It’s often been said that professionals with specialized skills and years of experience should think about writing and publishing books about their areas of expertise. This makes a lot of sense because a book can work as a powerful marketing tool, and result in great personal satisfaction. The problem is that instructional and how-to books can take a long time to develop and bring to market.

An alternative to the traditional publishing process can be found by looking at nonfiction books in a new way—specifically by reconsidering the table of contents, where, in most how-to or instructional titles, the subject matter is presented in a hierarchical and chronological manner. Each chapter’s subject matter builds on the lessons that came before. And that’s where authors can leverage what I call the “sideways table of contents.”

When authors turns their tables of contents sideways—thus converting chapter titles into steps on a project timeline, as shown above in Figure 1—they reveal road maps for completing their books. Turning the table of contents sideways can also help with many other problems associated with nonfiction book publishing, such as lengthy development time, lack of critical feedback while writing the book, the long wait before the book starts generating income, and the lack of a robust author platform from which to launch the title. Though a traditionally published book must be totally finished down to the last bit of type on the copyright page before any of it can be delivered to readers, disassembling the book and repackaging its components offers an alternative publishing plan.

A New Plan

Suppose an author has outlined her book and written the first chapter or two. At this point, she would still be looking at a long grind before bringing the title to market. As long as the author views her task as writing a book, she’s pretty much trapped by the need to finish the entire book.

But if she considers that her readers only need the first chapter to get started, she can begin monetizing her work from the beginning. To do this, she simply needs to think outside the book—and convert each chapter of her work in progress into a module of a training course.

With this plan, authors will be able to cut the time to get books to market; build credibility, authority, and author platforms before publishing; get in direct touch with avid readers; and profit from their works in progress almost immediately.

A New Language

After turning their outlines for instructional or how-to books into syllabi for training courses, authors should rename the sections of their books. Instead of parts, call them modules; instead of chapters, call the individual topics within each section lessons. This plan allows authors to shift from fixed, bound presentations to a dynamic, flexible structure for presenting the same material.

With a first chapter and an outline in hand, an author can announce—and sell—her course. Instead of sitting alone at a desk and trying to finish the entire book, she’ll be doing it gradually with a small group of dedicated students/readers. As long as authors write each subsequent chapter between lessons, they can write and teach simultaneously.

This plan has many advantages: authors don’t have to complete their projects before they sell them; participants in courses will supply ongoing feedback; authors will be able to build their platforms as they launch their courses; and authors can make significant amounts of money before finishing their books.

When an author turns a book into a training program, the financial model completely changes. Authors often wait on agents and editors for a couple of years before taking their next steps, but a $495 training program only needs 20 participants to gross $10,000 for the author—before the book is even finished. And by the time the training course is complete, the first draft of the book will be ready to go.

Joel Friedlander is a book designer and author; he blogs about book design, marketing, and the future of the book at the Book Designer.