Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.
Getting book ideas is not a struggle for me. I have a pages-long list of ideas that I’d like to develop into books — many more books than I’ll complete in a lifetime. But early in my writing life? I was idea-less. Or so I believed.
I mistakenly thought that “getting book ideas” meant I needed to have a fully developed outline in my head or on paper. Or I had to find book ideas that were way off my radar. To my relief, I learned differently. A book idea is merely a thought or concept that no one has yet organized into a page-turner.
That means you have dozens and dozens of book ideas floating in and around you every day. The first step in writing a book is capturing those ideas. Once you have an idea, you can test it with a handy battery of questions to determine whether it is marketable. Then, you can develop your idea into a book.
But your book starts with an idea: a spark, a kernel of truth, or a nugget of information. “I’ve managed to create the habit of grabbing those thoughts when they occur,” says productivity consultant David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. “I’ve had thousands of ideas and fun or important to-do’s actually come to pass.”
Fortunately, learning to recognize book ideas is an acquired skill. Some ideas pop up in your face and say, “Here I am. Write about me!” But others make a more subtle entrance into your consciousness.
Check out these places to find book ideas — places right in your backyard. Soon, you’ll be like me. You’ll see book ideas everywhere. And you’ll have more books to write than you have time to complete.
When you first start writing, you may not have editors banging on your door inviting you to write book proposals. But you have something else: ears.
What kinds of topics do you hear discussed regularly among family and friends? What information do they need that they cannot find? What questions do they want to be answered? People are always looking for resources. Keep your antenna up and you’ll capture some solid book ideas.
The same goes for your blog and online groups. Watch the discussion topics and comments. Keep a log of topics that arise. Then go back to your list and look for patterns. You’ll find them — and you’ll find book ideas.
People in your industry give you book ideas when you least expect them.
For instance, if you write one book and do it well, then your relationship with an editor opens the door to additional ones. I’d written The Un-Bunny Book — an Easter activity book for children and families — when the editor reached out to me. “Do you have similar content that’s appropriate for Christmas?” she asked. “If so, send me a proposal.” I had not considered writing a sequel to my first book, but since I had plenty of Christmas activities that I used with my kids, I was able to write The Un-Santa Book.
“Everyone has a book inside of them,” says American writer Jodi Picoult (b. 1966). “But it doesn’t do any good until you pry it out.” Your skills and your life experiences are a prolific book ideas generator.
To prove that point, conduct a simple exercise. Sit down at a computer screen or at the kitchen table with a pad of paper and a pencil. Then make a list of things you know how to do and things that you have experience doing. You don’t need to be an expert on a particular topic. You just need to know what you know.
Be as general or specific as you like. If you’re a chemist with experience analyzing textile product composition, record it. If you’re a quilter who knows where to find the least expensive fat quarters online, make a note of it.
If you’re thorough, you’ll walk away with a long list of book ideas. The point is this: everyone has life experience and everyone has abilities. Books have yet to be written about the things you know how to do. One of those books is yours.
You were captivated by the photo of a Fennec fox posted by a friend on social media. You looked everywhere for a guidebook for Fennec fox pet owners with all the information in one place, but you couldn’t find one. Instead, you combed through every possible resource about exotic pets, gathering information. You learned about the best Fennec fox breeders… the healthiest Fennec fox diet … the Fennec fox’s strengths and vulnerabilities as a pet.
You accumulated enough information to write a book. Maybe you should be the one to write it.
“Find a need and meet it,” said Ruth Stafford Peale (1906–2008), who with her husband Norman Vincent Peale co-founded Guideposts inspirational magazine. If you’re interested in owning a Fennec fox, then there’s a good chance that others are too. And they will buy your book.
Maybe you have learned a new skill, whether from desire or from necessity. That new skill can lead to a book.
Such was the case for America’s top copywriter, Bob Bly. He had become the go-to man for writing direct mail. Then along came the internet. Bob knew he needed to add online writing skills to his professional arsenal.
“I was a direct mail writer, but I saw the writing on the wall and decided I would need to learn to write email marketing messages,” says Bob. He connected with the earliest email marketing experts and together they co-authored one of the first books on email marketing. Bob has since gone on to write The New Email Revolution.
Have you had to learn how to change the chain on your bicycle? How to track small-cap stocks in Brazil? Your new skill can become a book.
I’d spent several months preparing to speak at a weekend women’s conference. The content covered four sessions and the impact on the participants was palpable. I knew the information would be useful for other readers, but it was too much for just one article.
Yet it was perfect for a short book. So I started with the guts of my presentations, added a bit more from my notes, and fleshed out a manuscript. The result was a book about Lydia of Philippi.
If you’re a writer, teacher, or speaker, then check your files. Look for themes that weave together some of that content. Chances are good that you will find a book in there.
Want to write a book? A book starts with an idea. Listen and look for a need around you. You’ll find plenty of information gaps you can fill with a book — one with your name on the cover.
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