How to Mind Map a Book: A Step-by-Step Guide for Nonfiction Authors

by Bennett R. Coles

The best tool to create a nonfiction book is a Mind Map. You want to learn how to mind map a book if you’re an entrepreneur, an intrapreneur or a small business owner who wants to use a book as a lead generation tool for your business.

You also want to learn how to create a mind map for a nonfiction book if you’re a professional, practitioner or coach who wants to use a book to be recognized as an expert in your field in order to attract media attention, increase your chances of booking paid speaking engagements, enhance your ability to create strategic partnerships, and as a calling card for prospects.

Since technically you already have a book (or books) inside your head, due to your deep knowledge and expertise in your field, let’s now look into a clever technique to “get it out” and onto the printed page.

What Is a Mind Map And What Is It Used For?

If someone asked us “How are you planning to write your book?” most of us would likely default to the most common approach for information gathering: a note pad and a pen, or any of their electronic-device counterparts.

The problem is that the act of writing ideas down linearly (i.e. think>write down>repeat) is not really aligned with the ways our brain retrieves information.

Our brain stores information visually, so using a visual tool to retrieve our knowledge and ideas is more in tune with the way our brain naturally operates.

This visual tool is called the Mind Map. Mind maps are a much more effective way to get the job done without feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data that we need to access and sort through in order to write a book.

The use of mind maps for a nonfiction book project was popularized in the mid 70’s by British author Tony Buzan and has been broadly adopted since then for a large number of applications,

Here’s a List of Examples:
  • A mind map is ideal for the development of nonfiction book outlines
  • A mind map is perfect to create business plans
  • A mind map is a great technique for problem solving
  • A mind map can help a great tool for project management
  • A mind map (or multiple mind maps) can also be used as a Business planning tool

What Are The Benefits of Mind Maps?

The Main Benefits of Mind Maps Are:

  • Speed: Mind maps save you a lot of time compared to the frustration of sifting through pages and pages of ideas captured through linear note taking.
  • Organization: Mind maps allow you to see the forest for the trees by helping you organize and categorize your ideas in a visual way.
  • Productivity: Mind maps make you much more productive because they easily translate into a book’s outline or table of contents.
  • Creativity: Mind maps are a great ideas or topic generator as they elegantly bring into balance the creative right side of your brain with the critical thinking left side.
  • Memory Recall: Mind maps enhance your ability to access facts and experiences stored deeply inside your brain.

How Do Mind Maps Work?

A Mind Map is a tool that encourages Radial Thinking. This is triggered by using a central idea (in your case, the main topic or premise of your book project) and placing it at the center of the map in order to brainstorm ideas.

You then proceed to break down this central idea into its main components, branching out radially and away from the center.

Next, you go a step deeper by breaking down the main components into sub-components also radially, and then repeat these steps as many times as necessary.

Here’s an example of the process for creating a mind map for one of Tony Buzan’s nonfiction books:

In summary, when it comes to brainstorming and capturing ideas, radial thinking is much more effective than linear thinking because it better approximates the ways your brain works.

How To Create a Mind Map For a Nonfiction Book

Books written to support a business are a perfect fit for the use of mind maps, because they tend to be very methodical in how they deliver a subject matter to readers. They begin with a main topic, usually captured in the title and sub-title, and then proceed to break down this central idea into its main components, sub-components, sub-sub-components, etc.

This structure maps quite closely to the radial thinking approach inherent in mind maps.

The process for creating the mind map for a nonfiction book of this type would go something like this:

Step 1:

Write down your book’s central idea in the center of the mind map and draw a circle around it. Ideally, you want to use a whiteboard to capture all this information. If you don’t have one, then use a large piece of unlined paper, or 4 pieces of computer paper taped together to create a large sheet. Don’t use paper with lines or grids.

Step 2:

Radiating out from your central topic in the middle of the mind map, create the central branches listing the key concepts and information derived from this main topic at the end of the branch (draw a circle around each concept). These key concepts are eventually going to be turned into chapters in your book.

You may begin by drawing anywhere between 7 and 15 branches. Don’t worry about your book’s final chapter count at this stage. Initially, it’s better to have more chapters than fewer in order to give you some freedom, so feel free to add branches as you need them – you can always combine two or more chapters later on.

