The 7 Components of a Fail Proof Book Plan

by Joe Bunting | 0 comments

Some writers balk at the idea of a book plan, and I get it. I tried to write books for years without a plan. Guess how many I finished? Zero. Since I learned how to write and use a book plan, I've finished over a dozen books and helped thousands of writers finish their books. You can do it too!

The 7 Components of a Fail Proof Book Plan

I talk to people every week who say they want to write a book. They have terrific book ideas, amazing stories, lives that are definitely worth capturing. But somehow they don't finish their books.

When I ask what their book plan is? Most say they don't have one. 

Why writers don't have a book plan

Most writers I talk to don't initially have a book plan. Why? There are three reasons that come up.

They believe their idea is enough.

In your head, your rough idea comes alive with a full cast of characters, action, conflict, suspense, and an immersive setting. Everyone who reads it is swept into your world. But then you start writing.

Somehow nothing comes out as clearly on the page as it was in your head. You get through a page, ten pages, maybe even a few chapters and then something happens. You don't know what comes next. You stare at the blinking cursor, read back through what you've already written ten times, and start to doubt.

If you're like me, an idea isn't enough because you're going to get stuck. It doesn't matter how talented you are, how hard you work, how excited you are about that initial idea. You're going to get stuck. When most writers hit that wall, they stop, shelve the project, and think someday, someday the muse will strike again and they can keep writing.

They believe a plan will cramp their creative style.

Some writers call themselves pantsers, meaning they like to write by the seat of their pants. They resist any plan and don't want to be forced to create bullet lists or any kind of map. If that works for you and you're able to finish books that way, keep at it!

But for most of us? We pants our way into unwieldy manuscripts that have little plot, weak or nonexistent character arcs, and generally need so much work we feel like starting over. I've helped writers try to revise books like this, and if they didn't have a plan when they started, they have to create the plan in revision. They often discover whole sections of the book don't work.

If that's the way you work best and you can be brutal with revision? Go for it. But I've found having even a simple six point outline that gives me the key turning points in the book can keep the rest on track and cut down significantly on structural revision.

A plan doesn't have to cramp your style. It can actually free you to create more wildly within a story that you know will work.

They don't know how to create a book plan.

Most of us don't know how to plan to write a book. It isn't a skill we're born knowing how to do.

I get it. I didn't create plans for years either. I just started writing. I finish notebooks. I'd get three chapters into a new project and then find a new idea I liked better. Over and over.

If this has happened to you, it's normal. I studied creative writing in college. After college, I got a job at a local newspaper. I had a blog. But still, I struggled to finish a book.

What changed? I had a mentor who coached me through the process of creating a plan. They were a New York Times bestselling author, and they showed me a process for creating a plan and then executing that plan. I finished that book and went on to write more than a dozen books. In 2011, I started The Write Practice to help other writers learn what I'd discovered.

Still not convinced? A few years ago we did a survey in our 100 Day Book program where we guide writers through finishing their draft in 100 Days, and we found the writers who had a book plan were 52% more likely to finish their books. 

Having a plan has changed everything for me, and so today we're going to look at how to plan a book, so you can finally finish that idea you've been thinking about for years.

7 Components of a Fail Proof Book Plan

A book plan allows you to think through every step of the book writing process from the initial story idea to the actual writing to the plan for publication. It doesn't need to be overcomplicated or super detailed. It's a map that guides you through each step of the marathon of writing an entire book.

Here are the 7 components of a book plan that we use at The Write Practice to help writers finish their books.

1. Premise

A premise boils your idea down into a one sentence summary. If you want detailed help on your premise, you can check out this article Premise: The First Step of Writing Your Book.

But here are the bare bones. For fiction, your premise will include a protagonist with a goal who is in a crisis that forces them to act.

Example: A rebellious survivalist takes her sister's place in a contest in which children must fight to the death. (Katniss Everdeen The Hunger Games)

For memoir, you will include a problem or special situation, character (likely you) who learns a valuable lesson.

Example: After a painful divorce, a lonely dreamer takes off on a round-the-world journey to find herself through three methods—eating, praying, and loving—by way of three countries: Italy, India, and Indonesia.

For nonfiction, you’ll need a problem, person (or group), and a solution. Nonfiction tackles specific problems or topics, so you’ll want to state that problem as clearly and succinctly as possible. The person or group is who is solving it. The solution is the unique method or approach to the problem. 

Example: The Write Structure utilizes The Write Practice’s (thewritepractice.com) award-winning methodology to show creative writers how to write their best novels, memoirs, short stories, or screenplays by following story structure principles used and taught by writers for hundreds of years. 

Regardless of your book genre, you want to make sure you think about your unique point-of-view or approach to the topic. It’s a kind of special sauce that makes your premise stand out. 

2. Synopsis or outline

A synopsis or outline is just a game plan. You can deviate from it while you write. But just having it will help you push through when writer’s block strikes or you feel stuck.

If you're writing fiction, I recommend using the Write Structure plot points at minimum to give your story shape.

Write a sentence about the exposition. This is the opening where we see the character in their everyday world and life.

