How To Outline A Non-Fiction Book – Assignment 1 – What Is Your Book About?

In the previous two posts I talked about the 7 Reasons Non-Fiction Writers Should Outline Their Books, and then I talked about the unique circumstances that led me to create (and subsequently refine) the dynamic outlining system for non-fiction that I use.

Over the next series of posts we’re going to dive into that system in enough detail so that if you want to write a book you can use this system to create a detailed structural outline that will maximise the chances of you successfully completing your book.

How To Use This Series Of Posts

The best way to learn anything – or test anything – is to actually use it. So I highly recommend that you copy and paste the questions to a new Scrivener project – or a word doc if you haven’t yet invested in Scrivener – and spend some time answering the questions.

Each stage of the process has a series of questions that you – the author – need to answer. Each of your answers will take you a step closer towards completing your structural outline.

The questions will be presented first – and then I’ll go through each of the questions and give you guidance notes on how to answer the questions

The Questions For Assignment 1 [Read more…]

How I Discovered An Outlining System For Non-Fiction Writing

In the last post here on The Spoon I talked about The 7 Reasons That Non-Fiction Writers Should Outline Books. If you’ve not read that post, then click that link at some stage and check it out – there’s some important information in there.

I’m shortly going to be going through in detail the outlining system that I use when writing a non-fiction book. Before I start detailing the different steps of that outlining system I wanted to write an introductory post detailing how I came up with the system that we’re going to work through.

First though, let’s answer a question:

Why Do You Need An Outlining System For Non-Fiction Books? [Read more…]

The 7 Reasons Non Fiction Writers Should Outline Books

If you’ve spent any time hanging around fiction writing circles you’ll know there’s what seems an uncross able divide between two different types of writers

That divide is whether fiction writers outline and plan their books in advance of their writing (plotters); or whether these writers apply the seat of their pants to the seat of their chairs and ‘make it up as they go along’ (pantsers).

There doesn’t seem to be this kind of divide for non-fiction writers. Most non-fiction writers seem to be in agreement that you need to prepare some kind of outline before you start the actual writing.

Systemizing The Outline Process [Read more…]

A Counter Intuitive Secondary Strategy From The Resistance Playbook – And How To Beat It

Recently I posted a list of five books that I re-read every year. You can see that post here:

Five Books For Writers To Read (And Read Again) In 2015

The first book on that list is The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield. If you’ve not read it, you should definitely fix that soon. If you have read it, you’ll know it’s a combat manual for writers (and other creative types) to deal with a force that Steve calls Resistance.

The thing about Resistance is that it’s like the mythological hydra – every time you recognize (and defeat) one manifestation of resistance then two more pop up to take its place.

That’s why Steve called his book ‘The War Of Art:’ because this is not a battle you can win in one day. It’s a campaign that you have to fight anew every day of your creative life.

And today I came across one of the favourite strategies that Resistance when creative people start taking action – and it’s something really sneaky strategy that you have to know about and guard against.

[Read more…]

How Target Profiles Trump Personas – Especially For Small And Solo Businesse

My buddy Marcus Sheridan posted an article on personas over at his Sales Lion website. You can read it here:

The Big Problem With Personas In Content Marketing And What To Do About It

I left a comment on Marcus’s post about using a Target Profile instead of a persona. And I want to go into more detail about it in this article.

Let’s start with this:

So What Is A Persona?

Here’s a definition I found in Wikipedia:

“In user-centred design and marketing, personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way. Marketers may use personas together with market segmentation, where the qualitative personas are constructed to be representative of specific segments. “

Now there’s a lot of jargon in that definition but it sums up what a persona is reasonably well. The salient points to take away are these:

  1. a persona is fictional
  2. a persona is representative of ‘types’ in your market area
  3. a persona has to be constructed

Now Marcus’s article talks about the fact that the ‘construction’ part of the persona process can be time consuming and for smaller companies that time could be better invested in content marketing based on client questions and client problems and just listening to your audience.

There’s a great alternative to personas that’s not time consuming to deal with – that alternative is a target profile.

What Is A Target Profile?

A target profile is a real life person and ideally is found in your database of existing clients. To choose a target profile you look at your list of existing clients and look for those clients who you’d like to have ten more of. Or a hundred more of. Or a thousand more of.

Human nature being what it is, the people you pick as target profiles are going to share identifiable similarities with people who aren’t yet clients. But who would make great future clients.

What’s The Next Stage In The Target Profile Process?

The next stage in the Target Profile process is to contact them. And ask them if they’ll do some kind of interview with you at which in return for answering some specific questions that you have, you’ll answer some of their questions.

