A Table of Contents Provides a Map and Structure for Your Book

This post is a blogged draft excerpt from The Author Training Manual (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2014). Read the previous blogged excerpt, here.

Create a map for your book by developing a table of contentsRemember Alice from Alice in Wonderland? She didn’t have a map. No destination. That’s why she wandered around and didn’t care where she ended up. If you have been following along as I’ve blogged this book, at this point in the Author Training Process you have the information you need to design the creative map for your book. If you’ve left your Alice Attitude behind and adopted an Author Attitude, you now can complete Step #5, Examine the Structure for Your Book. Additionally, you can make sure you arrive at your destination: a successful book—one that sells to readers and possibly to a publisher as well.

This step asks you to apply the research you have done, the evaluations you have made and your training to create the table of contents (TOC) for your book. In a book proposal, this would be called the “List of Chapters,” and it represents the structure for your book’s content. It also represents an important part of you’re the writing guide you are creating. As such, it’s also a map for writing a successful book because it begins to put all the pieces together— unique and necessary content focused on your idea and targeted to your category and market.

Your Table of Contents is a Map

At this stage of your book project and the Author Training process, the TOC is just a list of chapters you plan to include in your book, each one named appropriately and listed in an order that seems to make sense to the telling or your story or to the explaining of your concept. Like a map, your TOC helps you chart for yourself or for an agent or acquisitions editor the path from the first page to the last of your proposed book. Later, your TOC provides a bird’s-eye view of the journey on which you plan to take a reader as they read from cover to cover. If you provide descriptive chapter titles, such as those found in nonfiction books, it becomes easy for someone to look at your TOC with trained or untrained eyes and see if you’ve actually charted a reasonable and effective path to get to your planned destination. Your pitch, summary and list of benefits provide a description of that destination.

Your Table of Contents Provides the Structure for a Book

You also can think of Step #5 as a chance to build and strengthen the structure of your idea. The TOC holds up your book and gives it form, much like a backbone. Without a strong TOC, your book ends up crooked, bent or unable stand. When an agent or acquisitions editor looks at the List of Chapters in a book proposal, which consists of the titles you have give to your chapters, they “see” your book—or they don’t. If your TOC is weak, your idea remains amorphous.

Your Table of Contents Fleshes Out Your Idea

The TOC seems the next logical thing for agents or acquisitions editors to look at after the Overview, where they can find a complete and concise description of a book idea. Indeed, it fleshes out the idea for a proposed book, and by examining it they see more clearly what content you plan to include in the pages of your book. A look at a TOC can help an agent or acquisitions editor determine if your book will:

  • have substance
  • contain pertinent information
  • tell a complete story
  • carry out the promises you made in the Step #2

They can tell if it has the strength to hold up all aspects of your content or get your readers where you say you want them to go.

The Table of Contents Helps Evaluate Your Idea for Success

The TOC is extremely helpful for evaluating the soundness of a nonfiction book structure. These books tend to have chapters descriptive of their content. As such, the TOC easily shows if the creative plan for the book will hold up the proposed content and get readers where they need to go. However, if a novelist writes chapter titles that allow readers to glimpse the story line, the TOC can provide an agent, editor or reader with the same ability to gather this information about a novel. Memoirist should keep this in mind because it can help readers (and agents or editors) make early purchase decisions about their books as well.

Think about it: When you go into a bookstore and open a book to its TOC, you know if it appeals to you and if it contains the information you need or want or a story you would like to read. You are a reader, book buyer and a writer, and this fact gives you the initial training necessary to evaluate your TOC. Remember this as you complete Step #5 in the Author Training process by creating a TOC for your book idea and evaluating it.

The Author Training ManualNote: You can read additional blogged draft excerpts from my new book, The Author Training Manual (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2014) here. Only select pieces from the manuscript, a “working draft,” were posted—not the complete manuscript. Read the next post in the The Author Training Manual blogged-book series by clicking here. Purchase the book on Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com or at Writersdigestshop.com.

LeaLearn how to become a successful authorrn how to create a successful book—one that sells to publishers and to readers—by developing an AUTHOR ATTITUDE and writing a BUSINESS PLAN for a MARKETABLE BOOK. Register for the AUTHOR TRAINING 101 Home-Study Course, and go from aspiring to successful published author! This course is based on The Author Training Manual. If you like what you’ve read here, you’ll love the course.

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  1. Lori Winckler says:

    I am so confused… A biography is non-fiction, so do you write a table of content for a biography. If so… how?

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