Writer’s block is real. And so is wasted time writing content that ends up cut during editing. But can all this be avoided?
With a clear, concise, and organized Book Blueprint, authors are armed with a roadmap of sorts…a detailed document tailored for efficiently and effectively crafting a first-draft manuscript.
In this episode of The Entrepreneur to Author Podcast, your host Scott MacMillan offers helpful insight on the must-haves of any great book blueprint.
Listen to Episode 7 of Entrepreneur to Author now and learn to plan your book the right way.
Scott A. MacMillan: You're listening to The Entrepreneur to Author Podcast, episode number 7.
Scott A. MacMillan: Preparation. All that time getting ready to do something you really enjoy. Prep time may not be as much fun as the activity itself and that's fair, but it's so necessary. Prep time. We've all had to do it. "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I'll spend the first four sharpening the ax." That quote from Lincoln sums it up doesn't it? Without preparation, the job itself will be harder, longer, less effective. You're painting a room, but first you tape off the edges, then you prepare the surface, then prime it. You're an elite athlete, but before competing comes to countless hours of practice, visualizing, mental prep. Those examples are easy to relate to. Well, perhaps the painting example at least. To get to this point in our entrepreneur to author journey, we've done a good deal of prep, you're preparing to write your book, but even now, if we were to jump right in and start writing, where would we start?
Scott A. MacMillan: The prep we've done so far has been strategic and necessary. Thanks to that strategic prep, you know where you're going. It's time to get tactical now and figure out how you're going to get there. You need a roadmap, an action plan. You need a blueprint. What's that you ask? Well you're about to find out. I'm Scott MacMillan and welcome to this edition of Entrepreneur to Author.
Scott A. MacMillan: A book blueprint. It's exactly how it sounds. Think of it this way. A builder has architectural drawings. A football team has a game plan. And an author, an author has a book blueprint. Well, they should. You should. The concept of a book blueprint comes from the 2016 book by the same name, Book Blueprint written by Grammar Factory founder, Jacqui Pretty. And it's foundational to the work that we do at Grammar Factory to this day. And I'm going to walk you through how to make one. There are seven steps each tied to the next. Each step designed to clarify what you'll write, to instill confidence in you, the author, to battle the dreaded writer's block. So let's get right to it. There are seven steps we need to take together on our way to developing a book blueprint. I'll explain each but first here they are in order.
Step one, collect existing content.
Step two, list out examples.
Step three, brainstorm big picture topics.
Step four has two parts. First, brainstorm each chapter and then flush out the details.
Step five, brainstorm your book's introduction.
Step six is brainstorm your book's conclusion.
And step seven, transcribe it all into your text editor.
Scott A. MacMillan: Let's go through each one. Step one, collect existing content. Let's think about that for a moment. Collect existing content. Now you might be thinking what content? I haven't written anything yet. Well, again, let's think about that for a moment. This isn't the first time you thought about your topic is it? It's unlikely that this is the first time you've written about it either. Now, unless the goal of your book is to build new capabilities and see episode two, where we go into depth on different goals for your book and you'll get what I mean by that. Then the book that you're writing is rooted in your existing expertise. Over time, you've no doubt developed a mountain of material on your topic. Maybe it's written and maybe it's not.
Scott A. MacMillan: Now I get it, and don't misunderstand, your existing content isn't something you can just copy paste and magically transform into a book manuscript. Believe me, some try that and it's always a disaster. In fact, much of it you won't end up using and that's entirely okay. What you're gathering here is reference material, source material, content that you'll use as a starting point. Let's consider for a moment some of the content that you may have already produced, material you may have considered one-offs at the time. Some are obvious. Maybe you've written articles for an industry publication or for a blog on your website. Maybe you've written white papers or reports. Again, material like this, published content related to your topic, makes obvious sense to pull out and keep handy.
Scott A. MacMillan: But consider this. We all have countless email in our sent folder, emails that answer questions from our team, service providers, customers. Many of these emails contain incredible information and insights that you might be able to use in your book. What about presentations you've made to colleagues, clients, and staff? Marketing brochures, proposals, your website's product pages. The list goes on. Everything we've covered so far contains mostly written word, but let's take this a step further. Videos, webinars, media interviews. Let's not forget podcasts. Even if you don't have your own podcast, perhaps you've been a guest on one or two. For these, if you have access to the actual video or audio file, or even a URL, you can easily and inexpensively get them transcribed, using a transcription service like Rev. If you're not familiar with Rev, I'll drop the link in the show notes. But anyway, you get the idea.
