You want your book to be unique. You want your book to stand out from the crowd. But in order to be successful, sometimes you have to copy what everyone else is doing. There’s a standard format in both fiction and nonfiction books that all the most popular books follow.
In fiction, this format is called the Hero’s Journey, and it dates all the way back to ancient mythology. While the Hero’s Journey traditionally contains 17 stages, it can be boiled down into three. First is the departure: the hero starts in a familiar world, and then leaves it behind. Second is initiation: the hero learns to navigate the unfamiliar world. And the third is return: the hero returns to the familiar world. These worlds can be physical, such as in Star Wars and Titanic, or metaphorical, such as in Home Alone.
They start off with an introduction or first chapter that presents the theory that the book lays out. You want to give the reader a clear understanding of what’s going to be accomplished from beginning to end. That could involve telling a little bit of your story, but if you’re going down that road, make sure it’s brief. Don’t turn this into an autobiography. You can use yourself as a point, but you need to have relevant facts outside of your own story.
From there, each chapter of your book should make a point that relates back to the topic that you outlined in your introduction. Then in the last chapter, you end with a summary and a story. You summarize what you’ve presented in the book, and then tell a story that illustrates a practical application of your topic. Finally, include a call to action that gives the reader actionable items that they can implement after they’ve finished reading.
The best way to familiarize yourself with the formulas is to read as much as you can. Pick up every bestseller in your genre and study the way the book flows. Pay attention to how those authors apply these standard formats in unique ways; just because they follow a formula doesn’t mean they aren’t creative with it.
So why should you follow these formulas? Research has shown that, subconsciously, people like to read books that are familiar to them. Not so familiar that the content itself seems like something they’ve already read, but the way the book flows. Encountering a book that strays too far from the format they’re expecting can be jarring and off-putting for the reader.