Many first-time authors have been thinking about writing a book for quite some time. Maybe that includes you. You know you want to write a book to share your life story or lessons learned, or maybe to offer advice – but you’re not sure how to begin. Should you write down stories? Research the topic? Gather data? Read other books on the topic? Find a co-author? When you don’t know what you don’t know, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and stuck before you even begin.
Let me make this simple for you.
The first step is to figure out a) what people want to know that b) you are interested in telling them. It’s a two-part step, really.
Picture a pair of overlapping circles – a Venn diagram – with what people want to know in one circle and what you want to tell them in another. What your book should be about resides in that space where the two circles overlap.
This is a little tricky, to be honest, because what you may want to share may not be of any interest whatsoever to anyone outside your family. Likewise, what people in your industry or social circles want to know may not have anything to do with your area of expertise. So this first step could take some time to work through – that’s okay.
Follow the Clues to a Book Topic
Fortunately, there are clues you can use to guide you to a great topic:
- Do you have clients, customers, or friends who constantly ask you the same question(s) over and over again? Depending on how you spend your days, those questions could be, “How did you get so good at curling?” Or, “What’s your secret to finding the trendiest products before they’re popular in the U.S.?” Or even, “How did all four of your children get perfect SAT scores?”
- Is there a topic getting some new-found attention that you’ve been thinking needs to be addressed on a larger scale? Newspaper and magazine articles and overheard conversations are also clues that people are interested in the subject, whether it’s the vaccine-autism link, our increasing internet dependence, or using Facebook Live as a marketing strategy.
- Have colleagues been pushing you to document exactly how you made that big breakthrough at work, or how you overcame great odds to achieve something? That could also be a clue that you have a book topic others want to hear about.
- Are you a prominent person in your field – someone that others turn to for direction and guidance? That leadership position may give you a built-in readership, as long as the topic you want to write about is something they’re interested in. For example, if you’re a corporate CEO, writing about your company or the industry you work in or how companies can succeed in business with a new strategy, you will likely have some readers who know your name lining up to buy your book. Or if you’re the head of non-profit with ideas for what the public can do to improve a particular social, political, or health situation, writing about your field may also be a smart move.
- Have you had success in a particular field using an unconventional approach? People always want to hear about new ideas and new ways of accomplishing tasks. So if you’ve managed to make a six-figure full-time living working only one hour a day, you may have an audience. Or if you’ve discovered the secret to becoming an Olympic athlete in under a year in any sport (thought I’d personally be skeptical), I bet people might want to hear about that, too.
- Do you or your family have a secret that is historically significant? Are you a descendent of a famous historical figure? Do you have ties to an important event – or maybe an event that was significant that no one ever talked about? Rebecca Skloot told the story of Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose cells harvested without permission made possible many medical breakthroughs, through information her family shared about her.
- Or maybe you’ve had an unusual experience that you think others would be interested to hear about. Are you a medium who has spoken to the ghosts of prominent people? Were you able to live for a year without spending any money, as Michelle McGagh described in her book, The No Spend Year. Or, like Alisa Bowman, did you take steps to reimagine and reframe a failing marriage, as she describes in Project: Happily Every After: Saving your marriage when the fairytale falters?
- Or do you have an idea for an innovative novel – a work of fiction that you’ve come up with but that you aren’t sure how to structure or produce. Crafting characters, planning out story lines, keeping track of the timeline – those aren’t things you may know how to do, which is where a ghostwriter can be of help, but you know the story would be unlike anything else on the market.
As you brainstorm potential book topics, pay close attention to what people are talking about around you – and what they’re missing. Jot down notes about what people seem to be interested in that you are qualified to address.
Put Aside Your Ego
What would not be a great first step to identifying a book topic would be to think about what you want to tell people. Few people who don’t know you want to hear stories from your youth, unless you lived in an exciting time that we can all learn from; advice on how they should be living their lives, unless you’ve discovered the fountain of youth; or other types of potential lectures. No one wants to be lectured, quite honestly, and just because you want to tell certain stories doesn’t mean there is an audience interested in hearing them.
That’s a critical question you need to ask yourself, and maybe others, in order to produce a book that people want to read. Because if no one wants to read your book, you’ve just wasted a lot of time, money, and energy.
Most first-time authors dream of a successful book launch, positive reviews, and recognition for a story well-told. That’s possible when you’ve written a book on a topic everyone wants to read about.