Scott A. MacMillan: By spending a bit of time upfront collecting existing content, you likely have quite a collection of excellent material to draw from for your book. Keep these items handy, file them where that you can easily find and reference them because I assure you, you will come back to them, and it sure beats starting from square one. But here's another important reason that we do this. Collecting your existing body of work doesn't just save time. It also helps you maintain consistency. It makes sure that you don't say one thing in your book while saying something entirely different on your website, for example.
Scott A. MacMillan: Step two is similar to step one, but it's less likely that you'll have actual content created for this. You might, but you might not. Step two is to start a list of examples that you can use in your book. These are often case studies or even stories or anecdotes related to your subject. You can start this list as a simple Word document or spreadsheet. And what I want you to do is make note of as many relevant and real life examples that you can think of. Case studies, they should be examples of how you've helped people, talk about their situation before you worked with them and the outcome that you helped them achieve. Why are case studies important? Well, case studies are like evidence, evidence that what you're sharing really works. They matter, they really, really do. Reality speaks volumes and it helps people relate. And case studies describe a real situation, a situation that your reader may have faced themselves. Real world relevance matters.
Scott A. MacMillan: Now, what if your business is relatively new? What if you don't yet have very many real life case studies involving your experience and expertise? Well, in that case, stories and anecdotes can help support key points or ideas, or you might describe a case or example of a well-known person or brand that you weren't directly involved with if they still support your message. That's perfectly fine as long as you don't pretend that you were involved.
Scott A. MacMillan: Now, what you don't want you need to do at this stage is write all of these examples out. That would be a waste of time because you're unlikely to use some of them. Just describe them in a line or two, include just enough detail that you'll be able to recall the example, if, and when you decide to use it. This will really help when you get down to writing, particularly in your second pass as you're rounding out your manuscript and adding supporting content. Now again, keep this list handy and accessible too, because you never know when inspiration will strike. And you'll recall another example that you want to add to the list.
Scott A. MacMillan: So, you've covered and cataloged existing content related to your topic as well as some terrific examples that will help you land your message. Now the next four steps involve brainstorming. Brainstorming, throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping that some of it sticks, or how about something a bit more systematic and organized? That sounds about right for what we're doing here. What we're doing here is really drilling down on your expertise, your experience, what you have to offer, what your readers will get value from. Brainstorming, organized brainstorming, and it requires a process. So step three is brainstorm big picture topics. What's the big picture of your book? The headline, if you will?
Scott A. MacMillan: Well, guess what? If you've been following along, you've already got it. It's your central question. I covered the idea of a central question and your solution or answer to it, which also comes into play here in a previous episode. So go back and listen to it if you haven't already, but in short, the central question is the question that your book answers for your reader. It's the question they have about your topic that prompted them to read your book. The central question is your big picture topic. Now here's what I want you to do. Write your central question in the center of a big whiteboard or a sheet of butcher paper if you have it, and then draw a big circle around it.
Scott A. MacMillan: Now, if you're comfortable using mind mapping software, that can be a great solution too, and I'll drop some links to a few good options in the show notes. However you choose to capture your brainstorming, just ask yourself this question. What are the major topics you need to cover in your book to answer the central question? Again, going back to that previous episode, we talked about your solution or answer to the central question. If you followed the guidance and already thought through your solution and framed out the major components that ladder up to it, then your step three is mostly done. If not, then do it now, answer that question. What are the major topics that you need to cover in your book to answer the central question? Back to your whiteboard or butcher paper. Write each of these major topics in its own circle around your central question, and then connect them to it by drawing a line out to each one.
Scott A. MacMillan: If these major topics are part of a sequential process, then you might draw them in an arc from left to right. But if they're just major themes and the sequence isn't all that important, then they can simply orbit around the central question like a starburst. Now that is step three. This is important because it will ultimately form the foundation of your book's structure. A logical structure for your book, makes it easier for your reader to follow your logic and understand your message. It's easier to digest and we don't want to make it hard for the reader. We don't want them to have to work harder than is necessary to understand what you're having to say.
