Book Outline: 11 Ways to Outline Your Book self-publishingschool book outline

Book Outline: 11 Ways to Outline Your Book For Major Success

Outlining. That word may conjure images of 7th Grade English, scribbling at your desk in frustration while a stern teacher looks over your shoulder.

A book outline can be almost as intimidating as that teacher’s blatant glare.

Many of us learned how to outline in middle school, and it’s a skill we haven’t revisited since our braces came off and the acne faded away. But have no fear! You’re a grown-up now, and this project isn’t being graded.

You have free reign to structure your book outline to benefit your writing process—whether that’s a spaghetti-on-the-wall approach or a color-coded Excel spreadsheet.

Us at Self-Publishing School? We love this tried-and-true Mindmap to Outline procedure

What is a Book Outline?

It’s easy to see this term and wonder exactly what that means. Is it a bullet list of topics for your book? Is it a chapter by chapter overview written in paragraphs?

No matter how you write an outline, the purpose is the same.

A book outline is a roadmap for your story.

It tells you where you need to go and when. Think of it as a GPS of sorts but instead of giving you driving directions, your outline will give you writing directions.

book outline

Why Should I Write a Book Outline?

No matter which type of book outline you choose, planning before you write has many benefits. It’s not just about getting your thoughts on the paper, either. It’s about so much more than the actual writing.

Outlines can do a number of things for you:

You don’t need to spend huge amounts of time outlining, but some (mostly painless!) prep before writing will be time well-spent since you won’t be spinning your wheels by staring at the blank screen of death.

When you start with a plan, you’ll unconsciously make connections and think about your draft, even when you’re not actively writing. Mentally writing in the shower is one of the perks of outlining, because it will get your thoughts percolating. Be sure to keep paper and pens scattered about so you can capture your brilliance the minute it bubbles up, rather than letting all those ideas fade away.

Once you have a plan to write your book in outline form, you’ll be better able to put these thoughts to paper and compose your chapters when you do sit down to write.

This means a finished book in less time!

And I have some good news: there’s no “right” way to outline. Each writer will have their own process that’s personal to them. Keep reading for tips on how to outline different ways. If one of these exact methods doesn’t strike a chord with you, you can combine methods to create your own way that works best for your unique book.

book outline mindmap

Mindmap by Sonia Weyers

Are you writing a fiction or non-fiction book? Depending on which you’re working on, the outlining process may look be different.

Thankfully, there are plenty of relevant tips you can apply in the section about outlining a non-fiction book. Likewise, even if you’re writing non-fiction, the section on how to write a fiction outline can help spark some ideas for your process, so we recommend authors of all types of books read the full list:

5 Ways to Write a Non-Fiction Book Outline

Most non-fiction authors find outlines useful due to the nature of their books. Generally, works of non-fiction require research and citation of sources (although many novels require their own research!).

An outline can help organize your research so it doesn’t overwhelm you, plus your outline will help you create the best structure for your finished book. These are some of the beneficial methods we recommend for you.

#1 – Mindmap + Book Outline

This is the main method of outlining that we teach in Self-Publishing School. The mindmap method requires you to create a brain dump based on your book’s topic. Write your topic in the center of a piece of paper, then use lines and words to draw as many connections as you can.

It doesn’t need to make perfect sense from the get-go—the goal is free-form thinking to get all of your ideas out of your head and onto the page.

You’ll start to notice connections between different categories of information. This makes it easier to spot the relevant “book-worthy” ideas. Then you can pluck those ideas out of your mindmap and put them into a cohesive book outline.

We also recommend doing a mindmap for each chapter you select from your original mindmap. It will help you structure your entire book chapter by chapter.

Fun, and so easy—we told you this would be (mostly) painless!

book outline mindmap

Mindmap by Camille Nelson

At Self-Publishing School, we encourage students to make a mess with their mindmap. Regardless of what your mind map looks like in the end, it is an essential element to your book writing process.

This mind map will be the jumping off point for you to begin your outline. In this brief video, Chandler explains how to turn your mindmap into an outline:

#2 – Simple Book Outline

A simple book outline is just as it sounds; keep it basic and brief. Start with the title. Don’t get too hung up on the perfect title at this stage of the process; you just want to come up with a good-for-now placeholder.

