case, it’ll be inspiration from words you’ve personally written.

Spend time studying everything you’ve created so far. Then, use this information to assist you in creating a skeleton for your book.

5. Build a rough outline

You have all of these great ideas and some top-level concepts to govern them. Throw everything out onto the page. As you do, you’ll probably find other ideas on their way out, too. Write them down.

You should have a big old mess of concepts, words, ideas and topics ready to play with. Start grouping these snippets in ways that make sense. As you categorize everything, a hierarchy will begin to form. An order will seep into your outline. This is, of course, assuming you know your topic well, which you should.

Think of your rough outline as exactly that. Nothing is set in stone. Things must be reordered, revised or removed. Having something rough really sets the wheels in motion in terms of getting words on the page. You don’t even have to work in order—just start building out different sections as your inspiration takes you.

Share Your Ideas

Writing your own book? Share the strategies that have worked best for you in the comments.

About the Author

Mark Sherbin is a freelance writer specializing in technology and content marketing. He shares occasionally insightful information at Copywriting Is Dead, where he promotes authentic communication between organizations and their audiences. Say hello on Twitter: @MarkSherbin.

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