Are You Writing a Book?
And as an entrepreneur, I’m betting you have a desire to help, and to share your success. I know this because I talk to people like you every day. So let me ask,
Why aren’t you writing your book, so that other people can achieve success by learning from you?
You probably at least have an idea that you want to write — maybe you have written something already, and, if so, congratulations!
But maybe you know that you have knowledge and expertise in your head, and you’re not sure how to get it onto paper. Yes, there are some concerns about whether you can write, but even if those were solved, you’re not sure you know how to structure your ideas into a book.
At least this is what you think.
These Are Poor Excuses
If you’re delaying your book because (you think) you can’t write, you have a poor excuse.
If you can talk, you can write. In just the same way you talk about your business, you talk to clients, you give presentations, so you can write.
The missing piece is often that you’re uncertain about how to structure your book.
Your ideas feel like ‘mush’; unformed and without value. But it’s just the same as a piece of unformed clay — it’s the process of sculpting and shaping that makes the raw form into something of value.
The Problem With Being an Entrepreneur
To write a good book you have to get inside your reader’s head. You have to see the world as they see it, and you have to understand how to structure your content so that it connects with the person reading it — and that person is not you!
Chances are, you’ll think differently to your reader. The reality is that we all think differently, we all perceive the world the way it has been constructed by our experience.
Your uniqueness may be exactly why you’re an entrepreneur in the first place.
Which is great for business, when you want to do, or create, something that stands out, something your customer can’t (or doesn’t want) to do for themselves.
Logic is Your Friend
As an entrepreneur, it’s OK to be quirky, to be creative, to move quickly and skip from idea to idea without always stopping to explain ourselves. We know what we mean, right?
But a book requires that you organise your thoughts in a logical way. Content that isn’t organised is difficult for a reader to navigate, and hard for them to assimilate. And if they don’t take it in how can they every hope to implement it?
What may seem boring and methodical to you, is helpful and necessary for your reader.
Help Your Reader Understand Your Ideas
Writing a book that you want a reader to love, to use, and to recommend, is simply about creating something that is a meeting of minds.
It isn’t all about you, but, equally, it isn’t all about them. (that would be boring to write!). Meet your reader halfway — bring your ideas, as creative as you want, but organise them into a logical structure that makes them accessible and understandable.
Let’s have a look at how to achieve this melding of minds to create a structure that your reader will love.
How to Woo and Wow Your Reader
Once you know what you’re writing about, you need to organise your ideas. But what’s the ‘right’ way to do?
The answer is (as so often it is!): that there are no ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’.
Some structures are more likely to meet a reader’s expectations and are therefore better than others. Before looking at specific structures, there are three principles I want to encourage you to integrate into all your writing:
1. Familiarity is Your Friend
Readers like the familiar. They like to start with something they already know, and can ‘hang’ new knowledge onto that.
Experiments show that when you start with something a reader already knows (given knowledge) and then introduce something new, it’s easier for a reader to process, it gets a higher readability score, and they are more likely to retain (and therefore use) what they read.
I started this article by talking about how I — and by extension you — love to read and get new ideas from books, and how we have a desire to help people. If you’re in my audience, that’s very likely to be true!
I’ve then walked you into some theory about how your reader learns through what is familiar (which is probably new, right?) and I’m going to go deeper, and give you some specific how-to steps next.
2. Start With Simple
Readers prefer to start from simple concepts and work towards more complex topics. Lay the foundations first and then build on them with more difficult ideas.
A section in your book on ‘managing finances’ might start with more basic content, maybe about keeping track of expenses, which is easy for a reader to grasp, before moving on to, say, more complex financial projections or investment strategies.
3. Provide a Metaphorical Map
Readers like to see the whole before learning about specifics.
For visual learners and people with spatial memories in particular, this is essential because they memorise by ‘locating’ facts within a ‘visual structure’. You know how some of us talk about “seeing the bigger picture”? Those are your visual learners.