Refrain from using long sentences; choose instead short keywords that clearly represent each key concept (e.g. use “Sharing Gifts” instead of “Sharing Your Gifts with Others”). Also, it’s important to use a different color for each of the central branches in the mind map to stimulate the creative side of your brain.

Step 3:

For each central branch in the mind map, free-associate ideas related to its key concept. These are the ideas that you’d want to convey to your readers. They will eventually become sub-chapters in your book.

Now, using the color chosen for that branch, draw a sub-branch for each topic and write it down as a short keyword at the end of the sub-branch.

Step 4:

Repeat the above steps multiple times to expand on the ideas of the sub-branches, until you feel you’ve reached the desired depth of information for your mind map.

In summary, your mind map’s central idea will become the title and sub-title of your book, the key concepts stemming from it will become the chapters, the ideas contained in the chapters will become the main source of information for sub-chapters, and subsequent sub-sub-branches will become headings and sub-headings within each sub-chapter.

Keep in mind that the above are just guidelines and the journey can be quite fluid. Once you go through the book mind map process, the shape your book takes will be influenced by the information on the mind map – you may end up with only one level of sub-chapters, three or none at all.

However, following the above four steps will always get you going in the right direction.

Mind Map Software

There are many mind mapping software tools available, some free and some paid. The free ones can be quite limiting and uninspiring (the mind maps they produce tend to be on the “ugly” side of things).

The paid mind mapping software tools, on the other hand, produce beautiful visuals and tend to be jam-packed with features, but they are still limiting because you’re always bound by the size of your physical computer or tablet screen – in most instances you’ll find yourself having to scroll around information on a mind map that keeps getting bigger and bigger with time, missing out from seeing the big picture, which is key to your creative stimulation.

In my opinion, the best solution to create mind maps is to use a whiteboard to gather all your information (if you have one, of course – it’s not worth it buying one just for the purpose of creating a mind map). Whiteboards and a set of color dry-erase makers are ideal to create great book mind maps, because you can easily make corrections while you get to see the big picture at all times.

If you do use a whiteboard, however, I suggest you take regular pictures of the mind map with your smartphone as you progress, so that you are never at a loss should you erase something that you might end up needing later on.

If you use paper, you may want to use color pencils so that you have the ability to erase and re-write. Paper is not as “neat” as a whiteboard, but it’s very effective and was used for decades before whiteboards became commonplace.

A third option is to use colored post-it notes on a wall, and many people prefer this method. However, I don’t personally find this approach stimulating enough for the creative side of our brain. Even though each post-it note has unique information, the little squares all begin to look the same after a while.

Can You Make Book Mind Maps using PowerPoint, Word or their Google Equivalents?

Yes, you can and many people do. However, I find these alternatives to still be limiting (size of your screen) and worse yet, they can rapidly become a distraction.

What you don’t want to do when crafting mind maps is to spend your creative “juices” and your valuable time crafting a beautiful-looking mind map at the exclusion of the time spent on the actual content.

I don’t want you to fall into the temptation of the “pretty slideshow syndrome,” where we get lost in the PowerPoint features to get the right color and the right geometric shapes and the right shadows and line sizes and so on.

Sometimes our procrastinating bug will lead us in this direction as a “cover” for some hidden resistance to jump head first into the unknown and create our first mind map.

I do promise you this: once you start to create your book mind map, you won’t be able to stop! And at the end of the process you’ll not only have a great table of contents, but also you’ll be full of ideas and eager to start working on your book project.

Next Steps

If you are interested in learning more about the process for creating a book to support your business from beginning to end, you may want to read my article: How to Write a Compelling Book in 12 Steps: A Must-Read Guide for Nonfiction Authors

There’s no better feeling than creating a tangible legacy of your life’s work that can be shared with others.

Best of luck!

If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.


Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to generate additional leads for their businesses.

Here are some related articles I highly recommend:

How to Come Up With Great Book Ideas For Entrepreneurs

How Long Does it Take to Write a Book to Help Grow Your Business?

Learn 10 Powerful Writing Habits to Fast Track Your Nonfiction Book

The Most Effective Writing Exercise for Busy Business People

Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, book promotion, social media marketing, printing and distribution.

2 responses to “How to Mind Map a Book: A Step-by-Step Guide for Nonfiction Authors”

  1. Avatar
    Richard Holder

    Thank you!

  2. Avatar

    I’m 72 years old writing my first book. Love some of your ideas

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