The faster you can turn your book ideas into an organized table of contents, the faster you can write and self-publish a profitable, brand-building book.

Self-employed professionals writing books to build their brand, enhance their credibility, and increase their search engine visibility often focus exclusively on the writing…when they should be focusing on planning and organizing the contents of their book. Planning should take place before beginning to write a book.

Writing without first planning is like driving from Boston to Los Angeles without a map….you may get there, but the drive will inevitably take longer because you wasted time along the way in Miami, Buffalo, Boise, and Houston.

Experienced authors know that the time invested in planning a book will be repaid over and over again in time saved writing a book. (That’s the biggest lesson I learned writing over 40 books.)

The book planning process

The process of turning your ideas into a profitable brand-building book is actually quite simple:

  1. Identify. Start by identifying the building blocks of your book–the individual ideas, facts, examples, recommendations, and tips you want to share in your book.
  2. Organize. After identifying the building blocks, organize them into sections, chapters, and topics within chapters.
  3. Review. Finally, put your work aside for a few days. When you return, review the structure of your book and–as you look at each building block or idea—ask yourself, “Do I really need this idea, fact, or tip?”

It’s a lot better to edit your ideas at the planning stage, before you write, instead of after you’ve written!

Outlining your book’s table of contents

The starting point for planning a book’s table of contents is often using the outlining capability built into most word-processing programs. Microsoft Word, for example, includes powerful list-building and sorting tools.

The problem with using a word-processor to plan your book’s table of contents is that, as you scroll through the list, you can only see a small portion of the list.

While looking at the contents of Chapter 3, for example. you can’t view the topics in Chapters 1 and 2, and you can’t see the contents of Chapters 4-11.

Yes, there are workarounds, but–often–inconvenient to use, print, and share with others. Plus, word-processed solutions chain you to your computer–and, often, your best thinking when you’re away from your computer!

7 better ways to plan and write your brand-building book

Here are some alternatives to working with your word processing program’s lists and outlining features:

  1. Index cards. Sometimes it’s best to go low-tech, and organize your ideas on 3×5 inch index cards–1 idea per card. As you work, you can easily sort the cards into piles for each chapter. Or, you can organize your index cards into chapters by displaying them on the walls of your office.
  2. File folders. If you’re using index cards, you can place them in separate file folders for each chapter. One of the advantages of this approach is that you can also add copies of photocopied articles and print-outs from the web to each folder.
  3. Sticky notes. Instead of index cards–since your landlord might not appreciate thumbtacks on the walls of your home or office–you can use sticky notes to organize the contents of your book on the walls of your office.
  4. White boards. Whiteboards are great for planning your book’s table of contents. Whiteboards–the larger the better–permit you to visually display the chapters of your book and the main ideas in each chapter. Consider using a whiteboard to show the chapters of your book, and sticky notes for the contents of each chapter. This makes it easy to move ideas from chapter to chapter. When you’re done, use an iPhone or digital camera to photograph your table of contents and e-mail it to yourself (and your co-authors, editors, etc.)
  5. Mind maps. Mind mapping is a technique used to display the contents of your book as clouds surrounding the title and premise of your book. Mind mapping has traditionally been done with large, poster-sized sheets of paper and colored markers. Now, hundreds of mind mapping software programs are available, likeMindjet’s MindManager, permitting you to map the contents of your book on your iPhone, iPad, Macintosh, or Windows computers. A big advantage of mind mapping software is that you can export your work to your word processing program, eliminating the need to retype your ideas. More about mind maps.
  6. Sketch pads. Sketching is a technique for creating simple drawings that show the structure of a writing project and the relationships between ideas. Firms like Moleskin have been offering writers, designers, and inventors sketch pads since the Renaissance. Online examples include Dan Roam’s The Back of a Napkin, Sunni Brown’s Doodle Revolution and Mike Rhode’s blog.
  7. Specialized writing software. Another software approach to help you save time turning ideas into profitable books Literature & Latte’s Scrivener. Now available for the Macintosh, and (soon) Windows, Scrivener combines visual metaphors, like cork boards and sticky notes, with an always-on outline view of your book while writing. Details.

Plan before you start to write your book

Avoid the temptation to write your brand-building book before you have identified your ideas and organized them into sections, chapters, and topics within chapters.

You can save time planning before you start writing with any of the above planning tools. It doesn’t matter whether you use choose a low-tech or a high-tech tool to turn your ideas into a profit and brand-building book; what matters is that you develop the habit of planning before writing–and that you get started on your book as quickly as possible! (Visit another Personal Branding Blog post with time-saving tips for writing a profitable, brand-building book.)


Visit Roger C. Parker’s Published & Profitable and get a free proof of his new book, 99 Questions to Ask Before You Write and Self-Publish a Brand-Building Book