Table of Contents—The Skeleton for Your Non-Fiction, Self-Help Book: How to Create It

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I recently wrote a blog post about the difference between plot and story in the novel or memoir and the top three items to initially focus on when creating story. But what about the non-fiction, self-help book?

While I believe we begin in the same place with each of these genres—getting to know our people (for the non-fiction, self-help book this is your Ideal Reader), the process to create a solid foundation diverges from fiction and memoir after this step.

Rather than concern ourselves with an opening scene and inciting incident for this type of book, as we do with fiction and memoir, we must create a cohesive and complete (or as complete as possible) Table of Contents (TOC).

So, how do we do that? We begin with questions. There are six types of questions we can consider. Below is an example of one type, which might be considered a question of fact.

  1. What is your Ideal Reader’s BIG question? (This is the question that’s compelling her to seek you out and want to buy your book that will change her life with your method, program, or process.)

    Example: Can I create and maintain healthier relationships?

  2. What’s your answer to that question? (This is your direct answer, which, on the surface, is quite simple.)

    Example: You can create and maintain healthier relationships…
  • What’s your WHY to your answer? (This helps you begin the process of delving deeper into your answer so you can clarify and demonstrate HOW.)

    Example: …because you can learn to [fill in the blank with how you can and will help her achieve this].

The first and last step above can take some time to perfect, but after you have the question, answer, and “because” (your WHY), you can then begin to create a list of steps—which might include anecdotes, instructions, exercises, etc.—that will serve as the beginnings of a TOC and will not only inform and guide your Ideal Reader through your method, program, or process, but will guide you, as well, in the writing of your book.

Of course, there’s much more detail and inquiry involved in creating a polished TOC, and this is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. But this is a good place to begin.

Just as we can think of the plot in a novel or memoir as the body that contains all the elements of story, we can think of the TOC in the non-fiction, self-help book as the skeleton that holds all the elements together.

Try the steps above and see what starts to fall into place.

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Happy writing!