You can always change the title later—in fact, you probably will—but starting with some kind of title gives you a better idea of where you want your book to go. Plus, it jump-starts the creative process.

Next, you’ll list all of the key points that cover your book’s overall theme and message. You’ll use these key points to generate your notes. Later, you’ll flesh out these notes to draft your book chapters.

#3 – Chapter-by-Chapter Book Outline

Your chapter-by-chapter book outline is a pumped-up version of the simple book outline. To get started, first create a complete chapter list. With each chapter listed as a heading, you’ll later add material or shift chapters around as the draft evolves.

Create a working title for each chapter, and list them in a logical order. After that, you’ll fill in the key points of each chapter. Finally, you’ll link your resources as they would appear in each chapter, including books, interviews, and Web links.

#4 – Sketch Your Book Outline

Perhaps you find the idea of a written outline confining. That’s OK — there’s another option which might appeal to your artistic side. Dan Roam, author of The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, wrote about how sketching your ideas can simplify complex thoughts.

To create this type of book outline, hand-draw your book concept in sequential order. This may be as simple or as elaborate as you desire. Feel free to use a Bic pen and a spiral notebook, or take it to the next level with a color medium on canvas-sized paper.

Others find satisfaction in sketching ideas with dry erase markers on a whiteboard or the old-fashioned feel of chalk on a blackboard.

#5 – Book Outline With Scrivener

If you like being uber-organized, then the writing software Scrivener might appeal to you. Their book outline program allows you to upload your research, organize it by moving it around, and filing it into folders.

The program does have a fairly extensive learning curve, which can be a major downside—especially if you tend to procrastinate and really want to get your book published quickly. However, some writers say it revolutionized their organizational process for longer works.

You can learn more about the program and its uses here or check out this tutorial for an overview.

6 Ways to Outline Your Novel

While you can incorporate the book outlining tips we shared in the non-fiction section above, creating an outline for your novel will be inherently different from creating a non-fiction outline. Your novel outline will require character development, the evolution of plot points, and resolution of conflict.

While the methods may be different, the goal is the same—organization and pre-planning so that you can write a great, cohesive book much faster.

#1 – Basic Document

Your goal with the Basic Document format is to use a Word or Excel table to give structure to your theme. Create a table and organize and summarize your key points and plot. You’ll then create a separate section for characters and themes, and an additional section with relevant research. 

#2 – Post-It Wall

This is for the creative mind, and another method we teach in Self-Publishing School. All you need is a blank wall and a box of Post-It notes. Carry a pad of Post-Its with you wherever you go, and doodle your book on the fly.

Write your ideas and inspiration on your Post-Its when the mood strikes you.

Next, affix the Post-Its containing words, snippets, doodles, and phrases to the wall. After a week of this exercise, organize these words into novel outline form. Voila—simple, effective, creative!

book outline: how to outline your book

Post-It wall by Wendy Van de Poll

#3 – The Snowflake Method

The Snowflake Method was created by fiction writing coach Randy Ingermanson based on the notion, “Good fiction doesn’t just happen. It’s designed.”

The process of the snowflake method focuses on starting small, then expanding. For example, you’d start with one line from your book, then add a paragraph, then add a chapter. Since the snowflake method is fairly detailed and based on scientific theory, Randy’s article is worth a read so you can review the detailed steps involved in this outlining method.

#4 – The Skeletal Outline

If you’ve ever written a term paper or thesis, then you’re probably familiar with the skeletal outline. You’ll lay out your narrative points in the order they’ll appear in your story, which involves a broad 7-step story arch.

This gives you a big picture idea of the flow of your story, so you can adjust your story and add subplots for maximum impact.

#5 – Novel Outline Template

Why reinvent the wheel? If you’re impatient to jump right into the fun part—writing!—or you aren’t sure exactly how to format your novel outline, then a pre-formatted template outline might be your saving grace.

A fill-in-the-blank novel outline can help you develop your plot, characters, and ideas without getting bogged down with the notion of striving for “proper” outline form.

