I am kicking around the idea of writing a book for myself—yes, writing a book with my OWN name on the cover (probably as close as I’ll ever get to seeing my name in lights). I’ve even pledged to a couple of my accountability partners to draft a book proposal by the end of the month and now I’ve told all of you, so I guess it’s going to happen. To be honest, though, I’m feeling ambivalent about this idea.
I know what questions I need to answer before diving in. After all, these are the questions I ask my book ghostwriting clients:
- What is the book going to be about?
- Who is the audience for this book?
- What are readers going to get out of reading this book?
- How will this book stand out from the competition?
- Why should anyone care?
But, at the end of the day (with apologies to myself and anyone else who feels the same way I do about this overused phrase that makes me cringe every time I hear it), the only question that matters is this one: Is this idea a book idea?
In what follows, I’ll explain more about why this is such an important question to answer as an aspiring non-fiction author (if you’re into fiction, here are some tips), clarify what I mean by the question, and offer some tips to guide you in answering the question for yourself.
Why is this an important question to answer?
Before you devote a lot of time, energy, and resources to writing a book, you want to know that you have an idea that is worth your time, energy, and resources. This is certainly one of the reasons for my ambivalence about writing my own book. I need to think more carefully about my goal and whether, given my other priorities, writing a book is the best way to accomplish this goal.
Look, writing a book is a huge undertaking. You need as much momentum and enthusiasm as you can muster in the beginning and you need to find ways to renew that excitement throughout the entire (6-month?, 12-month?, 8-year?) process. It’s normal for your motivation to wax and wane over the course of a long project. However, if you don’t start out with an idea you really believe in, the odds of sustaining the kind of excitement necessary to get ‘er done are not good.
Do you know how many people start book projects only to abandon them days, weeks, months, or years later? Me neither. But I’m willing to bet the number is higher than the number of books that actually ever see the light of day.
I’m also willing to bet that a lot of would-be authors don’t finish their books because they realize at some point in the process, their idea is not really book-worthy. So, it’s worth figuring out ahead of time, if possible, whether a book is the right medium to launch your idea into the world.
What makes an idea book-worthy?
This is a tough question to answer in a few hundred words. But that won’t stop me from giving you my take. I’ll start by saying at a minimum, to be book-worthy, your idea must be original. From here, though, the world is pretty much your oyster. Almost any original idea or even an original perspective on an old idea could be book-worthy. Here is a list of 43 ways to find a book idea in case you’re stumped.
With a creative mind on the case to add color and depth to the content where needed and a strong marketing strategy, even the driest, most bland topic could become a bestseller. Really!
Still, you have to ask yourself if you’re the creative mind for the job. Maybe you’re great at coming up with content ideas, but not great when it comes to writing, in which case, a ghostwriter could be a great partner for you. Maybe you have a great marketing mind, but no time to implement your brilliant strategy. You will want to come up with a rough plan for these types of logistical issues before you lose yourself plugging away at the keyboard.
The other element to consider is why this book, why now? If you can’t provide a satisfactory answer to this question, it is going to be difficult to articulate your book’s value to others. Sure, you could write a book and self-publish it for the sole purpose of giving it as a gift to clients and potential clients (as your $4 business card). Plenty of people do this every day. But it’s important to weigh the costs and benefits carefully if this is your plan.
Asking whether an idea is book-worthy is a bit like asking whether an invention is worth prototyping or whether a business is worth starting. If your book idea solves a problem and is sufficiently multifaceted to yield several chapters (say 5 or more) of content, then it may be worth writing a book about.
Here’s are three ways to think about answering this question:
- The simple answer: If there’s an audience for your idea, it’s a book-worthy idea.
- The Field of Dreams answer (which is kind of the opposite of #1): If you can write a book on your idea, your audience will come (and it’s a book-worthy idea).
- The realistic and practical answer: If you could write at least 5 distinct blog articles (around 1,000 words each) about your idea, it’s a book-worthy idea. You’ll want a lot more words in the end (around 25,000-50,000), but 5,000 is a good start.
Is my idea a book idea?
I guess what I’m really saying in all of this is if you’re not convinced you have a book idea, that’s probably a good reason not to write a book. This doesn’t mean you will never have a book-worthy idea or that your idea won’t become a book idea someday. But if you honestly answer the questions I raised in the introduction and don’t feel in your gut that you need to write this book, you have your answer.
And just in case you were wondering, here are a few terrible reasons to write a book:
- “I want to be a published author.”
- “My business coach / mom / friend says I should write a book.”
- “All my competitors have written books.”
If any of the above are your true motivation for writing a book, stop and rethink what you’re doing. I wrote a dissertation, which some people find impressive, so I’ve experienced the “thrill” of being a published author. I’d rather my writing and my ideas be impactful than that they exist in book form.
Ultimately, should you decide your idea is not a book idea, keep in mind this doesn’t mean your idea belongs in the trash. There are a lot of ways to get that idea out there that could be superior to writing a book. Maybe your idea lends itself to product design or a website or a Ted Talk, or an innovative video series.
Should you decide your idea is book-worthy, you also want to make sure you’re ready to go all in. Beyond having a book-worthy idea, there are so many other factors that play into making a book successful. I always recommend defining success early on, so that you have a measurable outcome to shoot for. “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it,” right? Your work doesn’t end when you finish penning your book. In fact, that’s just the beginning. So dig into your project with realistic expectations.
If you have an idea, but you’re not sure it’s a book idea, contact me and let’s schedule an exploratory meeting. I really love brainstorming with other creatives! Helping you find the right structure or outline for your idea is one of my favorite parts of the entire process.