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Author University: Your Working Table of Contents -- A "Birth Plan" for Your Book

Monday, June 27, 2005
Your working table of contents is basically a "birth plan" for your book. It's a work in progress that details how you intend to write your book, assuming that all everything according to plan. What it isn't is a blueprint for your finished book.

Here are the steps involved in creating a working table of contents.

Brainstorm. Think of anything and everything that should find its way into your book. Jot down ideas on napkins, the backs of envelopes, and other random pieces of paper (e.g., price tags from clothing, roadmaps, etc.) Because you will find that your best ideas come to you at the least convenient times (when you just got out of the shower, when you're driving down the highway), try to have a notebook within grabbing distance at all times).

Research widely. Find out what everyone else who has written about your topic and related topics has talked about. Interview members of your target audience to find out what would be helpful to them in a book on your particular topic. Let your ideas take you on a wild and crazy ride. Print out tons of paper while you surf the Internet in every direction possible. Flip through all the books you have purchased on this topic, and hit the library to borrow more. When you find yourself running around in research circles, it's time to stop.

Drink lots and lots of coffee. Think about how you want to organize your table of contents. How would your book be most useful to your readers? Should it be organized thematically, chronologically, in a question and answer format, or using some other method (or combination of methods) entirely? Think some more.

Start slicing and dicing your materials into chapters. If you find that a particular chapter is becoming enormous, you may have to divide it into two chapters. That may necessitate rethinking the overall method of organization for your book.

Come up with catchy chapter headings that are still intuitive enough that the reader can figure out what the chapter is about. (Subheadings can be useful in helping the reader to put the pieces together.)

Decide that you hate what you've come up with so far. Decide that you will flip a coin to decide what to do next. If you get "heads" you will listen to Alanis Morissette's Excuses and take the rest of the day off. If you get "tails," you will pour yourself more coffee and go back to step 3. It's tails.

Come up with a working table of contents that you feel good about. Actually, not just good about -- excited about. Get so pumped about your working table of contents that you can't wait to dive into the writing stage. (Momentarily pause to ask yourself if this is bonafide enthusiasm or caffeine overload. Then decide to go with the flow.)

Be prepared to revise your table of contents as you continue to research and begin the writing process. If you try to stick to your original table of contents too rigidly, you'll be depriving your readers of the opportunity to benefit from all the new material you manage to unearth during the research and writing phases.

I love creating tables of contents for books. It's a really fun, inspiring phase of the book-writing phase -- not unlike the "conception" phase of babymaking when you're full of hope and optimism about becoming a parent. And then the really hard (and even more creative) work begins!

| posted by Ann D @ 12:40 PM