It’s one thing to want to write a nonfiction book. It’s another to actually do it. A good starting point is to write a book outline, which can help you clarify your message and key points, and structure your arguments in a persuasive and digestible way. Nowadays there are plenty of accessible digital programs to make the outlining process quicker and more efficient.
Here are six top options to help you set your book up for success.
For brainstorming: MindMeister
If you’re a visual thinker, MindMeister is the program for you. It’s an online mind-mapping platform that allows you to visualize your ideas in a free flowing manner. You start by writing down your subject in the centre. Then add branches to indicate the key themes of your subject. Continue expanding by connecting further branches with new subtopics and finer points. Once you’re done dumping the contents of your brain online (so to speak), you can export the results into a Word doc or PDF. By creating a graphic representation of your most important ideas, you establish a clear overview of your book outline.
For note taking: Evernote
Let’s face it—the best ideas can come without a moment’s notice. You’ll be struggling with your chapter headings while you’re at your computer, but then a mental breakthrough comes through when you’re in line for your morning coffee or caught in the mountain pose during yoga class. When inspiration strikes, you’ll want an easy-to-use note taking app to capture your thoughts. That’s where Evernote comes in handy. With Evernote, you can record your ideas by text or voice command, and sort them by date, title, or keyword for quick retrieval later.
For idea organization: Scrivener
Scrivener is a digital heavyweight in the writing field. While it’s designed for long-form writing—perfect for when you’re ready to draft your manuscript—this comprehensive word processing program is also useful when you’re still figuring out your narrative structure. You can organize chapters into folders and subfolders, set word targets per section, and insert comments and annotations. What’s more, Scrivener includes footnote support and file importing (Word docs, plain text, PDFs, etc.), so you can refer to notes and research material while you’re working on your outline.
For concise writing: Hemingway and Grammarly
A book outline is not the place for flowery prose. Using the aptly named Hemingway Editor, you can tighten up your language and strengthen the impact of your key points. This app will analyze your writing to find long-winded sentences, suggest shorter synonyms, and deliver a readability score. It’s especially helpful when you’re trying to sum up each chapter or your book as a whole.
Unlike a final manuscript, an outline doesn’t need to have pristine spelling or grammar, but Grammarly does much more than your ordinary spell checker. Beyond spotting typos, this AI-powered tool will flag odd word choices, faulty sentence structure, and even plagiarism. That so-called original idea you had might have crept into your subconscious from something you read on the Internet—better to catch it now before it makes its way into your manuscript. Pair Grammarly with the Hemingway Editor to get a double dose of editorial support.
For collaboration: Google Docs
Chances are, if you have a Gmail address, you’ve dabbled in Google Docs before. Its real-time nature makes it especially useful when you’re collaborating with other people. No need to deal with an endless stream of back-and-forth emails on nitpicky matters—you and your writing partner can hammer out the details of your book outline while the two of you both have the document open on your computers. If you need to bring a particular section to your collaborator’s attention, tag their email address and they’ll receive a notification that their response is needed. What’s more, Google Docs’ auto-save feature means you never have to worry about forgetting to save important changes or one of you overwriting the other’s edits.
Making an outline for your nonfiction book doesn’t have to be difficult. With these digital tools at your disposal, you’ll be able to start your book project on the right foot.
Ready to take the next step? Submit your book idea to one of our publishing programs.