Then write a sentence for the inciting incident. This is something that happens that alerts the character to a new goal (or an old one where they now have an urgent need to act) and forces the character to start pursuing that goal.

Then you’ll write a sentence (or two or three) for the rising actions and progressive complications. Here’s where the character tries and fails to pursue their goal, getting stronger at the same time they get more frustrated.

The rising action leads to the crisis and the climax. This is the high point of the story where the character faces a terrible choice and it’s going to cost them whether they act or not. Write a sentence to show the choices and what you think they’ll choose.

Finally, you can write a sentence for the denouement which outlines what happens as a result of your character’s climactic choice.
You can be far more detailed than this, you can build out bullet points or a more traditional outline, but if you have these turning points in your story, you have a solid framework to build on.

If you’re writing nonfiction, your outline will be the parts of your solution, usually each one in a chapter. A traditional publishing book proposal will require this section to include the chapter titles and a short paragraph for each chapter. (Need help writing your nonfiction book? Check out our full guide here.)

3. Deadline

Deadlines help us finish. 

Part of what makes 100 Day Book so effective is the weekly deadlines for our writers. But you also have a finish line for the draft you’re working on. 

For this part of your book plan, choose a draft deadline (say 3-4 months or 100 days away) and then break that out into a weekly deadline for the number of words you’ll finish each week. 

For example, if I’m writing a 50,000 word nonfiction book, and I want to finish it in 100 days, I’m going to break my goal into about 14 weeks. So each week, I need to finish around 3600 words to reach my goal. 

4. Team

Who will help you finish?

Another key component of your book plan is having a team to hold you accountable and encourage you along the way. This might be a couple of friends or family members who you inform of your goal and deadline or it might be our Write Practice Pro community that shares a collective weekly deadline on Fridays. 

You need a team or group to meet your goals and get the most out of your experience. Writers may have to type alone, but we don’t create alone. The majority of prolific authors have a small group of other writers who they depend on for support. 

Want more specialized support? Check out one of our Certified Book Coaches here. 

5. Inspiration

Your plan also needs to include a few of the books that have inspired your idea. If you’re writing fiction, these book comps will include both masterworks (Classics in similar genres or with similar themes) and books published in the last five years that would sit on the same shelf as the book you’re writing. 

For nonfiction, you’ll want five books, all of them published in the last five years preferably, tailored especially to the nonfiction category you’re writing in. 

These books not only serve as models you can look at when you get stuck, but they also become part of your publishing plan because they signal where your book would live on a bookstore shelf. 

6. Reader avatar

Who is your ideal reader? Who would love this book or story and why? What other books are they interested in? Be careful here that you don’t answer “Everyone.” Not every book is for every reader. Think carefully about the genre, themes, characters, and book comparisons to build out your reader avatar.

7. Publishing and marketing plan

Finally, how do you plan to get your book out to readers? I know it may feel overwhelming to think about this even before you write your book, but it’s important. Why?

Well, if you plan to traditionally publish a nonfiction book, you need to focus on writing a killer book proposal and not the entire book. Most nonfiction books sell based on a book proposal and then you write the book. 

For fiction, you will need to write the full book first, but if you want to publish it traditionally, you’ll need to pay attention to market constraints, what agents are picking up, and genre considerations. 

What does that mean? It means that if you want to traditionally publish a cozy mystery, you’re going to have to make sure you hit the right genre tropes and keep it between 75,000-85,000 words. That doesn’t mean you can’t write a 100,000 word cozy mystery. You can! But that word count will not likely be picked up by an agent because it isn’t in line with industry standards. 

No matter what type of book you're writing, you may also want to build an author website to begin connecting with your audience. If that feels like too much while you're drafting, that's fine–focus on your draft for now. Just know that once you finish, you'll want to build out an author home.

Put it all together

Your fail proof book plan will be anywhere from 2-10 pages. It doesn't need to be beautifully edited or formatted. No one will read it except you (and maybe someone on your team who you want to ask for feedback).

Your story might change. You'll likely come up with plot twists and new minor characters as you write your way through the story. That's great! It won't derail your writing plan. Your book plan gives you a clear target for accomplishing your first draft (or editing draft) writing goals.

I hope this peek into the way we teach writers how to plan a book helps you start making your dream a reality too. I can't wait to see your finished book!

And if you want help every step of the way, sign up for this semester of 100 Day Book. Sign up here

Which part of the book plan do you think you'd need help with? Share in the comments.

PRACTICE

The best practice is to write a book plan, but to do that, you need to start collecting your ideas for the premise and synopsis. Today, let's take fifteen minutes.

Write down everything you can that you know about your book so far. Don't format it, don't revise it, just get the details you know down.

Then, look back over your notes and craft a one sentence premise using the guide above.

Share your premise in the Pro Practice Workshop and get some feedback. If you share, offer some feedback and encouragement to a few other writers too.

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.

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WSJ Bestselling author, founder of The Write Practice, and book coach with 14+ years experience. Joe Bunting specializes in working with Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, How To, Literary Fiction, Memoir, Mystery, Nonfiction, Science Fiction, and Self Help books. Sound like a good fit for you?

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