How to structure your book?

My book-writing process is the simplest one that I know of, and I’ve examined all the ones I have found. Nevertheless, one part of it remains challenging: Creating your structure.

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If you’ve read my book, or picked up pieces on my blog, you know that the basis of the Joel’s BookProgram method is one simple rule: Structure first, then content. In case this is the first you’ve heard of it, here’s my favorite metaphor: If you want to build a house, you do not begin with a trip to Home Depot. For what will you buy? How many 2×4′s? How many pounds of nails? Feet of Romex cable? And so on.

To build a house–assuming you’ve got a place to put it–you need a plan. So your first stop is the office of an architect.

After extensive discussions to establish just what you are seeking in a house–talking about everything from type of construction, number of floors, bathrooms, how long before the kids move out, room for the electric trains, to the swimming pool, and much more–the architect will draw up plans. Only after they have been gone over, revised, and re-revised, can they be turned over to a builder for estimates–and ultimately, for the creation of shopping lists.

The book equivalent of a house plan is your structure. Any writing you do without having a complete structure in place–a detailed outline down to the sub-chapter level–is likely to be a waste of time.

Your book is really its structure. The structure determines the order of what will be said, in order to get your message across. So how do you create it?

Before you even start, recognize that this is the creative, artistic part of book-writing. And for many of us, that puts us in a place of emotional intensity. We may experience exhilaration, anxiety, frustration, progress, disappointment, and fulfillment–in rapid succession, and repeatedly. Recognize that this is the nature of the process, and if you are having these feelings, you are on the right track.

The two tools that I show you for use in this phase of your book-writing journey are clustering and “the diamond.” They are all I’ve found so far, and they are powerful. But there is one other form of help you can use: Feedback. Talk through your thoughts with a coach or trusted friend.

And if you come up with any other ways to make structuring easier, please share them with me!

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Have someone interview you and write your book

You know you want to write a book. You know you need to have a book written by you, for your branding, credentialization, authority, differentiation, and more. But you just don’t have the time to write it yourself, even using my ultra-efficient process.

What can you do?

You can have someone–like me, for example–write your book for you.

The typical process depends on the writer. Most will interview you to understand your goals and direction. If you have material you’ve written that you want incorporated, that may speed up or slow down the process.

How much does it cost? There is a wide range. Hillary Clinton’s ghost writer got about $500,000 of her $8,000,000 advance (possibly the highest flat fee ever paid to a ghost writer). You can find writers in India and elsewhere who will work for very little–$3000-$4000 for a 100-page book.

Most 120-180 page ghost-writing projects will cost around $25,000-$35,000. Editing may be separate.

Why pay tens of thousands of dollars to have a book written for you? Because of its value to you, and the opportunity cost of your time. I currently have two such contracts. One is with a successful inventor, who wants his ideas to be exposed to a large audience. The other is with an up-and-coming consultant/coach/speaker, who values his own time at $500 an hour. “I can’t afford to take the tens–maybe hundreds–of hours I’d need to get my book out. Plus, I’m not a great writer,” he told me. I’ll finish his book in a couple of months, while he earns much more than I’m charging.

When hiring a ghost writer, chemistry is critical. You must be comfortable with the writer, both as a person and as a skilled craftsperson. Take your time interviewing different ones. Look for track record; empathy; and compatibility with your personality.

If you’d like to speak with me about your writing needs, schedule a free strategy call with me. I want to help you finish your book. Let’s talk.

After the kidnapping

The snatch was successful. We left early on Tuesday morning, 6/9, Dalia’s 64th birthday. Only when we were on Rt 17, headed towards Rt 1, did I reveal our destination: Big Sur.

McWay Cove at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
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The (willing) captive was excited and happy.

Clouds dominated the morning sky. But I had ordered perfect weather for our time away, so I was confident that the sun would soon dissipate the overcast.

We drove south on Rt 1, enjoying the changing scenery. Strawberry picking was under way in numerous fields, recalling our days in fields in Israel.

Soon the road grew narrow, to one lane in each direction. And the ocean came into view–the glorious Pacific. Even under the pall of clouds, it was a deep blue-green. Lots of whitecaps. And huge rocks just off-shore, as if they had tumbled in from the shore. (Maybe they did.)

We began to stop at the frequent turnoffs, to view the incredible ocean, to catch glimpses of the wonderful private homes along the cliffs overlooking the water.

After the fifth or sixth such stop, the sun came out, as if on queue. And the beauty of the ocean took our breath away–again, and again, and again.

Something happened to my consciousness. The past, the future, concerns about other commitments, all disappeared. I brought no computer, and my iPhone’s battery retained a charge just long enough to tell me there was almost no ATT signal in Big Sur. And it didn’t matter at all. I was just there, fully present in each magnificent moment, taking pleasure in the redwoods, the rocks, the beaches, the birds, the people… and in Dalia’s glowing pleasure.

There was no time. There was wonderful food, magical moments, joyful intimacy. Lots of photos; see them soon on my Facebook page.

