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How To Create A Nested Outline For Your eBook

This is a follow up to the article on the Outline and Bundle method of creating an eBook that I posted last week.   You can read that article here:

How To Write An eBook – The Outline And Bundle Method

I can’t recommend getting into the habit of creating eBooks and Reports like this enough – it’s a great way of beating resistance and getting something done and getting it out there.

One of the crucial steps in making an eBook written this way read as seamlessly as possible is getting the Outline right before you start writing.  If you get the outline right, the eBook will appear coherent to the reader.

And the kind of outline you need to create is what is called a ‘Nested Outline.’

So What’s A Nested Outline?

A nested outline is an outline where you start with the topic of the eBook, then you have a number of sub-topics for that eBook.  And then each of those sub-topics has their own layer of sub-topics.  And possibly each of those sub-sub-topics may be made up of two or three articles.
That sounds more complex than it needs to.  Let’s use an example.  If you’ve been reading on my blog you’ll know I’m writing a series of articles on Writer’s Block.  Now up until about 30 minutes ago I was just going to leave it as a series of loosely linked articles on my blog.

Now though, I’m thinking about creating an eBook out of them and using that eBook as leverage to get more people to know about One Spoon At A Time.  So, let’s assume I am going to do that.

The first thing to do is give that eBook a title.  Let’s call it HOW CONTENT MARKETERS CAN AVOID WRITER’S BLOCK.

So let’s start our eBook outline with a title, a table of contents, an introduction, and a how to use this eBook section…

OUTLINE – Take 1


Table Of Contents


How To Use This eBook

Now Let’s Add In Some Sub-Topics

This is the first level of nesting.  (Nesting is a term derived from computer programming by the way).

Now let’s go down a level – we do this by adding some sub-topics.  My mentor Sean d’Souza – who taught me this method – always recommended three.  So let’s add three topics to our outline:

OUTLINE – Take 2


Table Of Contents


How To Use This eBook

Part 1 – Having Nothing To Write About

Part 2 – Having Something To Write About – But Not Getting Started

Part 3 – Getting Started – But Never Finishing



About The Author

You’ll notice I bookended the main body of the eBook with a Summary or Conclusion, a Resources Section, and an About the Author section.  Once you’ve put your first eBook together you’ll find that the Resources and About the Author sections are a snap to produce for subsequent eBooks.

Now Let’s Add Sub Topics To Each Part

The next step is to drill down into each Part and flesh out the detail a bit more.  So let’s have a look at how our outline might turn out with some details fleshed out:

OUTLINE – Take 3


Table Of Contents


How To Use This eBook

Part 1 – Having Nothing To Write About

  • 1.1  The Myth Of Writer’s Block
  • 1.2  The Idea Bank
  • 1.3  Maintaining the Idea Bank
  • 1.4  Stimulating Creativity With Repetitive Activities (Driving, Walking and ****ing)
  • 1.5  Emergency Strategies

Part 2 – Having Something To Write About – But Not Getting Started

  • 2.1   Blank Page Syndrome
  • 2.2   The Myth Of Inspiration
  • 2.3   The Power of Outlines
  • 2.4   The Professional Mindset
  • 2.5   Taking Care Of The Quantity

Part 3 – Getting Started – But Never Finishing

  • 3.1 The Curse Of Self-Editing
  • 3.2  A Marriage Made In Hell – Divorce The Writer From The Editor
  • 3.3  Delivering The Baby – Getting Your Work Out There

Summary And Final thoughts


About The Author

Voila – The Outline For The eBook

Now using that outline – which took me 10 to 15 minutes to create – I could go away and write this eBook as a series of articles.  Each of the sub-topics in each part would range from 1000 to 1500 words.  Now there’s a structure in place each article can be made to lead to the next with connectors and other article writing techniques.

And this would will make a 40/45 pages long eBook that will really help some content marketers.  What’s great is that I’ve already written 8 of the articles and posted them to my blog.  Now I’ll have to edit slightly as those articles already written were not written with this outline in mind – so they will need to link together a bit better.

But hey, I can create an eBook. Which I can either sell.  Or create a Kindle book out of.  Or post it in various places to get greater exposure.  Or any one of a dozen things.

And I’ve only got to write 13 Articles in total, plus a summary, an introduction, and some other bits and bobs and it will be done.

Now you tell me – does that seem like something YOU could do?

The Physical Act Of Creating The Nested Outline

There are a bunch of ways you can actually create this Nested Outline.  Mind maps one way. You can freewrite and brain dump, and then order the thoughts into an outline later.  (I did one eBook this way).

You can model the way I did it in this article – I’ve created two eBooks this way.

Microsoft Word has a Nested Outline function you can use to create an outline.  Or there is outlining software.  I’ve used a program called Omni Outlining before, it used to be free.  But I believe now it’s $30 or $40.
Or you could come up with your own method. The point is that creating an outline for an eBook is pretty simple as I’ve just showed – and once you’ve drilled down to ‘article level’ then you’ve got a roadmap for actually writing the content for your eBook one day at a time, and one article at a time.


