how to write a book


 

Nonfiction authors typically start writing chapter titles that are as vanilla as can be, but ultimately, you want to consider chapter titles that are engaging for the reader. At the same time, you don’t want your chapter titles to be so creative that someone looking at the list of contents (also known as the table of contents or just “Contents”) to have no clue what’s in your book!

Here’s a solution: You can use a clever chapter title followed by a subtitle that explains the concept a little more clearly.

In Cinematherapy, my coauthor Bev West and I had a chapter called: “I Hate My Life and I’m Moving to Bora Bora: Seeking Greener Pastures Movies.” True, you might not know what Seeking Greener Pastures Movies are, but when you look at all the chapter titles, you can see that each is around a particular theme: Mother Issues Movies, Martyr Syndrome Movies, and so on.

You can use the same trick for headers within the book. In Raising a Sensory Smart Child, one of the headers in the chapter on improving speech skills and picky eating reads “You Say Potato and I Say Topahhhhhhuuuduh”: Problems with Motor Planning”

Using an intriguing quotation within a chapter title or a header is a great way to be provocative and intriguing, but don’t sacrifice clarity. 

Writing a memoir? Often, memoir chapters don’t have titles and sections within chapters don’t have headers, but here’s your chance to get creative. You never know what title or header might grab someone’s attention. Think about taking an interesting image from a story you tell, such as “The Purple Rabbit” or “Twelve Pretzels.” Set up a dilemma or intrigue: “The Purple Rabbit’s Whereabouts” or “Twelve Pretzels and a Warning.” 

You might also use a quotation—I always loved the sound of “Bora Bora” and think that was the perfect word to use in our funny quote related to movies about seeking greener pastures and getting away from frustrating situations. Think about things you’ve said or a client has said that sum up a concept in an interesting way. Think of things you typically say to your followers and clients. 

chapter one chapter titles engaging nonfiction headers titles photo typewriter

 

You can also do a spin on a common saying or cliche. How about: “You Got This (Unless You Need to Freak Out First, In Which Case, Read This Chapter NOW)”?

Or, “Plays Shockingly Well with Others: Five Keys to Improve Your Collaboration Skills.” 

Which comes first, the clever section header or the section itself? You decide. But I think you’ll find it’s a good exercise to at least consider jazzing up your chapter and header titles.

Need some help with your book as you write it and set up your plan to get it published? Contact me about my services as a developmental editor, ghostwriter, and book publishing consultant.

 

guide to writing engaging chapter titles header titles

Are you feeling lost as you’re structuring chapters in a how-to or self-help book you’re writing? Did you get lost as one section of chapter one started to grow like creeping Charlie on your lawn, taking over the grass? Do you feel as if you’re repeating yourself over and over again, but you don’t know where to first introduce an idea and how to acknowledge that it’s familiar to the reader when you mention it a second or third time? Developmental editors like me help authors out of the weeds when they have trouble structuring chapters or sections. If you aren’t working with a developmental editor, here are some simple tips for structuring book chapters that might help (and of course, you can check with me to see if I’m available to get you out of the weeds, too):

First, don’t try to cram in too many ideas. Aim for five to eight topics per chapter. That’s true whether you are writing a full-length book or a mini-book. If your book is a “life lessons” book of transformational nonfiction, and the title is something like Fifty Ways to Make Your Fifties Fabulous, one topic per chapter makes sense since you’ll have fifty short chapters. However, if the number of lessons is smaller and you want each lesson to be a chapter, you’ll want subsections in each chapter to break up the text. For example, if you want to write The Six Laws of Marketing to Millennials, you’re probably going to need several sections for each law or chapter.

Second, arrange your ideas in a logical order. You might want to write your ideas on cards or simply type them into a document and move them around to get a feel for what order might work. In a book chapter, consider making an emotional connection or offer them a provocative idea at the beginning. Start with a story or some a startling statistic, statement, or fact. That can lead the reader into your first topic. You want to meet the reader where they are to get them where you want them to go, so make a connection right away.

