In this post, Ally E. Peltier,  an editor, writer, and publishing consultant formerly of Simon & Schuster shares what to put in and leave out when bringing old content back to life in a book.

In this economy and digital media environment, many companies are thinking about how to take content they’ve already paid for or created and repurpose it to create new, saleable products.

With so many new avenues for publishing and distribution, books (both print and digital) remain a popular choice. Are you considering self-publishing a book? This series will explore five things you need to know to do it right.

How to Choose Content and a Focus for Your Book

Imagine you pick up a book, flip to the table of contents, and realize the “book” is actually just articles bound together with a cover slapped on. Would you buy it?

There are millions of coherent, cohesive tomes of information on the shelves; simply gathering up newsletter issues, articles, blog posts, or speeches and gluing them together does not a book make. Savvy consumers won’t choose your hodge-podge over professionally produced and organized books.

Zero In on a Structure

Develop a compelling book by selecting content that addresses the same topic and fits together in tone, theme, and approach. First, ask yourself a few questions:

Who’s my target audience?

Clearly identify your ideal reader, and you can begin to weed through your available material to find content your audience needs and wants. Get as specific as possible, considering such things as sex, age range, marital status, region, and industry affiliation.

What problem are readers looking to me to solve?

People primarily buy nonfiction books as solutions. (Exceptions would be memoirs and other non-prescriptive types of nonfiction.) You’ve identified your ideal readers: What problem will prompt them to purchase your book?

Maybe you publish a health newsletter and your book’s ideal reader is a woman in her late forties to early sixties concerned about osteoporosis. Her problem could be phrased, “How can I prevent osteoporosis?” Your solution might be to provide facts about the disease, exercises for strengthening bones, and a suggested meal plan.

What do I include (and exclude)?

You know who your readers are and what solution they’re seeking. Now you can draft an outline that will eventually become your table of contents. Create a list of questions to answer or topics to address that satisfies the needs of your audience.

For example, what does a middle-aged woman concerned about osteoporosis need or want to know? How do these topics fit into the larger categories of your solution (i.e. facts, exercise, meal plan)? This will generate your sections and subsections, the frame upon which you’ll build a book. And you don’t need to make a rigid high school English outline either—a detailed list is fine.

Choose Your Content

Review your material and separate everything into piles, files, or what-have-you corresponding to your identified topics. Some tips:

  • If you have material that doesn’t quite fit, put it aside. You can think about how, or if, you can work it in later.
  • Don’t muddy your book’s focus just to fit a few favorite articles or angles. Stick to what readers need to know, not what you want to tell them.
  • Add fresh content if you’ve identified a topic for which you don’t already have sufficient material.
  • It’s okay to have chapters of uneven lengths, but you should strive to keep them close. You don’t want only two pages on one subject but forty on another.
  • Look for connections between topics that might indicate one is a good subsection for another.

In the next installment, we’ll discuss the importance of knowing where you want to sell your book and how that factors into your decision making.

Ally’s company, Ambitious Enterprises, can support your publishing projects from soup to nuts. She also ghost authors nonfiction books and speaks on publishing- and writing-related topics for conferences, organizations, and more. Visit www.ambitiousenterprises.com for details.