The next day, we stopped in more parks (Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is particularly recommended for its gorgeous waterfall and views of the ocean). We drove home by heading south past Cambria, then taking Rt 46 east to 101, and 101 north back to Mountain View. (Stopping to collect a whole flat of strawberries en route. There were actually some left when we got home… :-))

Now we are home, blessed and changed by the experience.

What does this have to do with writing books? It’s a pattern: Kidnap yourself. Plan your route and your lodgings; campsites and motels in Big Sur are booked months in advance. Prepare as well as you can. (I left our traveling-snacks cooler in our kitchen in Mountain View.)

More than anything, commit: Give yourself to the process. The results will be life-changing.

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Your mind is a vat of viscous fluid

It has all kinds of stuff floating in it, at different depths. The stuff that is near or on the surface is consciously accessible to you; stuff that is a little deeper show up after a second or two of reflection.

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Deeper things–memories, knowledge–are associatively linked. They only show up when triggered by associations, experiences, feelings. It’s all the stuff you know, but you don’t know that you know. You can’t list it.

The process of clustering that I teach as part of my approach to writing books lets you get at this stuff. It empowers you to list what you know, but didn’t know that you know. It thus makes it possible to quickly identify the things you’re going to have to research, so that you don’t waste a lot of time wandering around Wikipedia or libraries.

Of course, the lists you can then make are useful for lots more than just writing your book. You can create other products: Courses; articles; ebooks; presentations; and more. There are limitless ways in which you can package your knowledge for presentation and sale, and my process lets you get at them with little effort.

To find out more about it, click here.

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Do you have to write your own book to have a book?

No. You can have someone do it for you.

Different people have different ways of working with authors. And of course, it very much depends on the type of book you want written.

I’m writing a book for an inventor/engineer right now. He does not intend to use it to market his services; he wants to simply put forth some of his ideas, many of which are quite provocative, into the world.

I’m speaking with another person who also has provocative ideas, but wants to use the book to build a speaking platform and additional products.

Different purposes, different processes. With the first book, we worked to come up with a detailed table of contents. Then I interviewed the man accordingly. Now I am turning those results into a manuscript.

And he wants me to be the author.

With the second, the client will be the author. I will structure, interview, and write. I don’t plan for my name to appear on the book.

In both cases, I will take care of the publishing, and consult on the promotion and sales.

Is this a good way to do things? That depends on your goals. My time–and that of anyone who you’d want to have write a book for you–is valuable. The question you have to answer is: How valuable is your time? Would you be better served creating new products for your business, or writing your book yourself? (I can help you do that, too, of course.)

Do you want it done quickly? What’s it costing you not to have a book out yet? When you consider the whole picture, the cost of having someone write a book for you might show up as a good investment.

There are other–less expensive–shortcuts to getting a book out. For example, I have a template-based book kit for coaches, and will soon have them for other professions. For a few hundred dollars, you can create a good book, and have it published inexpensively.

If you’d like to discuss your options and possible strategies, click on the calendar in the right-hand column to pick a time for a no-obligation strategy call with me.

Color brochure vs. book

Your book can replace your color brochure. Let’s do a simple comparison:

A brochure tells what you do, what benefits the prospect will get, and how to contact you.

A book can do all that–plus you have as many pages as you need to explain the uniqueness of your process and to share case histories of clients you’ve worked with.

A nicely designed and nicely printed brochure establishes your significance.

Your book establishes you as an authority, not just someone who was able to afford a fancy brochure.

Do you keep fancy brochures you get? No? Neither does anyone else. They throw them out as soon as you’re out of the room.

Do you throw away books? Especially books that have been inscribed to you? No, and neither do I. Your book will hang around your prospect’s office or home–probably forever.

What does a brochure say about you? That you have good artistic taste; that you invested in a nice brochure.

What does a book say about you? That you are an author–and therefore, an authority. An expert in your field.

A nice brochure is expensive–$3-$5 each, by the time you’ve paid a designer and printer.

A hundred-page book with a full-color cover is $1.10 in quantity 500–less in larger quantities.

So–what’s a better investment for you? Book or brochure?

What will a book do for me?

Literally? Nothing. A book, even one with a ¬†cover, and your name and face on it, and marvelous content describing your uniqueness, and the uniqueness of your approach to your clients’ greatest pain, will do nothing for you. Nothing.

However, you can do a lot with your book. You can use it as a key to unlock hitherto sealed doors, a credential to bring you the respect you deserve, a validation to allow you to charge the fees that are your due.

Moreover, the book-writing process–actually, my book-writing process–will empower you to take the stuff that is floating around in your head and turn it into an organized body of knowledge. That organized body of knowledge can become a book, and much more–ebooks; courses; keynote speeches; and many other products.

By writing your book my way, you actually inventory your store of knowledge. You see, if you are like most people, you don’t know what you know. That is, you can’t make a list of all the things you have learned. You just know them, and they serve you in your profession. But if asked to make a list of them, you’d be hard put to lay them out.