#6 – The Reverse Outline

Sometimes looking at the problem from a different angle can give you the answer to the question. The same applies to outlining. Reverse outlining is exactly what it sounds like: Write down how your novel ends. Then once you know the ending, outline backward to get to that happy (Or sad? You’re the author!) ending.

For more ideas and creatives ways to jump-start your novel outline, check out How to Write a Novel Outline.

Here’s the take-away: No matter which option you choose, ultimately, you’ll write faster and better with a book outline. If one way doesn’t work well for you, then experiment and try another. Remember, your goal is a finished manuscript, not the gold medal for “Most Perfect Book Outline.”

Discover what works best for you and you’ll be one step closer to a finished book.

Like what you read and want to learn more? We’re holding a FREE online workshop where Chandler is revealing the exact tactics and strategies he used to write and publish 6 bestselling books in a row… and use them to build a 7-figure business in less than 2 years. Click here to save your spot now!

how to outline a book with the bookmap

[DOWNLOAD] The BookMap: Simplify Your Brainstorming & Outline a Book Using This Template

Trying to get into the writing groove, but find yourself getting tripped up when you try to start an outline?

It happens to all of us! Because of that, I have the perfect solution for you right here in this article.

I want to introduce you to a book-outlining system you can use to dramatically speed up the time it takes to write a book—while making the whole process simpler, easier, and less intimidating.

Better still, I’m sharing a free template (below, no opt-in required!) you can use to go through this process for your next book (and your next book, and your next, and your next). how to outline a book with the bookmap

It’s called the BookMap, and it’s about to become your secret weapon for outlining books faster and more easily than you ever thought possible.

You CAN Write a Book (And This Will Make It Easier)

You might think that most authors grew up getting straight A’s in English class, and that their teachers loved them for being such amazing wordsmiths.

Well, you would be wrong!

Believe it or not, I got terrible grades in my writing classes. Teachers hated my papers—truth be told, I wasn’t that strong of a writer—and as a result, I hated writing.

That might sound surprising for someone who turned out to become a 6-time bestselling author. But it’s true.

Lucky for me, I didn’t give up on writing a book just because I didn’t know how to do it. Instead I sought out a mentor who knew what they were doing—and his advice helped me to write my first book and make it a huge success.

I’ve continued to use that system for all my subsequent books, which has helped me to write my books in just a fraction of the time it takes many other writers.

Now I’m paying it forward and sharing that advice with you.

The BookMap: Your Key to a Solid Book Outline

So many people want to write a book…but they get overwhelmed at the thought of all that work. They don’t know what to do or how to get started. As a result, the entire process seems impossible.

Well, that’s not going to be the case any longer. Not for you.

The BookMap is the key to getting your book project off the ground in just a few hours. It’s a template you can follow to quickly pull together all the subjects you want to write about and organize them into topics that will become the chapters of your book.

(RELATED: 7 Strategies to Start Writing Your Book Today)

Here’s how the BookMap works:

  • Step 1: Print out the BookMap and have a few clean sheets of paper ready.
  • Step 2: Use the BookMap template to draw your own map with everything you know about that topic.
  • Step 3: Organize those sections to form your book outline.

(Note: don’t let your ideas hold you back! It may be a little difficult to fit all your ideas onto one page and that’s totally normal. Don’t think smaller just because you have less space :).

Now let’s dive into each step in a little more detail.

Outline a Book Using The BookMap Step 1: Choose Your Book Topic

First things first: you have to download the BookMap. There are 2 versions of this (free) download—one for fiction books and one for nonfiction books.

nonfiction bookmap for outlining a book

 

 

Download the nonfiction BookMap here.

outline a book using the bookmap template

Download the fiction BookMap here.

As you can see, the BookMap is a kind of mind map that’s been pre-filled with the most relevant questions you’ll need to answer to write your book. And no matter which version of the BookMap you’re using, you’ll notice that the center question is the same:

What’s your book topic?