Third, justify or change your order. Explain to yourself why you want to cover one topic before you cover another. You probably have a good reason and don’t realize it! As you justify to yourself why topic 2 comes before topic 3, you will get a better sense of how to write a transition from that topic to the next when you are writing the actual chapter. If you realize your order doesn’t make sense or doesn’t work quite right, it might be that a topic is a subtopic of one of the others. You can write it up as a subtopic in your outline for the chapter and perhaps give it its own header that is a different size from the headers for your main topic. You might even end up placing some material in a sidebar or boxed text that can be read after a section of text has been read. Sidebars and boxed texts are a convenient workaround when you have material that doesn’t smoothly fit into the main text. You might use a sidebar for text that is focused on resources (how to find a practitioner, nutritional or educational testing that can be done, etc.) or that serves as a warning, practical tip, or fun fact.

developmental editor nonfiction

 

Fourth, keep in mind that your entire book doesn’t have to fit into chapter one. It’s easy to get bogged down as you think about all the things you want to write about in your book. Remember, chapter one’s purpose is to meet the reader where they are and make a connection with them and then offer the main points that will be explored in detail later in the book. Phrases such as, “Later in this book,” and “As you will learn,” can help you cut yourself off before you go into too much detail on a topic that you want to explore at length later on. You don’t want to overdo the references to what’s coming, but you also don’t want to pile everything into chapter one.

Again, if you get completely stuck in your structuring and writing, consider hiring me as a developmental editor. I can pull you out of the weeds and convince you that you truly can conquer the task of writing a how-to or self-help book, business book, parenting book, life lessons book—or even a memoir. You might want to check out my services and testimonials pages to learn more about how I work with clients and what their experiences have been.

I especially love this endorsement from a recent client:

“I am an experienced author who has sold 1.1 million copies worldwide. Nevertheless, I got stuck on book number four and was paralyzed for five years. In one conversation, Nancy gave me a piece of advice that simplified a complex problem and actually got me excited about the book once again. Thank you, Nancy!”—Randi Kreger, Author of Stop Walking on Eggshells

Need help structuring your transformative nonfiction book? Contact me.

We all have a book inside us. We may even have several! If you want to write a book based on your life, are you clear on the type of book you would like to write? I have seven options for you—six nonfiction and one fiction—that might fit well with your plan to write a book.

I like to say a book is a credibility card that solidifies your brand and message. Should you write a memoir, focusing on your personal story?  Would it make more sense to write a book about what you have learned, one that features pieces of your story and a short summary of it at the beginning of the book?

Many of my clients have struggled with the question of what type of book to write to most effectively communicate their ideas and establish their brand and get their message out there. Some of my clients have pivoted with their brand, and a book has been instrumental in helping them do that. For example, one wanted to move from a more straightforward health brand to one that was more lifestyle oriented.

Other clients of mine have wanted to write their story as a book so they can inspire others but soon came to see that a memoir needs to be about a specific theme in their life that ties into their central message.

My video, How to Write a Book Based on Your Life, goes into some detail about the seven different types of books you might write. They are:

An autobiography or personal history. This type of personal project lets you tell your story to future generations. How I wish that my great-grandmother had written such a book so I could know more about how she went from having just a six-grade education to running a family business! Your great-grandchildren would surely appreciate a professionally written book telling your life story.

A memoir. Memoirs are thematic and often focus on just one aspect of a person’s life. Some authors write more than one memoir. Common themes including coming of age and the hero’s journey. Memoirs have a wider audience than an autobiography or personal history.

A life lessons book. Like a memoir, a life lessons book is thematic, but the themes are summed up with compelling statements. I love the title of the book by Starbucks founder Howard Behar, written with Janet Goldstein: It’s Not About the CoffeeWhat a great title that summarizes the book’s central message! All of his chapter titles are statements and lessons that we can learn from.

A business book. A business book can be part memoir, part life-lessons book. The key is to know your best stories and match them up with key ideas you want to put across (for example, that the Starbucks brand is NOT about the coffee!)

A self-help book. I specialize in helping people write this type of book. You may have seen my video on how to structure a self-help book. In it, I offer a structure that I have seen work time and time again. The book should take readers on a journey from here to there so that by the end of the book, they feel their life has changed and they know how to apply your ideas to their own life to make it better. There are two key elements in self-help books: the takeaway and the action plan. (You do not necessarily need an action plan, but you definitely need takeaway, as I explain in my video on How to Write a Book Based on Your Life.)

A parenting book. I cowrote an evergreen parenting book that continues to sell year after year (hence “evergreen”). In fact, it has sold over 130,000 copies. Now, I am not the expert of all time on parenting (my son would agree with me on that!). However, I did interviews and research, synthesized ideas, drew on my own experiences as a child and as a parent, and put it all together with the help of my coauthor, my son’s occupational therapist who treated him. We came up with a parenting book filled with tips and strategies I knew parents needed. I turned myself into an expert in the process. (Two book award committees and dozens of reviewers and endorsers apparently agree, because Raising a Sensory Smart Child has gotten a phenomenal response from those folks.) My coauthor, Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, provided the therapist’s perspective, which broadened the appeal of the book. You might want to consider a coauthor or at least a foreword from someone who has professional credentials who can vouch for the credibility of your parenting advice.

