Swiss screen-writer and film director Jean-Luc Godard said:
“A book should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.”
Having an idea for a book is the easy part. The difficult thing is getting it down in a structure that makes sense—not only to you, but to your reader. So how do you structure a non-fiction book so it’s accessible and compelling whilst getting across the information you want to share?
A good non-fiction book takes its reader from their existing situation (A) to a better situation where their problem is solved (B). Creating a structure that does this might sound tricky, but the key is to understand your reader. Here are some questions that will help you form a beginning, a middle and an end for your non-fiction book.
Beginning: What’s your reader looking for?
To figure out how your book needs to begin, think about what you have to offer your reader. What problem do they face and how could you solve it? Build your opening chapters around the issue your reader is facing—their pain — and offer the promise of a solution. Stay specific and focus on one problem instead of trying to deal with lots of issues. Your book will have a clearer focus if you concentrate on one topic. Once you’ve identified the pain, your job is to highlight it and ask: what if things could change?
Middle: What obstacles does your reader face?
People turn to non-fiction books because they’re looking for an expert answer to a burning question. This isn’t something they can solve by Googling—they need in-depth or step-by-step guidance to make a big change, whether that’s in their personal life, their knowledge, their skills or their business.
But before you can solve your reader’s problem, you need to understand it. What barriers do they face? What holds them back from achieving their goal? What steps do they need to take to get from where they are to where they want to be? The more clearly you can articulate the challenges your reader faces, the more you prove that you understand them.
End: What does your reader need to do?
For each barrier your reader faces, offer a solution to help them progress. Make it interesting—share examples and stories, case studies and analogies. Illustrate your point the best you can and help your reader to visualise how their situation can change. Support your examples with practical tips and guidance and make sure you present them in a consistent, accessible way. Finally, tell your reader what the next steps are and leave them feeling good about their new situation.
Structuring any non-fiction book starts with clarity. Focusing on who your book is for and how you can solve their problem will not only help you to organise your ideas, but guide you towards a book outline that works for your reader.
If you’re thinking of writing a book and need clarity on its structure, join me in September when I launch my first online course, The Business Book Kickstarter. We’ll be working through some of these questions over a two-week period, and you’ll get personalised feedback on your book idea. Or, if you’d prefer to work completely one-to-one, find out about my Book Planning Days .