November 18, 2022

How I Learned How to Structure Books

book mapping
book planning
book structure

On Tuesday, my writing partner Liz and I taught a class on book mapping, which many of you signed up for and attended or may be watching the recording of. (Thank you!!) We were honestly surprised by the amount of interest we received and how many people signed up! It reinforced for us just how truly important this topic is, and how many people get stumped with structure.

My hope, of course, is that by teaching people the thought process behind book mapping, they’ll be able to take those lessons and apply them to their own books. I hope that seeing a live example and hearing me and Liz ask questions will spark some ideas and creativity for their own projects. And if that's you, I'd love to hear how it's going for you!

And then, just after I got off the call, I opened Instagram and saw this post from James Clear:

He also says in his caption:

It can be easy to assume that the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future is caused by a lack of knowledge. This is why we buy courses on how to start a business or how to lose weight fast or how to learn a new language in three months. We assume that if we knew about a better strategy, then we would get better results. We believe that a new result requires new knowledge.
What I’m starting to realize, however, is that new knowledge does not necessarily drive new results.

WOW. And YES. 

Here’s what we didn’t say enough in our book mapping masterclass (so I’m saying it to you now):

The best way to learn how to structure books is to practice structuring books!

There’s a reason Liz and I are professional book planners/proposal writers. We’ve literally helped dozens of authors structure their books. We often analyze the structure of other books out there. We write down what we find, and we look for patterns. We experiment with different methods when we’re working with authors. We try things that don’t work, and we have to change course. We create templates for ourselves and adjust them as we encounter new topics/ideas/structures that require something new and different.

We are intentional and deliberate, just as Thomas Sterner’s quote says. 

In short, we are constantly practicing book structure. 

That’s my best advice for you, too. The teaching and training we provide is just the first step. If you really want to learn how to structure a book, practice creating book structures! 

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Pick three books that you enjoyed and want your book to be like in some way.
  • Create a virtual or physical book map for each of those books. Write out the chapter titles and a one-sentence summary for each chapter. Then outline each chapter itself. Notice how the author engages the reader with a hook, tells stories, teaches from their own experience, asks the reader to think/reflect, and closes each chapter with takeaways and conclusions.

I promise you will start to see patterns and ideas emerge very quickly! 

This is also a great exercise if you’re preparing to pitch your book to publishers, and you’re not sure what makes your book different and unique from the rest of what’s out there. As you look at the book map you created for each of your complementary titles, you’ll immediately see where you could do something different and unique.

That’s my best advice for you today: Go out and practice what you learn.