Which Recipe Should You Use to Write Your Book?

If you read three or more books within a genre-or even two books by the same author-you may have noticed a pattern in how the books are organized. I call this pattern a recipe.

Here are six basic recipes for writing a non-fiction book that will help you organize your message in a way that is easy for your readers to understand. (Please note that these recipes work best for non-fiction books that introduce or explain a specific topic, present an argument or even how-to books. I do not recommend any of these recipes for writing a memoir or self-help book.)

Recipe #1: Problem/Solution

In a quick book, you can simply dedicate half of the manuscript to defining and describing the problem and then the second half to offering your solution. But for a more thorough book, you will want to add much more detail about the problem and your proposed solutions.

If your book addresses a series of problems that each have their own solution, you may prefer to use the “Modular” recipe below.

Cause and effect messages can also be written using the problem/solution recipe.

Ingredients:

  • A clear definition of the problem.
  • Research on:
    • the causes of the problem,
    • how often the problem occurs, and
    • quotes or short stories from people who have the problem or are experienced with trying to solve the problem (optional)
    • at least two other solutions people with this problem usually use,
    • why your solution is expected to work.

Procedure:

  1. Build your table of contentsYour book will have four main parts: the nature of the problem, effects of the problem, unsatisfactory solutions, and your proposed solution. Divide your notes and research into each of these four parts, and then use the table of contents from your competitor’s titles for inspiration on what to name each chapter and in which order you want to present the information in each category. Keep in mind that the last section should be about 80% of your book’s content. Your table of contents allows you to divide your information into smaller and more manageable pieces. Your readers should be able to quickly scan your table of contents and understand your book’s primary message.
  2. Write about the nature of the problemThis should be the first part of your book content, and this is your space to write about causes of the problem, how often the problem occurs, how many people are impacted by it, and any other information you have to highlight how severe the issue is. This information will fill the chapters you set aside to focus on the nature of the problem.
  3. Write about the effects of the problemFill in the chapters you set aside to focus on the effects of the problem with the research and information you have that talk about why it is a problem, the people affected by the problem, and other relevant information.
  4. Write about the unsatisfactory solutionsFill in the chapters you set aside to focus on the unsatisfactory solutions to talk about other existing solutions and why they fall short.
  5. Write about your proposed solutionNow is your opportunity to give a detailed description of what your solution is, why it is better than other solutions, how it works, which common mistakes to avoid and what the first steps should be.
  6. EditAfter you take a break from your work-a few weeks would be nice, but at least a few hours-read through it with your self-editing checklist to make sure what you wrote matches your publishing goals. After you have edited your manuscript, it would be wise to invite family, friends, members of your target audience, content experts and professional editors to check it as well. Don’t forget to revise your manuscript based on the feedback.

Recipe #2: Numerical

Books that offer a specific number of steps, keys or lessons are very popular in non-fiction writing. Readers like them because it tells them exactly what to expect, and writers like them because it gives a natural organizational structure.

Ingredients:

  • A list of the steps, keys or lessons you want your readers to know by the end of your book.

Procedure:

  1. Build your table of contentsChoose the most logical way to organize your points-usually in the order that is easiest for a beginner to understand-and divide your notes and research into each of these parts. Use the table of contents from your competitor’s titles for inspiration on what to name each chapter and in which order you want to present the information in each category. Your table of contents allows you to divide your information into smaller and more manageable pieces. Your readers should be able to quickly scan your table of contents and understand your book’s primary message.
  2. Write the information you want to share for each chapterYou have already chosen your chapters and organized your notes, so now it is time to fill it in. Don’t let yourself get hung up on how it sounds just yet, your mission is to get it all on paper so that you and your professional editors will have something to polish later.
  3. EditAfter you take a break from your work-a few weeks would be nice, but at least a few hours-read through it with your self-editing checklist to make sure what you wrote matches your publishing goals. After you have edited your manuscript, it would be wise to invite family, friends, members of your target audience, content experts and professional editors to check it as well. Don’t forget to revise your manuscript based on the feedback.

Recipe #3: Chronological

Sometimes the best way to tell a story is to start at the beginning because that is the easiest way for it to make sense. If Step A must come before Step B, you are writing about a historical event or you are writing a biography, then this is the recipe for you.

Ingredients:

  • A list of all the steps or dates you want to feature in your book from the first to the last.

Procedure:

  1. Build your table of contentsYour chronological list already divides your information into the chapters you need, but I still recommend using the table of contents from your competitor’s titles for inspiration on what to name each chapter.
  2. Write the information you want to share for each chapterYou have already chosen your chapters and organized your notes, so now it is time to fill it in. Don’t let yourself get hung up on how it sounds just yet, your mission is to get it all on paper so that you and your professional editors will have something to polish later.
  3. EditAfter you take a break from your work-a few weeks would be nice, but at least a few hours-read through it with your self-editing checklist to make sure what you wrote matches your publishing goals. After you have edited your manuscript, it would be wise to invite family, friends, members of your target audience, content experts and professional editors to check it as well. Don’t forget to revise your manuscript based on the feedback.

