3. Develop A Working Table Of Contents

Once you have the Vision and Purpose for your book you’re in a position to write a working table of contents.

There are two key concepts here, ‘working’ and list.

Be assured you’re not creating a final table of contents – that will only come as you actually write the book. This is just a list.

Create a list

In fact, that’s the way I start and I make the same suggestion to my coaching clients who are writing a book. Open a new file and simply start writing down a list of everything you think you want to include in your book. (You can also do this with pencil and paper if you like, in fact if you use 3×5 cards you can literally shuffle them easily.)

Give yourself plenty of time over a couple of days.  Don’t worry about order for now, just get your ideas down in list form.

Your goal is between ten and 20 main topics. If you find yourself with much less, see if you can subdivide the items; if you have many more see what you can combine.

Most books have between ten and 20 chapters. If you find yourself too much under or over go back to your Purpose Statement and make sure everything really belongs in this book.

Remember, these are only guidelines or suggestions, so don’t obsess.


Once you sense your list probably contains what it should, start bringing some order to it. Don’t be surprised if you find some things are actually subdivisions of something else – that’s fine, just indent or put a minus sign in front of those. Other topics may need to be split and it’s usual for you to remember something you left out as you’re working with your list.

An ordered list = a working table of contents

Once you’ve got a list that makes sense to you in both its contents and its order you’ve got a working table of contents. We call it ‘working’ because it will change as you go – that’s the way it works.

Congratulate yourself because you’ve now got the basic structure of your book down on paper.

Exactly what you do next depends, as so many things in writing a book do.

Some people love making rather complete outlines, others hate that approach and want to start writing. Either approach and everything in between works. If you’re not sure which is best for you, experiment.

Keep these facts in mind

  • Books don’t necessarily get written front to back. You can start writing any place you like. Obviously, as you near completion you’ll have all the pieces in place and in order, but it doesn’t have to be done in a direct line.
  • Your working table of contents is more than likely to change as you work with the material – that’s why it’s a working table of contents.
  • There’s no one way to get a book written, and, in spite of what you’ve heard, no best way that works for everyone. This is your book and you get to get it written in your own way.

What’s your preference, outlining or writing, and why?

Write well and often,

Anne Wayman, Ghostwriter and Writing Coach


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