Hopefully I’ve shown you that creating an outline for a 30 or 40 page eBook is pretty darned simple.  And once you’ve broken that Outline down into a series of ‘article’ length topics you’ve given yourself a road map for creating a piece of leverage for your business.

If you have any questions, please post them in the comments section below…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jason@Internet Medicine Man March 15, 2011, 10:31 pm

    Thanks for this. I read your previous article on the bundling, but this really provides a more concise method to the outline itself. Great information.

    What about the eBook software? What desktop publishing software do you use? Word, Pages, InDesign?

    • Paul Wolfe March 15, 2011, 10:39 pm

      hey Jason

      Thanks for the comment and for stopping by. And the Wordpress help! (Note to readers: if you need any Wordpress help, Jason is your man. He charges as you’d expect, but his rates are pretty reasonable and he knows what he’s doing – nuff said?)

      Onto the question.

      All my writing is done in Word. And then when it comes to publishing it gets ported over to InDesign.

      Pages is supposedly prettty good – but I never got to grips with it. (Pages is a Mac Application for all you PC users…).

      Feel free to ask anything else.


      • Jason@Internet Medicine Man March 16, 2011, 4:00 am

        Thanks for the recommendation.

        I was curious does this method of 3 Parts work no matter how large the subject matter? What if this method ends up creating not a 40 pages, but 150 pages, 250 pages, or more? Would seem intimidating wouldn’t it?

        Or would you have another article coming about scaling one really large topic into almost a course of several books?

        I’m going to stick my first project to just a 40 page book but some of my topic ideas could be expanded into much bigger topics, so I’m curious on your thoughts.

        • Paul Wolfe March 16, 2011, 11:43 am


          It does work for larger projects.

          Basically you can create another nested sub.level. So you might have Part 1. Then Part 1.1 And Part 1.1 might have three, or four, or five levels.
          SO you can use this method to create 40 page eBOoks. Or 240 page eBooks. The important part of the process is to chunnk the outline down on as many levels as needed to get to where you can see a collection of ‘article/post’ sized chunks to write. That makes the project managable. The only difference between a 240 page and a 40 page book is the number of ‘article sized chunks’ each has – the 40 page book will have 20 to 25, and the 240 page book will have 120 to 130. (rough guide).

          Make sense?


  • Daniel M. Wood March 16, 2011, 12:37 pm

    Hey Paul,

    That is exactly how I am forming my book!
    I keep digging one layer deeper and adding subtopics, content, paragraphs until I feel as though I have all I need. Then I just add posts from my blog to the book (I have already written articles about almost every topic) from there all you need to do is edit.

    • Paul Wolfe March 16, 2011, 2:37 pm


      That’s a sound method of outlining. Personally when I’m in outline stage I only go down to the ‘article sized chunk.’ When I write each article sized chunk gets it’s own word doc. Which gets titled up. And then on the day I’m gonna write a chunk, I outline it in the morning so I’m not facing the empty page and then write it in the evening. That gives my subconscious the best part of a day to do its thing in the background….and often provides some unexpected ideas and outcomes that may have got lost with a more detailed outline initially.

      Which is not saying you’re wrong by the way, far from it. We’ve all got to find our own way and our own system and then tweak the f**k out of it to maximise it.

      Keep writing. Looking forward to seeing you get your first eBOok out there!


      • Daniel M. Wood March 16, 2011, 2:49 pm

        Hey Paul,

        What you just wrote is actually pretty identical to what I am doing (I just didn’t explain it well). It works really well for me and makes the job easy.

        • Paul Wolfe March 16, 2011, 2:55 pm

          Ah…..we concur! Excellent!

          What I find more interesting is that the process of articulating how we do things – whether it’s creating an eBook or indeed creating a bass line – allows us to examine every point of the process. And test it – and see if we can optimize it and make it better.

          But if you don’t have a ‘process map’ then you can’t test the various different points.

          I wrote somewhere – a comment on a blog, here, or in a Forum, don’t remember where – a ‘process map’ of the whole eBook process that I use.
          I’ll find it and collate it and turn it into a post later this week. Might be helpful for some people….


  • John @ Building a shed March 16, 2011, 2:25 pm

    Hi Paul,
    Thanks for expanding further on your e-book creation method, this is a useful expansion on your previous article.

    I see that you recommend breaking the book into three parts is there any reason for this number. Why three and not four or five?


    • Paul Wolfe March 16, 2011, 2:34 pm


      Great comment and question.

      In some ways it’s arbitrary. But in other ways it’s hardwired into the storytelling/story listening experience as we understand it. The examples are numerous:

      Goldilocks and the Three Bears. (Three)
      Three Act Structure – Beginning Middle and End (three).
      The Three Little Pigs (three)
      How Many Suitors Does the King’s Daughter Have – It’s usually, you’ve guessed it, three.

      So that structure is hardwired into our experience of stories. I know that eBooks are not stories – but I do believe all writing is connected. And our non-fiction writing is improved by taking on board some of the elements present in fiction writing.

