≡ Menu

The Secret to Writing The Table of Contents For Your Book

book table of contentsOnce you have your Vision and a 10 word Purpose Statement you really know what you’re book is all about. Consciously and unconsciously ideas are accumulating.

Now it’s time to begin to organize the information you’ve got in your head and/or determine what sort of research you need to do.

If you love to outline this is a good time to begin that process.

But if you’re like me and the very word outline make sure shudder there is an easier way. I call it a working table of contents, which is really just a list.

A table of contents is just a list

In truth the table of contents of any book is simply a list. True it’s a list in a particular order with page numbers added to help readers find their way, but anyway you slice it it’s also a list. And lists are pretty easy to write. That’s probably why I like lists better than outlines.

So that’s where you start. You make a list of everything that needs to be included in the book.

When I say everything that the book needs I’m talking about the major ideas you want to be sure make it into the book.

Your goal is between 10 and 20 or 25 items. If you have many fewer than 10 or a ton more than 25 on your list, most likely you need to add to it or prune it.

My cat book example

Working again with my notion I may want to write a book about cats, here’s an example of how my list might start:

  • my first cat
  • the history of cats
  • favorite cat stories
  • how cats communicate with people
  • how people communicate with cats
  • improving communication between species

You get the idea.

Each item on the list can be considered a topic or even a chapter. Sometimes I want to add subheads to the list and that’s fine. The more details now the fewer you’ll need later. On the other hand it can be too easy to get bogged down in details. You’re looking for some sort of balance.

Once I feel that the list is pretty complete I’d move on to the next process.

Order the list

Take the list and put it in the order you think you’d like to have the information presented in the book. Chances are you’ll find some things to add and maybe some to delete from the list.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to move the items on this list around to suit. When the order feels right, stop.

Don’t get caught up in the notion of perfection!

As you’re creating this list and ordering it don’t get caught up in the idea that there some perfect, magic, ideal list for your book. This is a working document meant help you with your writing. There’s nothing perfect about it now or later. Although the main items on your list may keep the same wording, it’s more likely that they will ultimately change to snapier chapter titles.

Books don’t really get written first page to last. It’s very possible that you’ll be writing along on a particular item and realize you need to do more research and the subtopic needs to be split into two. Or you may find that what you thought belonged in chapter 10 actually needs to go to the back of the book, or to the front.

This list, which I often refer to as a working table of contents, is just a tool; it’s not a magic wand. You still have to do the writing and thinking and the ordering and the editing and all the other pieces a book writer has to do

I generally create this working table of contents shortly after I’m comfortable with my vision and purpose. I’ll do a very rough draft of it one day and a day or two later will work with again. In the meantime ideas are popping up which may get added to the list or posted to some idea file I keep.

Writing time

Once my list, my working table of contents, feels pretty solid I look at my calendar and set an appointment with myself to begin writing the book. I generally start by allowing at least two hours and if my schedule allows I will schedule 2 hours every day for the week.

Using my list I’ll start somewhere – it might be at the beginning or it might not be depending on the material and my inclination.

You’re working table of contents acts as a guide to what needs to be written. You get to decide when to write it.

By the way, I often will start the writing right below that list. The list becomes the beginning of the actual book manuscript. I find I like having everything in one soon-to-be-big file. That’s my preference – you set it up the way it works for you.

What questions do you have about making a list or a working table of contents? Ask in comments and I’ll do my best to get them answered.


Take advantage and join my All About Books email list – at no cost to you.

Write well and often,





{ 2 comments… add one }
  • You’re bound and determined to get me to write a book, too, aren’t you, Anne. Well, as of today you may well have lit the fire to get me going. Thank you.
    Paula Hendrickson recently posted..Weaving MagicMy Profile

    • lol… please, only if you really want to… lots of reasons not to as well as reasons to.

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Translate »