In the publishing world, when a new book is created by a publishing company it's called commissioning a new title. The process a publisher, or commissioning editor, embarks on is a mix of identifying the market(s) for the book and working out structure and content to ensure it covers all the essential topics in its particular subject area.
When planning to write your book, I suggest seeing yourself as the commissioning editor. Now that may sound daunting, so to make it easier, I’ve created the book-building pyramid.
I'm a fan of pyramids and I believe that writers have a lot to learn from the building block nature of these structures. Without a detailed plan, creating your book will feel like a colossal and perhaps insurmountable task – probably much like the Egyptians felt when they were faced with building a pyramid from a pile of enormous boulders lying in a quarry some distance down the Nile.
So, where to begin? Unlike the Egyptians, we begin at the top.
Let’s break this down and look at each level.
- The top brick of your pyramid is the CONCEPT, or what you could call the UPS – ‘unique selling proposition’. This is the single concept you identified that made you want to write your book. The spark of inspiration you had when speaking to a client one day, or the revelation that you have a particular view of the world that you want to elaborate on and share.
- Level 2 is fleshing that concept out into an OVERVIEW of your book – a brief description of your work and what you hope to achieve or what you hope it will offer readers. Perhaps this is the summary ‘blurb’ you imagine seeing on the back cover when it is completed.
- Level 3 is about dividing the book into SECTIONS. Using your concept and overview, break your thoughts down a few concepts that you need to include to ensure you cover the subject matter well. You may retain these sections in the final book, or they may simply be the scaffolding to help structure your thoughts and you dispense with them in the final work.
- Level 4 is the next layer of scaffolding. Based on the sections above write down the CHAPTERS you envisage will be needed to create the structure of the book so your readers will navigate and understand your argument. To create these think about your concept and its argument and how you will lead readers through the book logically.
- The base layer is fleshing out the detail for each chapter. Describe the content of each chapter in about 100-200 words.
When you begin writing it’s important to remember that none of the details above are set in stone – this is a working plan for your book. If you got your concept right, then the top levels should not change much but as you work down into the detail, your ideas will change and that’s fine. But you should remain fixed on the stone at the top – your CONCEPT as the centre of everything that flows off it and into your writing.
There are a couple of questions you should ask yourself before you begin, or at least while you are writing if you've already begun:
- What's the concept for my book?
Having a clear concept will help you create the pyramid for your work.
- Who's my audience?
Knowing your audience will also help with the structure, but will also inform the tone, style and level of your writing.