      This could be a post or a mini series on its own. Off to jot some notes into the idea bank….


  • Patricia@lavender oil March 18, 2011, 4:11 am

    Hi Paul

    Came over to check out this post after seeing it mentioned on Marcus’ the Sales Lion blog comments. Don’t you just love Commluv for getting traffic ;-)

    I am writing my first e-book at the moment so this is so on topic for me….yay. Pleased that I have at least started out okay.

    I have done my table of contents and I have sub-sections too. Seems an obvious way to do it for the topics I am writing about. Easier to stay focused on what I am writing too.

    Thanks for sharing your take on this topic. Appreciated.

    Patricia Perth Australia

    • Paul Wolfe March 18, 2011, 8:33 am

      Hey patricia

      G’day down under! It’s probably evening for you at the moment! Your blog is on my radar to come visit, I’ve seen your comments around the ol’ Blogosphere and been meaning to stop by and check it out.

      And yep, CommLuv is great!

      Sounds like you’ve started out pretty well with your eBook – my advice is to try and generate momentum and get on a roll, that’s the best way to get it done.
      Welcome to ONe SPoon, I’ll see you around!


  • Stuart March 18, 2011, 10:30 am

    Paul, you’ve struck me, really. I’ve only been aware of you for about two weeks, but your writing has left such an impression on me!

    I think the main reason I associate with you is because, like me, you’re a guy who loves to write. A lot of people who blog don’t really write from the heart, they just do it to get the traffic in and make a cheap buck. But you’re one of the good guys, you write because you love to write and because you want your writing to help and guide others. Same with me.

    I’m now seriously considering writing an e-book, which I wasn’t before I read this post and the one before it! That should give an idea of the effect your writing is having Paul :-)

    • Paul Wolfe March 18, 2011, 11:20 am

      Hey Stuart

      That’s the response that all people who write want to get – even if only from one person. That their writing resonated with them, and connected with them that it made them want to get up and do something. Or feel something.

      So thanks for your comment – that’s the validation every writer wants to get, whatever the field they write in.

      I encourage you to write an eBook for several reasons:

      1) It gives leverage to your business (you can use it to generate revenue or to build your audience)
      2) it creates an ‘expertise’ factor for your audience – which leads to trust and a host of benefits
      3) it gives you a competitive edge – especially once you’ve created two or three. The concept of writing an eBook scares the crap out of most people, and impresses those people who mistakenly think that THEY couldn’t do it.
      4) Once you’ve done one – and the process I’ve mapped it should help – you’ll see how easy it is and you can do it again. And again.

      So go do it. I’ll be watching to see how you get on. If you need any help, drop me an email!


  • Dan Black March 19, 2011, 3:35 am


    Great thoughts. I have the outline of my eBook done now I just need to start writing like each section is a article then put it all together. Thanks for the post. I will look more into this approach on my second ebook.


    • Paul Wolfe March 19, 2011, 12:00 pm


      This is ONE way of writing an eBook. I wrote the two posts because I’ve found many people to find the process of writing an eBook daunting. Even something that’s just 40 or 50 pages long. So I wanted to break it down and be manageable – and this is in fact how I do it!

      Thanks for stopping by.


  • Edwin@Computer Tips March 19, 2011, 4:05 pm

    What a sweet outline Paul. Ive seen similar outlines when it comes to creating ebooks in the past. This is very helpful for newbies, and even me :)

    • Paul Wolfe March 20, 2011, 3:37 pm

      Hey Edwin

      Thanks for stopping by. Glad this was of help and thanks for your comment.


  • Jennie March 20, 2011, 10:01 am

    Hi Paul,

    I have never seen this useful post that has full structure or outline of an ebook.

    I really have never thought it needs to have more outlines to create an e-book.

    Thanks for this.


    • Paul Wolfe March 20, 2011, 3:35 pm

      Hey Jennie

      Thanks for stopping by. Glad you found the post helpful.


  • Wendy@SoleF85 August 25, 2011, 9:19 pm

    OMG! Paul, I could kiss you. I have wanted to write an e-book on my method for training for a marathon for years, but it has been so difficult to figure out how to structure it. Your explaining that you need to keep breaking it down into pieces until you have ‘article/post’ sized chunks to write, made the lightbulb go on for me! In a lot of ways, it seems like writing a book, is like training for a long run. If you try to attack the whole from the outset, you won’t make progress.

    I’m subscribing to your list right now. Thank you!

  • Bob@Awnings Gauteng September 15, 2011, 7:58 pm

    Thanks for the tips. I’ve been struggling with the outline with my new ebook. It’ll be released pretty soon now, thanks to you. Lotsa love,

  • David October 28, 2011, 1:55 pm

    I’ve recently started subscribing to a website called Hubspot, as my friend said they had lots of good information on marketing businesses on the web, so now they send me lots of ebooks on emails – some of them are really good, and they must put a lot of effort into them. Everyone should check them out.

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