A novel. You can “fictionalize” your life and start writing a novel. Know whether you are going to make it a mystery, a romance, commercial women’s fiction (such as a novel about a mother and daughter who experience conflict they have to resolve), or a work of literary fiction. Know the conventions of these types of books so that you are clear on what you are writing. If you are going to write commercial women’s fiction, read some novels in that category. There’s an old saying: To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. Did you know that bestselling novelist Jeffrey Archer said he read 100 novels before starting his own? That might have been more than he needed to read, but it goes to show you really do have to familiarize yourself with the type of book you want to write.

I also talk in my video How to Write a Book Based on Your Life about using sensory detail and storytelling so that you “show, don’t tell”—another old saying in the book biz. When you write, put us in the middle of the action and the moment of the scene, even if you are just writing an anecdote in a business book so you emotionally engage us. You don’t have to go on for pages giving us exhaustive detail about a client you worked with, but give us a sense of what it was like to be in the situation that went from uncomfortable to a sense of possibility for change. Show us how you overcame your bad habit of saying “yes, of course” and instead saying, “I’ll need to get more details before I commit to doing that.” Even a nonfiction book has a narrative arc. Perhaps you will show us how you went from hating your body to feeling grateful for the healthy body you inhabit, from weighing yourself obsessively to telling your scale, “Kiss my butt, buddy,” and weighing yourself once a year, not obsessing about the number. You started at a low place and achieved success in some area of your life. People want to see how you did that, and your book can do the job of conveying your story.

Need help conceptualizing your book? Stuck on the title and overarching theme? Not sure if you should go with life lessons around your parenting successes or with a funny memoir? I can help. Give me some details about where you are in your process. Think about where you see yourself going with this book (doing podcasts and public speaking? being on local TV and radio talk shows? having a blog and newsletter along with a popular Instagram account?). And let me know if you’re ready for a one-hour consultation call and perhaps some coaching as you start your writing process. Contact me and let’s get you firmly on the road to writing and publishing your book.

 

how to write a book 7 ways

How to write a book based on your story or work: I can help you figure out what type of book you want to write.

 

Often, aspiring memoir writers ask me how to get started. Do they just hire a ghostwriter and pay for phone time to start telling their stories and getting them into documents? That’s one way to begin, but it is not the only way. I think it’s important to start the writing yourself so you can begin seeing the themes and lessons that you will want to emphasize in your memoir or book of life lessons. Let me offer some writing prompts for you memoir writers who are trying to figure out how to tell your life story.

 

Writing Prompt #1: Write the inspirational story of the moment in your life when you felt the most empowered. Use sensory detail—words that evoke sounds, sensations, visual images, and so on. What did it feel like to be in your body that moment when you spoke your truth? When you walked away from a bad situation? When you felt completely at one with the universe? When you knew you were okay, for the first time in a very long time? When you knew you had achieved success? (This story may end up being at the very beginning of the book.)

 

Writing Prompt #2: Write a story of being a young child playing. What toy were you playing with, and why did you enjoy playing with it? Use sensory detail. What did it feel like to lie on the rug in your family’s living room, or sit on the linoleum in your family’s kitchen, as you played? What were you imagining? What were you feeling? (This exercise can be very effective for drawing out of your unconscious mind a story that tells us something about who you are as an adult, what you value, and what the themes of your story are.)

 

Writing Prompt #3: Tell a funny story that captures your sense of humor. It could be a recent story or an old one from your childhood. Make sure that this story reveals your vulnerability, so that the reader relates to you person to person instead of just seeing you as an expert or leader.

 

After writing these stories, read them aloud. Make any changes to the writing you feel are necessary. Edit these stories as best you can, checking spelling and grammar.

 

Begin to think about what these stories have in common. What are your strengths, weaknesses, and interests as revealed in these stories? What, if anything, do your stories say to a reader about how you overcame challenges? What do they tell people about your personality?

 

All memoirs need a narrative arc. We need to see progress in the story as it takes us from the beginning, through the middle, and to the end. We need to watch you come of age, learn to run a successful business despite humble beginnings and mistakes along the way, grow into a person who has come to peace with your past and developed wisdom and a sense of clarity and purpose, and so on. Think about how you would sum up your memoir in a sentence. How would you describe it using two paragraphs that might be found on the back of the book or on the Amazon page for the book? Look at other books for examples.

