Ghostwriter Barry Fox explains what a book theme and chocolate cake have in common

Book Themes & Chocolate Cake Recipes

You’re eager to begin writing your book. You’ve made a list of your best stories and gathered up your favorite quotes. You’ve figured out what type of book you’ll be writing, who you’re writing for, and what you want them to get from reading your book.

That means you’re ready to begin writing, right?

Not necessarily. You still have to figure out your book’s theme.

What Is a Theme?

A theme is like the wooden studs hidden inside the walls of your house or the steel beams that hold up a skyscraper. Whether a building is tiny or huge, hugs the ground or soars into the sky, is balanced or crazily-shaped, it depends completely on its inner framework in order to stand.

So does your book. It’s held together and given shape by its theme.

This is true even with an autobiography, which seems like the easiest type of book to write because it’s a chronological presentation of your life. But your life is actually a very complex topic. Just imagine the sheer number of facts you might relate: including all of them might produce a 4,000-page book that would bore the readers. Think about the many facts that are relevant but need to be placed into context to be understandable and the relatively small number of facts that truly explain your life and point of view.

This means that, among other things, you’ll have to cull through all these facts, and decide which to leave in and what to forgo. You’ll have to determine what to highlight and what to simply touch upon. In other words, you’ll be forced to make choices, even for an autobiography. But as you make those choices, you’ll be building a framework for your book—that is, creating a theme.

But is your theme logical and coherent? Is it practical, does it make sense for the story you want to tell?

We work with themes all the time, even if we don’t realize it. And we generally know what goes with a theme and what does not, even if only subconsciously.

If we’re building a house and the theme is Victorian, we don’t cram a 6-lane bowling alley into the kitchen.

When designing a car with the theme of sports, we don’t tack on a 10-foot cargo bed complete with a winch.

If we’re baking and the theme is chocolate cake, we set aside the mustard, soy sauce, anchovies, and guacamole.

Treat your book’s theme as you would a chocolate cake recipe. Include everything necessary to make a great chocolate cake, and feel free to experiment a bit. But always remember that you’re making a chocolate cake, not Lobster Newberg.

Your stories and ideas, your favorite quotes and stats, and your pictures and documents are the potential ingredients for your chocolate cake. Gather up all those that do not belong to chocolate cake—that do not belong to your theme—and put them aside. What remains is what you work with. These are the ingredients for your masterpiece.

Yes, this means that some of your favorite stories may not wind up in your book, and other items may only be mentioned briefly. You may feel sad about that, but by sacrificing what doesn’t contribute to the theme, you’ll protect your masterpiece from turning into a mishmash.

The right theme, tightly adhered to, allows your book to soar because it ensures all the parts work in concert to delight/educate/amuse/inspire, or otherwise please your readers.

Possible Themes for Your Life Story or Best Business Practices Book

There are as many great themes for autobiographies and memoirs as there are chocolate cake recipes. Here are a few:

  1. Creating something wonderful, important, exotic, or profitable
  2. Accomplishing in spite of great difficulties
  3. Taking a stand, despite the risk
  4. Wrestling with right versus wrong, or good versus evil
  5. Love and loss
  6. Rising above betrayal
  7. Losing a child, parent or spouse, a friend, or even an enemy
  8. Finding or losing faith in God
  9. Being incredibly lonely or depressed
  10. Looking back and feeling bad about something you did or didn’t do
  11. A [period of time] that changed my life

There are also many wonderful themes for a best business practices book, including:

  1. Creativity and innovation
  2. Leadership
  3. Money, making lots of it
  4. Teamwork
  5. Mastering specific tasks (such as starting an online business) or bodies of information (such as accounting)
  6. Seeing what others cannot
  7. Applying lessons from other walks of life to business
  8. Advertising and/or marketing
  9. Company history
  10. Courage and perseverance
  11. Building from scratch

Any of these themes can provide a solid foundation for the creation of a masterpiece.

But once you pick a theme – or you pick it with your ghostwriter – you must stick with it. If you start slipping in stories, stats, and ideas that don’t fit your theme, you may wind up with garlic-drenched escargot right in the middle of your chocolate cake. (For more on themes, see “Themes in Books Are Like…”

It’s also important to consider who you are writing for, and why; and to think about your goals in writing and your readership.

If You’d Like Help Writing Your Book…

Give us a call! We’re Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor, professional ghostwriters and authors with a long list of satisfied clients and editors at major publishing houses.

You can learn more about our ghostwriting experience on our Ghostwriter Page

If you’d like to get started on your book, call us at 818-917-5362 or use the contact form below to us send a message.

Please Note: Although we’re based in Los Angeles, California, we travel around the U.S. and abroad to meet with our authors. We do not ghostwrite screenplays, books for children, poetry, or school papers.

Contact Ghostwriters Barry Fox & Nadine Taylor