Scott A. MacMillan: Once you feel you've captured all the major topics, step back and consider is there anything missing? Is there any duplication or overlap? Should anything be grouped together into a single topic? Next, think about what order makes the most sense for covering these topics, and number them accordingly. Now take a picture of your whiteboard or pull the butcher paper down and set it aside where you can see it because you'll be referring back to it throughout the rest of this process.
Scott A. MacMillan: Now onto step four. Now this is the most time consuming part of building your book blueprint. We're now ready to brainstorm each chapter. I have chapters? You might be asking, well, yes you do. Each of the major topics in your big picture brainstorm will be a chapter of your book. So yes you do have chapters. Well done.
Scott A. MacMillan: Now a quick side note here. This is where many authors stop at the chapter level. They plan out an outline as nothing more than a glorified table of contents, perhaps with a bullet point or two describing each one. We are not going to stop there. We're going to detail out every chapter and every subtopic within each one. It sounds like a lot of work. Well, yeah, it is. But remember this, you're going to have to get into the detail of every chapter anyway, whether now or when you're writing. And by doing it now, you're going to have a game plan for writing. Meaning you'll avoid going off on tangents, you'll avoid writer's block, and many of the other frustrations that stop would be authors in their tracks.
Scott A. MacMillan: But here's a tip. Think of each chapter as a miniature book with its own beginning, middle and end. Every book has each of these and so should each chapter. Like a book, each chapter will need an introduction at the beginning, a conclusion at the end, and then three to seven subtopics in the middle, which in totality, cover the topic of the chapter. Nice and tidy.
Scott A. MacMillan: So, starting with a fresh sheet or clean whiteboard, write the topic of chapter one in the middle, just like you did with your central question in the last step. Now, ask yourself, what does the reader need to know in order to understand or act on this topic? And like you did with the last step, write the subtopic ideas you come up with around the edges and then connect them to your main topic by drawing a line out from it to each one. When you're satisfied that you thought of everything, step back, see if there's anything that should be grouped or rolled under another topic. Is there anything missing? Now decide on what order would make the most sense for covering the subtopics and number them accordingly. Before moving on to brainstorm chapter two, we're going to cover the second part of step four.
Scott A. MacMillan: You'll want to use another fresh page for this so again, take a picture of your whiteboard before wiping it clean. We talked about how your chapter needs an introduction, three to seven subtopics and a conclusion. And there's a very simple formula for brainstorming the details of each of these. For each one, you're going to answer three simple questions. What, why and how. This structural will ensure that you're covering everything in the necessary detail so that your reader can understand it and act on it. Let's start with a chapter introduction. Write introduction at the top, and then consider the main topic of chapter one and answer what, why and how. What is this chapter about? Here, briefly describe the topic of the chapter in a couple of bullet points. Next, why? Why is this important for the reader to know about? Describe the benefits of them getting it right, as well as the risks of them getting it wrong. And finally, how? How are you going to cover this topic? Here, just simply list out the subtopics that you'll cover in this chapter, the ones that you brainstorm in the first part of step four.
Scott A. MacMillan: Next, you need to answer the same three questions for each of the subtopics. So one by one, write out the subtopic and then answer the following. What is this subtopic about? Why is it important for the reader to know about? And how can they take action on it? A bullet point or two should be enough. You want enough detail for each that you can use it as a writing prompt, but that's about it.
Scott A. MacMillan: Now finally, the chapter conclusion. Write conclusion, and then answer the three questions again. What did this chapter cover? This is likely just a rewording of what you had for the introduction. Why was it so important? And again, this is going to be similar to the introduction too. And how? For the chapter conclusion, how will answer a slightly different question. Ask how does this chapter's topic relate to the topic of the next chapter, in this case, chapter two?
Scott A. MacMillan: Now you simply rinse repeat with each of the other chapter topics in your big picture brainstorm. Again, this fourth step in creating a book blueprint is the most time consuming, and I'm sure you can see why. But can you see how that simple what, why, how formula works? It's a really effective way to plot out the content of your chapters systematically and without too much fuss.