Recipe # 4: Modular

This recipe works well for authors who have information to share that is so complex that the book’s chapters need to be grouped into modules to help readers understand both the individual points in your message and how it all works together. If the word “modular” makes you think of school teachers, there is a good reason for that. Your school textbooks-and even your classes-were setup using a modular structure.

This also works well if your book will address a series of problems that each have their own unique solutions.

Ingredients:

  • A list of the different topic areas-or modules-you want to cover in your book. (Make sure they are all related to your topic and each other. There is no need to add random information.)
  • A list of the detailed information you need to share for each module.

Procedure:

  1. Build your table of contentsChoose the most logical way to organize your modules-usually in the order that is easiest for a beginner to understand-and divide your notes and research into each of these parts. Use the table of contents from your competitor’s titles for inspiration on what to name each chapter and in which order you want to present the information in each category. Your table of contents allows you to divide your information into smaller and more manageable pieces. Your readers should be able to quickly scan your table of contents and understand your book’s primary message.
  2. Write the information you want to share for each chapterYou have already chosen your chapters and organized your notes, so now it is time to fill it in. Don’t let yourself get hung up on how it sounds just yet, your mission is to get it all on paper so that you and your professional editors will have something to polish later.
  3. EditAfter you take a break from your work-a few weeks would be nice, but at least a few hours-read through it with your self-editing checklist to make sure what you wrote matches your publishing goals. After you have edited your manuscript, it would be wise to invite family, friends, members of your target audience, content experts and professional editors to check it as well. Don’t forget to revise your manuscript based on the feedback.

Recipe #5: Compare/Contrast

This recipe can really help you drive a point home if your goal is to highlight why one option is superior to another. Cause advocates, consultants, coaches and other service providers would probably like this recipe.

Ingredients: 

  • A lot of detail on one alternative to your preferred option, or an overview of information on several alternative options. Focus on both the positives and the negatives.
  • A detailed description of how your option compares to the others. Address both the positives and the negatives.

Procedure:

  1. Build your table of contentsChoose the most logical way to organize your modules-usually in the order that is easiest for a beginner to understand-and divide your notes and research into each of these parts. Use the table of contents from your competitor’s titles for inspiration on what to name each chapter and in which order you want to present the information in each category. Your table of contents allows you to divide your information into smaller and more manageable pieces. Your readers should be able to quickly scan your table of contents and understand your book’s primary message.
  2. Write the information you want to share for each chapterYou have already chosen your chapters and organized your notes, so now it is time to fill it in. Don’t let yourself get hung up on how it sounds just yet, your mission is to get it all on paper so that you and your professional editors will have something to polish later.
  3. EditAfter you take a break from your work-a few weeks would be nice, but at least a few hours-read through it with your self-editing checklist to make sure what you wrote matches your publishing goals. After you have edited your manuscript, it would be wise to invite family, friends, members of your target audience, content experts and professional editors to check it as well. Don’t forget to revise your manuscript based on the feedback.

Recipe #6: Reference

The classic reference book example is a dictionary, and I seriously doubt that you are thinking of publishing a dictionary of your own. But if you want to publish a book that people pick and read when they need it instead of reading it cover-to-cover, then this recipe is perfect for you.

Ingredients:

  • A compilation of the information you want to share.

Procedure: 

  1. Build your table of contentsChoose the most logical way to organize your modules-chronological order is a popular option-and divide your notes and research into each of these parts. Use the table of contents from your competitor’s titles for inspiration on what to name each chapter and in which order you want to present the information in each category. Your table of contents allows you to divide your information into smaller and more manageable pieces. Your readers should be able to quickly scan your table of contents and understand your book’s primary message.
  2. Write the information you want to share for each chapterYou have already chosen your chapters and organized your notes, so now it is time to fill it in. Don’t let yourself get hung up on how it sounds just yet, your mission is to get it all on paper so that you and your professional editors will have something to polish later.
  3. EditAfter you take a break from your work-a few weeks would be nice, but at least a few hours-read through it with your self-editing checklist to make sure what you wrote matches your publishing goals. After you have edited your manuscript, it would be wise to invite family, friends, members of your target audience, content experts and professional editors to check it as well. Don’t forget to revise your manuscript based on the feedback.

Final Thoughts

Use these recipes as a starting point to help you organize, or re-organize, your table of contents and the body of your book manuscript. But don’t let these recipes limit your creativity.

If you want help choosing the best recipe for your book, you can always book a free consultation with me to find out.

Image Attribution: “Grill mit Fleischspießen und Bratwürsten” by 4028mdk09 – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grill_mit_Fleischspie%C3%9Fen_und_Bratw%C3%BCrsten.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Grill_mit_Fleischspie%C3%9Fen_und_Bratw%C3%BCrsten.JPG

Danielle Fetherson

Danielle helps aspiring authors become published authors. She believes that everyone has at least one book on the inside of them that can make a positive impact on someone else's life. If you have been thinking about writing a book, learn how to start your book today with the free resources at DanielleFetherson.com.

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