My book-writing process empowers you to do just that–to list all the things you know in a way that you can share them with others.

Once you have this catalog, this inventory of your peculiar expertise and experience, you can easily turn it into products. Each chapter in your book can be a string of podcasts. Each subchapter is, at the very least, a blog entry. The book’s title is a theme for a course, a membership site, a coaching program–you get the idea. It’s all knowledge, and it has value.

So do it. Try my book-writing process. Build your new business.

“Perfect Pages”–a guide to producing books with Microsoft Word

Perfect Pages by Aaron Shepard is an indispensable aid to someone who wants to produce a fully formatted book manuscript in Microsoft Word. Get it for about $12.60 at Amazon.com and read its 150+ pages, and you will save yourself a lot of grief.

Microsoft Word 2010 Icon
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Word Mac 2008 icon
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Now you may think, “I’ve used Word forever. I don’t need additional tips.” You may be right, but I doubt it. Book formatting requires different

things than article or report formatting.

Word is a powerful program, and it can also be maddeningly cranky. This book helps you avoid the cranky parts.

The few pages on styles are so lucid that you will get your money’s worth from the book if you just absorb them. Styles are the blessing and the bane of Word, and the five pages Shepard devotes to them are spot on.

Partial contents:

  • Managing Word–Options; preferences; workspace; features; safety; memory
  • Formatting your document
  • Typesetting your text
  • Formatting your text
  • Perfecting your text
  • Handling special text
  • Handling graphics
  • Enhancing your layout
  • Preparing for print
  • Creating a cover
  • Resources–a good long list of websites

This book will save you time and energy if you write in Word. Highly recommended.

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“Begin with the end in mind”

This is one of Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Successful People.” It also corresponds to an ancient Jewish dictum that is part of the Shabat service, “Lekha Dodi”: “Sof ma’aseh b’makhshava tkhila,” says the Hebrew–”The end of a deed is in prior thought.”

Here’s the application to books: If you want to wind up with a book, you have to start with a book in mind.

“Well, duh!” I hear you snorting. And yet–most people who want to write a book don’t do that. They start with some general notion that they want to get to a book, then do random things–journaling, reading, lots of web surfing, thinking, feeling frustrated… and are disappointed and distressed that they seem to be no closer to a book weeks or months or years later than when they began.

It’s not their fault. It’s as if they had determined to travel to some distant destination–say, Joplin, Missouri–but had no idea where Joplin is.

So they start traveling. They drive, they walk, they fly, just to be moving. But they never get to Joplin, and feel worse and worse about it all the time.

One thing that would be helpful would be a map. Here’s one:

  • Decide who you are writing for
  • Decide what you are going to say to them, and why they will want to hear your message
  • Name your book
  • Create the table of contents–the list of chapters
  • For each chapter, create a list of subchapters
  • Only when you are satisfied that your table of contents and all the subchapters are in the right order do you begin to write
  • If there’s anything you need to look up or find out, note it and leave it for the end. When everything else is done, go do whatever is required to fill that blank

That’s how you build a book. You begin with the end in mind.

Need help? Schedule an appointment with me for a free strategy session. Click below.


I offer online scheduling using BookFresh

Manage your state

In book-writing, as in other activities, the quality and quantity of your output will depend on your state. No, I don’t mean California or New York. I’m referring to your internal state–the vector sum of your emotions and feelings. What comes up for you when you ask yourself, “How am I?” Serene? Frazzled? Happy? Grumpy? Some combination?

Many people experience their emotional state like the weather, believing they have no control over it. If you are such a person, I have good news for you: You can affect your state.

Were you ever in the middle of an angry exchange when the phone rang? Did your anger spill over to the phone call, or did you find you were able to “switch gears” and “get into a different head”? If you were able to set aside your anger and enter into a conversation of a completely different tone, you can understand what I mean–and that it is within your reach.

The first step: Be aware of your state. Ask yourself uncritically, “How am I? What am I feeling?” Accept whatever answer comes up for you as useful information.

Now ask: Is this state serving me at this moment? Is there some other state that is more appropriate to my current activity–completing my outline; writing a blog entry; preparing for a business call? Here are some things you can do to create your own pattern interrupt and choose your new state:

  • Get up and do some vigorous exercise. Run until you are exhausted. Do jumping jacks.
  • Call a close friend and tell them something wild. Or ask them for the happiest thing that they did in the last couple of days.
  • Change the music you’re listening to, or play some if you’re not. Put on something that always makes you smile–something with raw guitars and lots of drums.
  • Pick up your favorite book of humor or inspiration and read some things at random. Or go to a humor website you love.
  • Put on a hat; this is now your “state-change” hat.
  • Do your happy dance!
  • Read your favorite uplifting poem aloud.
  • Draw a picture that excites you. Use colors.

Brainstorm your own list of pattern-interrupts. Use them! Your writing will benefit.

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