This interview can be done face-to-face. Or on the telephone. Or on Skype. The only absolute requirements are that: you make a time and you show up and conduct the interview; and you record it.

The reason you need to record the target profile interview is that if you do it properly you’ll get so many pieces of golden information that you won’t have time to write them all down if you’re taking notes. Plus recording the interview allows you to respond to the target profile’s answers and give those answers your full attention during the conversation and not get distracted by note taking.

Then you can go over the interview at your leisure.

What Kind Of Questions Do You Ask In The Target Profile Interview?

The kind of questions you ask are questions designed to uncover what are the pain points in your target market by finding them in your target profile’s activities.

So you ask things like:

  • What’s the biggest obstacle or challenge you’re facing at the moment?
  • What other solutions have you tried?
  • What was good about those solutions?
  • What was bad about those solutions?
  • What does the end result you are trying to achieve actually look like?
  • What features would they like to see in a product that solves their problem? And why?
  • What would be their objections to actually buying such a product?

And so on.

What The Target Profile Interview Should Generate

When you’ve had the target profile interview transcribed and you’ve gone through it, you should be able to:

  • Identify pain points that your target profile (and hence those elements of your target market that are similar to your target profile) are suffering from
  • What your target profile is trying to achieve
  • The frustrations that the target profile is going through in trying to achieve that particular goal
  • The kind of language that your target profile – and by extension – your target market uses. This can be used to enhance the attraction process by making you more empathetic to your target audience (because you speak their language….ergo, you get )

Additionally you’ll get ideas for blog posts and/or video content or audio content. You’ll get ideas for products. And you’ll understand your audience a whole lot better than you did before the target profile interview.

And the best thing about this process is this: it takes 45-60 minutes to do the interview. That’s it.

You don’t have to spend hours designing a fictional persona. You don’t have to spend hours anticipating how that fictional persona will behave. The information you get from your target profile interview is as real time and as real world as it gets.

Plus you don’t have to limit this to just one target profile. You can do several target profile interviews – which will give you more market intelligence and even more ideas.

The important fact to remember is that your target profile should be a customer/client already. And be such a good customer that you’d like ten more exactly like him or her. Or a hundred more. Or a thousand more.

Take The Target Profile Challenge

So here’s a quick and easy challenge for you. Everyone’s always looking for ways to improve their business right?

Well a target profile interview is a strategy that’s simple to implement and doesn’t require a large amount of time. So don’t take my word for this, try it out for yourself. You’ve probably already got a good idea of who the ‘best’ customer for your business is.

Email them – today! – and ask if they would give 30 minutes of their time to answer some business questions. If need be you can sweeten the deal by answering their questions. Often the fact that you’re going to be willing to listen to their problems is enough to swing the deal.

Then set a time to call them. And call them. Make sure you record that call (and you probably should tell them you’re recording the call too). And ask the kind of questions that I’ve listed above.

Seriously. Do it. You’ll be amazed at the results.

How Target Profiles Trump Personas

  1. There’s no time invested in creating a fictional person, whose ‘responses’ may or may not be accurate.
  2. A target profile is based on one of your best customers – the kind of person you’d want ten of. Or a hundred of.
  3. The target profile interview shouldn’t take longer than an hour.
  4. The content it generates is real world and real time.
  5. You’ll uncover ‘pain points’ for your target audience
  6. You can tap into your target audience’s mindset and use their authentic language.
  7. You’ll get ideas for products, content, and more.
  8. You can do multiple target profile interviews with multiple clients.


Personas are fictional people that businesses create to represent segments of its audience for the purpose of testing ideas, product creation, content creation etc.

Personas can take several hours to create. And then you have to know how to use them to get intelligent results.

My buddy Marcus Sheridan from The Sales Lion suggests that companies can better invest that time in getting their content marketing machines rolling.

While I agree with Marcus, I think that a great low cost, low time investment method of getting awesome business intelligence is to conduct a target profile interview.

A target profile is a real person – and ideally it’s one of your best customers.

By interviewing them for 45-60 minutes and asking them about their business problems and frustrations you’ll get a lot of information on pain points and problems. And maybe even the kind of price your audience would pay to solve those pain points.

Plus you’ll get that information in the authentic words of your audience. Which is priceless for creating empathy and a sense that you truly understand this problem when it comes to creating sales pages.

All the date you get is real world and real time. Again, it takes 45-60 minutes. When you’ve done one or two of these interviews and you see the benefits you get…seriously, give it a go and see what happens. (And then come back here and report how you get on!)


If you have any questions, feel free to post them below.