Notes on eBook Structure – Get It Right the First Time

This is an excerpt from ACE YOUR EBOOK

How will you structure your book? The array of options may seem daunting, even infinite at first. But they are not. Here is a menu for you. You can’t choose all of them, but you can mix two or more to present a successful narrative that will make your readers happy.

Personal story

The most compelling stories (for most readers) are personal. Let’s call this one the biographical approach to your book. If you have a compelling personal story that includes some key learnings about your industry, work, or your life, telling it as a chronological tale might work well for you. If you choose this option, remember this: Telling a personal narrative doesn’t mean you must begin at the beginning and end at the end. Most successful biographical movies start with a crisis point in the main character’s life to set the scene and hook the viewer, and then after that they flash back to the beginning of the story. They do not begin at the beginning.

Collection of use cases

I have used this one myself often. Seek out examples of success stories and tell them one by one. Make sure that each story is a little different from the last. If you try to tell the same or closely related tale of success over and over, your reader will get bored. Think like a lawyer preparing a case: Each story is something like a witness, and each one will testify to a different point you want to make.

Anthology

This method has its genius, because you get other writers to do your work for you. Ask friends, experts in the field, and colleagues to write up their take on your central thesis. Be sure that each story told illuminates a different part of the tale you are telling. Some publisher/authors take a mercantile view of this method and ask each contributor to pay a fee to have their chapter included in the book. I am not a fan of that approach, but you can certainly ask contributors to buy you a nice Christmas present. If they refuse, you don’t have to send them a card next year.

Curriculum

I used this structure for my first book, Be More Popular: Culture-Building for Startups. If you think of your book as a course given in book form, then it means you have some lessons to teach. How would your reader/student best grasp your topic? You might use a mix of some of the methods I’ve listed here, beginning with a short personal story to set the scene, salting in some use cases, providing exercises and workbook materials, and breaking down your thesis into a step by step process. In a book of this kind, you’ll need to make it clear what the reader will get out of it, what steps he or she need to take to accomplish the goal, and what the payoff will be. The underlying assumption that the reader makes is if I follow all these steps it will all be worth it. Your book, should you choose this structure, has to make good on that promise.

Historical

Ugh, really? In my view, a historical treatment for a topic is an easy way out, because it gives you an excuse to present a list of supposedly significant things that happened, and all you are obligated to do is arrange them in a timeline. Historical storylines are best left to geniuses like David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Tim Wu.

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Also published on Medium.