 

Once you done some of the writing and started to get a sense of what the central story of your memoir is, think about whether you want to write a memoir, a life lessons book, or a self-help book with takeaway exercises and perhaps even an action plan for developing new habits. Do you want to write a personal history for yourself, your family, and your close friends, and perhaps mine it for stories to use in another book, such as a book related to your business as a speaker and consultant, or in a memoir about one specific time in your life?

 

Whether your plan is to publish the book for yourself and your family and friends, for a larger audience that includes fans of your work as an expert in your field, begin your writing today with these writing prompts for memoir writers. Even if you end up doing a life lessons book or a self-help book, you will be glad you wrote up these stories. Doing so will help you get a better sense of how to integrate your personal anecdotes into the book you want to write. A professional developmental editor or ghostwriter can better help you if you have put some time into writing some stories and putting some thought to the central story of your memoir. You will have an easier time conveying your vision of your memoir once you have written some of the stories, so be sure to get started with these memoir writing prompts!

 

(Do you want to know more about the difference between a developmental editor and a ghostwriter? A ghostwriter actually writes drafts of chapters. A developmental editor works with written material such as rough drafts of manuscripts or chapters. You can learn more about developmental editing by watching my video on cut-and-paste editing, available on YouTube.)

 

 

memoir writing life story life lessons

Writing prompts can help you get started with your memoir or other book that features your story.

 

 

Writing a memoir or nonfiction book but afraid you’re not a “real” writer with a broad enough vocabulary and an ability to create elegant metaphors? Banish that fear. I can offer you three ways to energize your writing to bring it up to the next level so that your book is compelling and your ideas and anecdotes come alive for your readers.

1. Pick strong verbs.

Avoid variations on the verb “to be” where you can because “to be” and its forms are weak, wimpy verbs. Also, turn nouns into strong verbs that make your writing and storytelling more energetic and compelling.

 

Weak: Summer is my favorite season.

“Is” is a form of the verb “to be.”

Strong: I favor summer over all the other seasons.

“Favor” is a strong verb compared to “is.”

 

Weak: My partner made an assumption that I was not ready for change.

“Was” is weak.

Strong: My partner assumed that change would overwhelm me.

“Assumed” is stronger than “made an assumption” and it’s less wordy. “Was” is weak. Also, when you begin choosing verbs that could go into that clause, you start getting more precise with your words, which gives your writing more oomph. Here, turning the noun “assumption” into a strong verb helps tighten the writing, making it more energetic.

2. Use a thesaurus to find variations on words.

Look for the overuse of certain words in your writing. Did you use “creative” in the first sentence of a paragraph, “creativity” in the second sentence, and “create” in another paragraph on the same page? Even if your book is on creativity, you want to use a variety of words to get across the concept of creativity. A thesaurus can lead you to words such as innovative, resourceful, imaginative, originality, inventive, and more. Bonus tip: If it’s hard to find a synonym you haven’t already used, maybe you need to tighten the writing so it’s less repetitive.

3. Use figurative language and wordplay.

If you keep using the same words over and over, you’re in the company of the great writer J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, who said she became frustrated trying to find new ways of saying “corridor” or “hall” when describing the movement of characters. When it seems there’s no way to avoid overusing a word that’s key to your story, work, and message, consider using figurative language and wordplay.

Weak: I created my 40-day program for people who think they’re not creative to help them develop their creativity.

We get it! But using variations on “to create” over and over will bore your reader.

Strong: I developed my 40-day program for people who think they’re not “the creative type” to help them discover their inner playground child, the self that sees the world as a playground filled with possibilities for doing something different and innovative.

Here, the writer actually is using figurative language to energize her writing and help brand herself at the same time. As a developmental editor or ghostwriter who also does book publishing consultations, I would say, “Terrific! Now Google ‘inner playground child’ to see if anyone else is using it, and consider buying the dot com URL (www.PlaygroundChild.com) to reserve it—and setting up an Inner Playground Child professional page on Facebook to help secure your brand and a clever turn-of-phrase to go with it.” Branding is key for setting your book and your work apart from others’ in the marketplace, so I would help steer you toward words, phrases, and clauses that would be unique to you.

 

Need help with writing, strategizing, branding, and envisioning your nonfiction mind/body/spirit book? Contact me today and let me know where you are with your plan for your book and what kind of help you need. (Perhaps a Vision Plan is your next step?)

 

 

energize your writing book power

 

 

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