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Writing Books/Breaking up book into chapters


QUESTION: Hello Bobbie Christmas,

I am a poet/writer in the process of writing a book. It is unique in the sense that it is a series of life events with my poetry interwoven into it. Essentially I will tell the back stories to my poetry by going in depth as to how each piece was inspired or came about. I am having trouble on understanding how to break up the book into chapters. For example many of my pieces are of my upbringing (father, mother, brother, etc.) some pieces my be about love, others about adversity. How do I break this up into chapters? I am kind of at a stand still until I truly understand how to accomplish this however when I do I feel I will be off to the races and most of my content is already written. Please assist. Sincerely, IQ the Poet."

ANSWER: As you have probably learned, no rules exist for breaking books into chapters. The only thing that applies is that information should flow in a logical manner. Does this mean it has to be chronological? No. It sounds to me that you have the following overall topics: father, mother, brother, love, and adversity. There may be more than you listed, but we’ll use these as an example. With topics in mind, you may want to think in terms of sections, rather than chapters, with each section labeled by topic.

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---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Ah Yes, this makes total sense.  But then how would this affect the table of contents?  Would it then be labeled according to topic? Thank you so much for such a quick response.

If it were me, I would list the sections in the table of contents and then under each section list the titles of each item that appears in that section and the page numbers that start those items, be they poems or in-depth essays.
The table of contents might then look something like this (note that I see the layout gets a little screwy in this format; the numbers should align, but I think you will get the picture):

Section I: Mother

Nurture versus Nature…4
Where Were You?........   5
Loving Arms……………7
Missing Mom……………9

Section II: Father

New Parenthood………11
Fly Fishing……………..13
Wise Counsel………….16
Lost Opportunity………20

Section III: Brother


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Bobbie Christmas


Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas owns Zebra Communications, a book-editing firm in metro Atlanta. She not only edits books, she also helps writers power up their prose to increase their chances of success. She is the author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), a creative-writing guide that won three awards.


Bobbie has spent more than 40 years in the publishing and communications industry and has run Zebra Communications, a book-editing company, since 1992. The editor of many publications and periodicals, she has worked with book publishers and trade magazine publishers as well as working in marketing communications and corporate communications.

Past president, Georgia Writers Association; past vice president, South Carolina Writers Workshop; charter/lifelong member, Florida Writers Association; Southeastern Writers Association; Atlanta Writers Club; Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature (SPELL); International Guild of Professional Consultants

Write in Style (Union Square Publishing), A Cup of Comfort (Adams Media Corporation), A Cup of Comfort for Friends (Adams Media), A Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Sons (Adams Media), Haunted Engounters (Atriad Press), Remembering Woolworth's (St. Martin's Press), First-Time Home Buyer magazine, HomeBusiness Journal, Apparel Industry Magazine, Edge Magazine, Atlanta Jewish Times, Time Travel Australia, American Writers Review, Points North, That's Entertainment, Atlanta Parent, Agnes Scott Alumnae Magazine, etc.

Journalism: University of South Carolina plus four decades of working in publishing, marketing, communications, advertising, newspaper and magazine production, book publishing, etc.

Awards and Honors
First Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers Annual Contest, 2005; First Place, education, Royal Palm Literary Award, 2004; Best in Division, Georgia Author of the Year Awards, 2005; Finalist, Best Books 2005, USA BookNews Third Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers, 1999; Nominated for Georgia Author of the Year, 1998; plus many other awards

Past/Present Clients
Capital Books, Sourcebooks, Olin Frederick, The Writer's Machine, Russell Dean & Company, Outskirts Press, and hundreds of writers.

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