So first, go ahead and choose a topic. What do you want your book to be about? For a nonfiction book, this could anything that…

  • Is a hobby of yours
  • Is related to your occupation
  • You are passionate about
  • You consider yourself an expert on
  • You’re curious to learn more about

And for a fiction book, think about what you’re inspired to write! Do you love mysteries, or coming-of-age stories? Are you fascinated with a particular event in history, a specific person, or a concept that can be dramatized in a novel?

how to outline a bookAnother tip is to think about the kind of books you love to read. That’s usually a good indication that you will enjoy writing that kind of book. If you love reading romances novels or science fiction books, then try writing one yourself! Because you’re familiar with the genre, you’ll be able to shortcut the learning curve and will probably be surprised by how great a story you can write in your very first try.

Once you have a topic, move on to step 2:

Outline a Book Using The BookMap Step 2: Fill Out the BookMap

Now that you have a topic for your book, the next step is to brainstorm everything you know about that topic by filling out the BookMap. This will help you get all the most important and relevant ideas down on paper, making them much easier to work with.

Here are some of the most important prompts to answer when you’re writing a book:

BookMap Prompts for a Nonfiction Book

What problems are you helping people to solve? A lot of people make the mistake of writing about themselves—the things they love, the things they find interesting—without stopping to consider what the reader wants. What are your reader’s problems and frustrations? How can you help them to solve those problems with this book?

Example: I know from experience that new moms have a hard time losing that baby weight—especially since you’ve got a little infant taking up all your time now. So I’m going to help new moms overcome this frustrating situation with a book that will help them make smarter choices in the kitchen and ultimately, feel better about themselves.

Lessons you’ve learned: Think about how you have personally grown over the years, as it relates to this topic. What are the biggest things that you’ve learned? How have your views changed and evolved over time? This can be an insightful thing to brainstorm, since it can help you get a better idea of where your readers are probably at right now and some of the challenges they’re facing.

Example: One thing I learned in the process of losing my baby weight is that you can’t beat yourself up every time you make a mistake. Doing that will only lead to more emotional eating!how to use the bookmap to outline a book

Stories & examples: People learn best from hearing stories about real people overcoming real problems. What stories can you remember that will help you to illustrate your points more effectively?

Example: My friend Mindy tried to lose her weight through exercise alone, without changing her diet. And she continued to gain weight—until she finally realized that she needed to change the foods she was putting in her body.

Ideas to explore: What concepts or themes can you bring up in your book? Does your topic relate to any deep ideas or universal truths that might resonate with your readers?

Example: One idea I want to explore is the importance of self-esteem. Yes, it’s important to be at a healthy weight…but what really matters is the way you feel about yourself—no matter what the scale says!

Other books you’ve read: Have you read any other books on the topic? If so, did those books have any helpful messages you can include in your book?

Example: In Dr. Berg’s book The New Body Type Guide, he talks about how your hormones can impact your body shape. This could be a helpful thing for women to learn about, so they can realize not everything is under their control.

Topics to research: Are there any other topics you would like to include in your book, but you might need more time to learn more about? If so, make a note of them so you can remember to do a little research.

Example: I’d like to do more research on insulin and learn more about how carbohydrates affect fat storage.

Frequently asked questions: Are there common questions, myths, or misconceptions about your topic that people have? If so, your book gives you a great way to bust those myths and enlighten people with the truth. Try to think up at least a few common misconceptions.

Example: “Should I avoid eating fat?” This is a common question for many women. Some people think that eating fat will make you fat…but the truth is, eating healthy fats can actually help keep you feeling fuller, longer so you can stick to your diet.

Ready to get started outlining your non-fiction book?

Download the nonfiction BookMap here.

BookMap Questions for a Fiction Book

Main characters: Who are the main characters in your story? Flesh them out and start to learn more about who they are and what their purpose is in your story. Make sure to include your protagonist, antagonist, and any important supporting characters.

Example: Sarah is a stubborn teenage girl who becomes convinced that her neighbor is a serial killer.

Background: Explore your important characters’ backgrounds. Where were they born? What was their childhood like? What’s the educational level? What are their beliefs? Where do they work? Flesh out your characters until they start to feel like real people.

