Lily La Rosa wears a blue sequin dress, gold gloves, a silver headdress, and poses with a big smile

Your Nonfiction Book Table of Contents—Burlesque Style

Ever seen a burlesque show?

(If not, check out my beautiful assistant Lily La Rosa, who owns Glitter Girls Burlesque)

Burlesque is all about the tease: fun, dancing, a little bit naughty…

Think of your Table of Contents like a burlesque dancer.

Stick with me, I promise I’ll make this metaphor make sense.

Imagine the feather boa, stockings, and gloves—and imagine them peeling off to reveal a hint of shoulder, a tantalising glimpse of ankle, and a sexy elbow: it’s a tease, a promise of what’s to come—and what’s to come is going to be so much fun.

That’s your Table of Contents.

Your Table of Contents has two main functions—one to help you, and one to help your reader.

Let’s start with you, because I wanna help you get started on your book, and turn the whole process of book writing from something horrifyingly large that threatens to squash you into a tiny splat, into a series of little games you can absolutely do.

Creating a Table of Contents in advance does just that: it breaks down the humongous task of writing a book into a series of little writing sessions you can drop in and out of.

It means you don’t have to start right at the beginning and schlep all the way to the end in order; you know what you’re including, so you can pick a chapter to work on depending on what seems appealing at the time.

And for your reader—a Table of Contents is more than just a placefinder guide. It’s an opportunity to tantalise, to whet their appetite. Just like the trailers in cinemas, we get a glimpse of what’s coming.

Before we start, a note: some people hate outlines and plans; they prefer to just write and see what comes out. I’m doing that myself at the moment because I’m tricking myself into writing the book I want to write but have been avoiding. A plan would be too… definite.

But most of the time, I write to an outline because otherwise, it’s like being plonked into the middle of the Atacama Desert with a shonky compass and being told to find your way to Zorras. Without directions, a map, or a clue.

My point is: it’s super helpful to have an idea of where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

Remember your Reader Journey from a few days ago?

Pull it out again and let’s have a look. It’s going to form the basis of your Table of Contents—your book outline.

Overall Shape of Your Book

Start with the overall shape—where your reader is at the start of your book, and where you want them to get to.

We’re going to meet them where they are, and take them to a final destination. Note those two things down. That’s going to be your first chapter (possibly your intro) and your conclusion or final chapter.

Then think about all the places you need to stop along the way. What does your reader need to know—and what do you want to tell them—to get them from the starting point to the finish?

Note them down in bullet points. Don’t worry too much about the order right now, you can play with it later. Just get the big ideas down. The main concepts you want to share.

Now look at how they all fit together—does one idea naturally follow another? Does the reader need to know something before something else will make sense? Have a play, and see if you can get the main ideas into a sequence that makes sense.

Again, don’t worry too much about this for now—your book outline is a living document, and you’ll be going back to it often to make tweaks. It’s a tool you’ll keep using.

The Details

When you have your bare-bones outline, we can go a little deeper. Choose an idea to start with—it doesn’t have to be chapter 1, just pick one you like the look of.

Now make a few notes: what needs to be included in this chapter? What facts or concepts does the reader need for this chapter to make sense? What stories do you want to use, and why?

Make a mini reader journey for each chapter, showing where the reader is at the start, where they're going, and how they’re getting there.

Do this for each chapter, so you know roughly what you need. This will give you an idea of what research you need to do, what stories you want to tell, and the ideas you want to share. It’ll help you stay on track, so you resist the urge to tangent wildly when you come to actually write your draft.

Create Mini Stories

Something I love doing, and find really useful, is to write a mini-story for each Table of Contents entry. I take my mini reader journey and construct a little narrative, injecting some colour and life into it.

This is fun, and it helps you to see what’s missing from your chapter outline.

You can revisit these mini-stories when you’re in the end stages of writing your book and you’re constructing the actual Table of Contents, because it’s a place where you can have a little fun!

You can keep it super-simple and list the chapter headings and page numbers, for sure… there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

Or… you can take the tease to the next level, and write a Table of Contents that has the reader leaning forward eagerly, watching you peel off a glove, and flashing a hint of elbow as a taste of what’s to come.

Pick up your feather boa, put on some dancing music, and crack on…

If you’d like a little extra guidance to create your Table of Contents, I’ve got just the thing. When I started writing books, I couldn’t find anything that helped me—everything was either too rigid, or too vague.

So I created a set of templates to help myself, then started using them with my clients—who LOVE them.

There are five of them: the big idea, the reader journey, the Table of Contents, the chapter plan, and some nifty writing games.

Find out all about them here, and grab one—or get the bundle at a discount!

Psst: did you know you can book a 60 minute session with me to bust any challenges you’re having writing your book? If you’re stuck and would like my help to get going on your book again, click the button below and book a slot.

Notes in the Margin

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About the Author Vicky Fraser