Step 2 Right Argument

Once I have a message, my next step is to expand it. Many publishers reject books because, in spite of a winning message, the message cannot be developed to book length. So I bear in mind that I have to elaborate my message into a sequential argument. I have to prove my argument will go the distance.

Like it or not, a book’s presentation is linear — not at all like the web. One chapter comes after another, so if you start with one big gumball of an idea, you have to figure out how to arrange it into one long strand.

One simple way to do this is by dividing the topic into three parts: problem, solution, benefits. What problem in work or life are you addressing? What are you offering for help? How will this make life/work better?

I try to capture the problem, solution, and benefits precisely. If, say, the message of my book is that one kind of leadership is better than another, I work backward and identify the problem hindering that kind of leadership. What aspects of my brand of leadership remedy this problem? How can readers exercise my suggestions to improve work?

One of the most common mistakes for would-be authors is to repeat in later chapters what they say in earlier ones. It’s also common to make a leap of logic from one chapter to the next that is too big. Or to have the logic out of order. Each chapter should build on the one before. My approach is to keep recasting the argument until I work out the kinks.

Step 2: The paper trail continues
To finish with the second step in the Stairway to Earth, I create two new documents:

  1. Précis: I pretend I’m writing the book jacket. In roughly one page (300-400 words), I sell my reader on my book. I dramatize the problem and solution. I summarize the development. I tempt the reader with irresistible benefits. The précis is a summary that mimics the tone and style of the book.
  2. Table of contents: I next draft the table of contents. I shoot for six to twelve chapters, although there is no magic number. Provocative titles are good. But by all means I try to be descriptive so I can later follow the logical buildup of my argument.

So there you have my approach to expanding the message. What’s yours? What problems do you see with mine? Join the conversation on my blog. By the way, if you have a literary agent, or helpful colleagues, now is the time to bounce your ideas off them..

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