Example: Sarah was betrayed by her best friend in 5th grade, and as a result she has a hard time trusting people.

Character development: How does each character change and grow (or regress) during the course of the story? What causes this change to occur, and what effect does it have on the other characters?

Example: Sarah learns to trust other people which helps her to escape from the killer and bring him to justice.

Theme: What larger ideas do you want to explore in this book? Betrayal, love, friendship? How do the events of your story shed a new light on these concepts?

Example: I want to explore the concept of trust, and why you can’t always do it alone in life.

Scene & setting: Where do your story take place? Is it a real location, a historical one, an invented one? Be sure to think about different factors like the climate, geography, culture, and government. How do these things affect the characters in your story?bookmap for book outline

Example: Sarah lives in a wealthy suburb where crime like this is very uncommon, which makes it that much more terrifying to Sarah’s parents.

Major events: What are the big turning points that take place in your story? Your best bet is to brainstorm a long list of dramatic events so you can choose the options that fit best in your story.

Example: At one point, Sarah sneaks into the neighbor’s house looking for clues—and she discovers a bloody knife in the basement! Before she can get out, however, she hears the front door open upstairs…

Climax: The climax is where your story reaches a crisis point. Tension and drama are at their highest, and the protagonist faces his or her worst fears—and they either succeed, or fail, for good. Don’t lock yourself into one climax here. Instead, brainstorm a few possible climax ideas so you can choose the best one.

Example: At the story’s climax, Sarah is forced to trust her new friend Alex to help her escape from the killer’s basement.

Conclusion: Your conclusion takes place after the climax, at the very end of your book. What happens to your characters when it’s all said and done? Do they live happily ever after, or face a tragic end? Once again, feel free to brainstorm several possibilities. You don’t have to lock yourself into one ending just yet.

Example: It’s a happy ending for Sarah, who survives the killer and grows as a person. But the ending is bittersweet because of all the tragedy the killer has left in his wake.

Ready to get started writing your fiction book?

Download the fiction BookMap here.

Outline a Book Using The BookMap Step 3: Organize Common Topics into Sections

Phew! Step 2 is a long one, I know. But trust me—by answering those questions, you just took a MAJOR step forward in completing your book.

You now have all the topics you need to write your outline.

The final step in this process is to look at your BookMap and combine all the related topics into sections. Those sections will become the chapters of your book.

There are a couple ways to do this. You could write them out on a separate piece of paper, keeping them organized by section. Or you could use different colored highlighters to connect the ideas in your BookMap visually.

No matter how you choose to do it, the idea is the same: combine all the related ideas together.

Nonfiction example: Maybe you have an anecdote that would serve as a great example for one of the lessons you want to share. In that case, group those 2 things together—they deserve to be in the same chapter.

Fiction example: Maybe one of your character traits really seems to resonate with one of the themes you want to explore in your book. If so, group those 2 things together—this way you’ll know to use that character trait as a way of exploring that theme in your novel.

Once you’re done with Step 3, step back and take a look at what you’ve completed.

(RELATED: How to Boost Your Writing Productivity and Write Your Book)

That, my friends, is the outline for your book!

Yep, believe it or not, you just outlined an entire book. Now you have a detailed roadmap of exactly what to write about in each and every chapter of your book.

And that’s huge, guys!

See, the rest of the process—actually writing the book—is so(ooo) much easier when you know exactly what to say in each and every chapter.

So give yourself a pat on the back. Because in a lot of ways, you just finished the hardest part of writing a book.

Download Your BookMap!

If you’re having trouble getting your book project started, I REALLY urge you to give the BookMap a try. It’s been invaluable to me, and I know it will help you, too.

Click here to download the nonfiction BookMap.

Click here to download the fiction BookMap.

And if you’d like to learn more about the 3-step system I use to write my books, then register for my book writing workshop, “Want to Launch a Bestseller in 90 Days?”

In this free hour-long webinar, you’ll get the step-by-step launch roadmap that can take you from blank to page to a $10,000 book launch! You’ll learn the exact same system I use to write my books in as little as a week.

Click here to register for the free workshop, and let me know in the comments how you put your BookMap to work!