Develop your book with a thorough outline

If you want your book never to get published, just start writing.

Off all the problems I observed as a writing professor, a lack of preparation is the biggest. Whether you’re a student or a financial advisor, preparation is essential. Creating an outline is an essential part of writing a book, one that establishes the backbone and structure of your book.

As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there. Without a map or a GPS, you won’t arrive at your destination. The same thing holds true with an outline and a book.

On the other hand, when you create a solid outline, you’re much more likely to succeed in publishing your book. You’ll have a road map to guide you and a structure to work through as you actually write your book.

ABCs of outline creation

When creating an outline, each chapter must have an individual focus. That focus must help move the book along from it’s beginning to the conclusion and should also stand alone with enough interesting material to keep the reader moving through the book. Like a college paper, it can be useful to create a thesis statement not just for your book, but also for each chapter. That thesis statement will help anchor your writing and ensure that it stays on track.

As you write your outline, make sure that the topics and sub-topics are distinct. In the early phases of organizing a book, topics can easily ooze into each other. That’s okay at the beginning, when you are still formulating your thoughts. Outlining isn’t a one-time event — it is a process that will evolve as you write.

Rarely do I write a book with a financial advisor where the outline stays static through the entire project. In most cases, there are at least two or three versions of an outline. I’ve done as many as nine as the book progresses and the advisor gains more clarity about their processes as well as their clients’ challenges and how their services solve those problems. As the book progresses, it’s easier to see which parts flow together and how best to communicate a narrative in a way that makes the most sense to the reader.

Sometimes the idea of putting an outline together is overwhelming — or at least it seems that way. I recommend blocking off time — an hour or two — and using the brainstorming materials that you assembled when you were sorting through your ideas. If you’re finding it slow going, start doing some Googling about your topic. Read some articles and even some book summaries on Amazon and jot down some notes.

Draw your processes in

Think through the process that you walk prospects through and lean on that in the outline process. What problems and challenges do your prospects bring to you in those get-to-know-you consultations? Introducing them, explaining them and breaking down their potential impact can form the first part of your book. You can also introduce subjects like the fiduciary standard, investment costs and explain how different types of investments work.

Reflect on the process you go through in taking prospects’ hopes, dreams and finances and turning those into financial plan that you will present to those prospects in order to win them as a client. Linking the prospects’ situation, plans and actual finances with the plan takes some explaining, which you do often in your meetings with prospects. That can form the middle section of your book.

The final section of the outline can cover aspects such as risks, implementation and adjusting a financial plan. These are all things that you and your staff do on a daily basis, so breaking that down in outline form shouldn’t be too difficult. Throughout this outlining process, remember that you are dealing with prospects who aren’t sophisticated about financial planning and investing. So, you’ll have to explain the nuts and bolts of how various concepts work — such as sequence of returns risk — and why the client should care about it.

Stay on track

Once you draft the first version of your outline, review it with the reader in mind. As yourself these questions:

• Are these topics that my target reader persona cares about?

• Does the outline flow together, sequentially building to a conclusion?

• Am I clearly presenting the problems that my reader worries about?

• How am I relating the solutions I offer to the problems my reader experiences?

• Will the solutions I’m offering make sense to the reader persona?

• Am I targeting stories, examples and credible evidence towards that persona?

Next steps

Once you’ve got an outline that you’re comfortable with, the next step is to create a writing schedule. Because you’re a busy professional, you need to commit to a regular writing schedule to ensure that your book gets done. You need to plan on at least three months for the editing, proofreading and formatting process.

Work back from that, consider how much writing you can get done in a week, and then set up your schedule so that you’ll actually do the writing.

Amy ButtellComment