Scott A. MacMillan: Now, much of the heavy lifting is done, but there's still some important work to do. In steps five and six, you'll brainstorm your book's introduction and its conclusion. So let's first look at brainstorming your book's introduction, step five. Just as the chapters need an introduction, so does your book and it's important. The introductory chapter sets your book's tone. It sets the context for your reader. It's the hook, it entices your reader to stick around and read what's to come. The reason that we brainstormed the introduction after the chapter brainstorms is that by now you have a much better sense of all of the content that your book will include, and that makes it easier to write.
Scott A. MacMillan: In our book's introduction, we described the problems our readers are facing related to your book's topic. Then we outline the benefits they may experience once those problems are solved. This description of problems and benefits is then followed by an outline of your book's contents, just a bullet point or two about each chapter to come. Then we introduce you, the author, why you're the best person to write this book and why the reader should want to pay attention to what you have to say. This is a great opportunity to lay out your credentials on the subject, your experience, number of clients served, awards received, successes you've had, don't be afraid to brag here. Your reader wants to know that you have credibility so do them a favor of convincing them. Then we finish our introduction with some closing thoughts. What do you want the reader to really consider before they begin reading? And that is your book's introduction.
Scott A. MacMillan: Step five of creating your book blueprint is how to write the book's introduction in a way that leaves the reader wanting more. Then step six is about writing an unforgettable conclusion that motivates them to act. A great conclusion provides closure for your reader. The conclusion also provides one last opportunity to make a strong connection between what you shared or taught in your book and what the reader should do next. It's a call to action. Your book's conclusion should contain three things. They're really important and they're impactful when executed well. In your conclusion, share a case study describing an example of someone's journey, applying your solution from start to finish. Next, recap in bullet form, the benefits that your reader can expect from adopting your philosophy or implementing your recommendations. And finally write down some next steps for your reader. Your book's conclusion is as vital as all the proceeding pages, a case study, a recap and next steps.
Scott A. MacMillan: And that brings us to step seven, our final step in creating your book blueprint. Step seven is quite simple. Transcribe your book blueprint into your text editor, like a Word file. With your brainstorming complete, you now want to transcribe and organize everything into a text document. Step seven is really the starting point for your manuscript. It's where the pen hits the paper as it were. So create a new file in a text editing tool like Microsoft Word and save it to your hard drive immediately. On the first page, about two thirds of the way down type the working title of your book, followed by your name on the next line, and then add a page break. On the next page type introduction, and then transcribe all the details you brainstormed for your book's introduction. When you're done, add another page break.
Scott A. MacMillan: Chapter by chapter, starting on a new page, type the chapter number followed by the main topic, your chapter title at the top of the page, then type out all of the details you brainstorm for the chapter introduction, the chapter subtopics and the chapter conclusion. Finally, again on a new page, type conclusion, followed by all the details that you brainstorm for your book's conclusion. Now hit save and then step back and congratulate yourself. You now have the beginnings of your manuscript, your detailed book blueprint. Now each time you sit down to write, you can jump into whatever chapter or subtopic you're feeling inspired to write about, and you'll be able to get right to it because you know you've already done the hard work of thinking it through.
Scott A. MacMillan: Now we've covered a lot in this episode and it may be worth listening to it again with your laptop handy. Note taking is very helpful here. But I hope you can see how valuable this exercise is and how much easier things will be once you've built your book blueprint.
When crafting it...
Scott A. MacMillan: We opened this podcast by talking about prep time. Remember the painter, the athlete and Abraham Lincoln. Creating a book blueprint is pivotal prep time when it comes to authorship. It's organizing expertise, cataloging credentials, it's making sure we're flexing all of our muscles. When amplifying our experiences. A complete and robust book blueprint gives you more than an outline. It also eliminates a major hurdle almost every writer faces at one time or another: writer's block. Why? How? Because you now know what needs to be written. Every chapter, every topic, every subtopic, a detailed book blueprint will shine light on how your book hangs together logically and structurally. It's the foundation. What a great feeling to know that you've put in the prep time. Now is the time. It's time to write, time to publish and time to grow. I'm Scott MacMillan. Until next time.