The Art of Book Structure

The Art of Book Structure -- Why every book needs it and how to figure out yours. Click to read more.

What’s a book? Well, it’s about a hundred or two hundred pages of writing. But a book is more than that. A book has a beginning, middle, and end. It’s communicates a cohesive idea or story. And a book takes the reader on a journey that builds trust as it goes—trust that the author knows what she’s talking about, trust that the story will satisfy in the end. A book is planned, crafted, fine-tuned. It’s an idea executed in a way that effectively communicates to the reader. And to accomplish that, you need book structure.

So if you want to write a book, you can’t just open up a Word document on your computer, type until you hit 50,000 words, and call it done.

I will admit, you can fly by the seat of your pants and write without a plan when you’re writing your first draft. But you’ll save yourself multiple revisions and countless hours if you understand how to structure your ideas effectively and can plan your book accordingly. In other words, writing a book is much easier if you know how books work and fit your ideas into an effective structure. Even if you’ve never written a book before, executing that idea will be easier when you understand how to do it.

How I Learned Book Structure

I remember the first book I worked on—I was excited and completely nervous all at once. At the time, I was working at a self-publishing company under another ghostwriter and I had been there a few months—long enough to prove my stuff—and my boss gave me my first book project. On one hand, I was excited by the challenge and my boss’s belief in me. But then when I went back to my desk and sat down with this assignment, reality started to sink in. I had to write a book—a whole book! I’d never done that before.

Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time working on books and figuring out what makes them successful—how they are constructed, how the author leads the reader, and how the author keeps the reader hooked. And I’ve learned that all books have an underlying structure that takes the reader from point A to point B.

The Art of Book Structure -- Why every book needs it and how to find yours. Click to read more.

Structure makes a book an effective and successful form of communication, and structure makes books satisfying to read. Nonfiction books, like self-help and business, have core elements that are arranged and compiled in ways that engage their readers, communicate the author’s expertise in the absolute best way, and ultimately compels their readers to take action. Stories, like memoirs and other narrative books, all have a beginning, middle, and end.

So when you think about the book you want to write, you can figure out the structural elements of the book, and then work everything else in around them. In other words, once you figure out the essential pieces, you just have to put them together.

Structure Holds Your Ideas

I had a client a few years ago, for example, who came to me with a collection of articles that she wanted to turn into a book. They were all written on the same general topic, nutrition—she was a nutrition coach—and she wanted to make a book out of them. She definitely had enough material, but she didn’t have a thread running throughout the book to tie them all together. Once we figured out the big-picture problem that her articles could combine to solve for a reader, she could  repurpose all her articles into a cohesive manuscript that really helped her target audience and helped establish her expertise and attract clients.

Another example: one of the biggest problems people who want to write a memoir face is how to make the book more than just a chronicle of events. Beginner memoirs tend to read something like, “This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.” I recently worked with a woman on her memoir about overcoming a rare and very painful health condition. She’d written a blog as a journal of her experiences, but she was struggling to elevate those events beyond just what happened. She wanted to tell a meaningful story, and she had a meaningful one to tell. Once we figured out what her story was really about, she could write her experiences as meaningful turning points on a path to transformation.

The secret to arranging your book ideas and writing them as a compelling read is book structure. Once you understand how to fit your ideas into an effective structure, your book starts to take shape. And that’s pretty exciting!

Finding Your Book Structure

Structure is different for different kinds of books. Writing a memoir means using a narrative structure. Writing nonfiction that’s instructional or self-help is about leading the reader through a process that solves a problem or teaches them something new.

But at the most basic level, structuring any book is about figuring out where to start and where to end. Remember books take readers on a journey from point A to point B. What journey are you promising your readers? What’s your point A? What’s your point B? Use these questions to get a sense of how to execute your book idea effectively.

Planning your book structure not only saves time during revision, but it also makes drafting easier too. When you sit down at your computer, thinking about what to write can eat away time. When you know how a book should be structured and you know how to write a chapter, then every time you open up that draft on your computer, you’ll know exactly what you’re supposed to be writing.

Structure is one of the biggest book-writing challenges every aspiring author must overcome. For more tips on how to overcome this challenge and others, grab a copy of my free ebook, Three Reasons You’re Still Struggling to Write Your Book.

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Melinda Copp founded The Writer's Sherpa, LLC, to help aspiring authors write amazing books. When she isn't writing or chasing her three kids, she's probably reading something--whatever's handy.

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