How do you know if you have something worth writing about?
One of the primary considerations for any author in our areas of nonfiction should be “Is a book really needed here and is there a demand for it?”
From an author’s point of view, of course it’s needed, because, well, the author thinks so—and all his or her friends/colleagues/clients say so, too. That’s the biggest reason most authors start writing—and one of the worst.
We often make the mistake of assuming that our world represents the world. We surround ourselves with like-minded people, we work with like-minded people, we have like-minded friends, like-minded neighbors, church groups, and more. All of this makes us believe that we must have a great idea because, well, everyone in our world says we do. But honestly, if a hundred people like your idea, it does not mean that thousands of people will.
So how do you gauge the popularity of an idea without getting trapped in your own assumptions? How do you know if your ideas have a need outside of your own opinion? Here are five questions to ask yourself before starting to write:
1. Who is my audience?
Know your audience and what they want, not what you think they should have, but what they specifically are looking for.
I receive countless proposals that say things like, “This book is for managers and since Forbes estimates there are 980,000 managers in America, that is a huge potential audience.” But the more general the book, the less likely it will get picked up for publication. Readers have specific issues or areas they want guidance with and they want books that specifically address and speak to them.
2. What is the current market like for my topic?
Conducting a simple Google search will show you if your topic reflects a trend or popular movement. If all of the links related to your subject matter are over a few years old, you may have missed the trend. If you can’t find many pieces or articles about the topic, then that reflects limited appeal. However, if several current articles pop up in popular media outlets discussing the topic you wish to write about, that may suggest a potential marketplace.
3. Does my topic have an expiration date?
Recognize the need to balance timeliness with a long tail.
The publication process tends to move slowly. For example, a book about technology can tricky because in the year or so it takes for a book to go from proposal to finished product, a lot can happen to outdate the book. A book about what new political ideas need to happen in the next elections? If so, that book dies the day after elections.
4. Who is my competition?
Look to see who else has written on your topic.
Someone else may have already addressed the problems you wish to address. You may have different solutions than they had, but that is not always a compelling reason to write a book (we are all individuals which means we always have our own interpretations and methodologies). If a very famous author has already written on the subject, that can work against you because buyers will consider that author’s work as definitive and will rarely look elsewhere. On the other hand, if your competition appears in the form of some self-published rag ranked in the two-million level on Amazon, you have a good chance.
5. How is my idea different?
Remember that some of the most popular books challenge what we consider the norm (such as Gladwell’s Blink, which argues against a studied and researched opinion upon which to make judgments). Take a hard look at your work and ask yourself whether you are just adding commentary or really bringing something new to the front. If others have already written on the subject, what makes your book diferent, or how does it challenge conventional thinking?