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Self-Publishing 101:
Developing Your Table of Contents

By Debbie Elicksen

The title may still not be there but you have an idea of what you want to write about.

Your next action is to make a list of topics that you could include. For example, if you were to write about romance in general terms, your topic list would be more defined: budding romance (Kindergarten), childhood sweethearts, first date, who pays, romance after divorce, romance in the 80s, romance in the 1980s. You get the idea. You may have already done some research on these. Of course, you’re going to choose related topics and only those you want to write about.

Now, you have your topic list, so all you need to do is look at it to see what comes first. There is no scientific way of doing this. You will be reworking it as you go along. It’s a way of organizing your content. Your topics might not be full chapters. They might be sub-chapters. And you might even put your Table of Contents together before you list the topics. It’s whatever works for you.

If you are going to do a proposal for a publisher, you’ll have to take this one step further and describe what each chapter is about – a paragraph description. Sometimes it helps to look at other books to see how those Table of Contents are organized.

The Table of Contents is fluid at the start. Some of it does change. You are going to change your mind about what you put in it. Your chapters could flow into each other or stand alone. It’s a personal choice. Sometimes, it might be the publisher’s choice, too.

You’ll find as you start to input your research and writings into the chapters that the book will take on a life of its own. You’ll start to see if some of those topics still fit, if you have to take some of them out, or add new ones.

But the bottom line is that while there is a standard on how books are laid out and where the Table of Contents fits into a book, there is no standard as to how the book is formulated. Working the Table of Contents by figuring out the order to where things go is the perfect exercise in organizing your book.

Read other articles and learn more about Debbie Elicksen.

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