You need to give your reader a map so he or she can get a mental overview of what’s going to be covered, and then go deeper into the topic.
Section overviews are a great way to do this, acting like a kind of map, or preview of what’s coming up. They orientate your reader, helping them relax into, and continue reading, your content.
If you dive in without this orientation, it’s like leaving someone lost on the moors. Maybe fun for a reality TV show but your average reader will be backing out confused.
Structures That Work
How you structure your book is going to be specific to your material, but here are five ways you can organise the content you want to communicate so that it’s logical, and easy to access.
1. By Location
If you’re writing a description of something spatial or physical, let’s say it’s a fitness book with a series of exercises, a web design book, or home or office organising book, even a comparative study of something location-related like a travel guide, you want to take a logical, top-down or left-right structure.
Describe adjacent parts one after another, or adjacent locations, or adjacent pieces of a design project. In a description of the human body, you reader wouldn’t expect the ankle to be described after the eye, before flipping back to the nose, now would they?
Confusion does not make for a good reading experience.
A top tips book, or a collection, could be done alphabetically, much like an index or glossary.
Sometimes we want to bring things together that don’t interrelate closely and this may be the only logical order if there is no natural relationship between your topics.
If one step of your process has to come after another, then arranging your content according to those steps in time makes the most sense.
Your business development book, for example, could include all topics related to ‘pre start-up planning’ in one place, following the logical chronology your reader needs to take in order to action them.
4. By Order of Importance
Some topics carry more risk for your reader and you want to make sure they avoid them, or they’re more important and you want to highlight them at the beginning when you have your reader’s attention and enthusiasm to implement.
A warning on how to avoid going into debt in your business should come before advice on investments (there’s no point having an investment strategy if you don’t have a business!).
You might start a book on running with a chapter on how to pick shoes that keep you injury free. The right shoes are, arguably, 90% of what makes a great running experience. Once started, he or she can come back for the rest of your advice.
Think carefully about what’s important. Write your chapter headings out on post-it notes so that you can see them clearly (that big picture again!) and order, and re-order them until you’re happy.
Be aware of your reasons for choosing why you prioritised certain topics over others and explain your structure as you go, so your reader follows your thought process as they digest your information.
Anticipate what makes most sense from the reader’s perspective. If we know our readers we know their concerns, and, if not, it’s easy enough to ask with a simple survey or a social media post.
5. Cause and effect / for and against
Having a “on the one hand…; on the other hand…” is a powerful way to organise content that is controversial, or that doesn’t have a clear cut solution.
Although a reader might want us to be prescriptive,
Just tell me what to do!
much of what we write about is complex, and there are consequences with every possible course of action.
Health choices, diet choices, business strategies, relationship advice… life is rarely as simple as we might like. Use this structure when you need to work through a range of choices and help your reader consider the best option for them.
And remember: be consistent.
The only rule is that you want one structure for your book; don’t flip and flop between them, starting with a chronology and then inserting a ‘for and against’ section.
Give your reader what he or she has come to expect.
Know Your Content
You want to organise appropriately for the type of content, and to help your reader grasp your ideas from simple to more complex, whole to specific and what they know to what’s new.
And then structure your book in the way that best helps your reader navigate through, and learn from your ideas. Ask yourself:
- What’s the overall big-picture vision for my book?
- Are there some ‘main sections’?
- Do I know which follows which?
- Have I got a complete list of topics or chapters?
- How do I create the most logical flow?
- Is there a best-fit to match chapter (or topic) with section?
If you’re at all uncertain then take one of the structure ideas we suggest, because they’re tried and tested ways of organising information in a way that will connect with your reader.
There’s no single one that fits every book. We know this as a reader, so don’t obsess ‘getting it right’.
Right, is only right in the context of the book you’re writing now, and what’s best for you and your reader.
What structure are you going to pick for your next book? One of these? Or something else? Let us know on social media.