Tuesday, February 21, 2006

So You Want to Write a Book? Lesson 1

Last time, we left off on idea harvesting. Did you find an idea? Has it been baking in your brain for a few weeks now? Good. You've only reached the end of the beginning, to quote Winston Churchill.

At least you have a starting point for your book. You know it will be about gardening, not the history of tomatoes. You know it will help people find love, not real estate. Your book idea must be individual, alone, strong, tall. It must be a subject that you can put on your mental cutting board and slice into smaller sections, then dice into smaller pieces, then fry to get aroma (or the grease out), then cut into smaller bites, before chewing to get the flavor. In other words, you must now dig deep.

So for example, our subject is how to find love, or how to help others find love. Who do you want to help? Who's your audience? Singles? Teens? Retirees? Anyone who needs love? You must decide this now and if you want to write to more than one audience, you'll have to make sure you're writing directly to all groups. This can be done, we'll cover that later.


How to Find Love After Rejection
How to Find Love After Divorce or a Break Up
How to Find Love After 65
How to Find Love Every Day, No Matter Where You Are

Try to dilute your idea down and direct it to a specific group of people or a specific person that you have envisioned. This may take some serious brainstorming. It will also take some market research.

Market research sounds harder than it is. It's simply going to a bookstore (or to Amazon.com or BN.com) and doing a search (through the bookshelves or through the bookstore search engine) to find out what other people have written about. Say you want to do a keyword search for books on finding love after divorce or break up. What do you find? Has it been done before? What did the computer (or bookstore clerk) come up with?

If you come up with other books on this subject, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It just proves there is a market for your book idea and that is a head start. More about tweaking your book idea to make it saleable later. If you don't come up with other books on that particular subject, can you find books that are similar? Almost there? Too all-encompassing? Too sparse? This too is a head start. You can easily tweak a book idea to cover what these other books did not, or touched on too lightly.

If you come up empty-handed, this is when market research becomes difficult. You may have to get on Google and do a search for your topic on the web. Or you may have to go to your local library and find out if your librarian can recommend any books that are in your topic area. Unless you're doing a book on some far-out topic, chances are that you will find books in your topic. And when you do, that's when your real work begins.

Your book must be different from any book done before. This does not mean you cannot cover the same information in your book, but it means you must come up with something . . . wait for it . . . FRESH.

Fresh is the most overused word in publishing, especially amongst book editors and magazine editors. Everyone wants fresh, everyone needs fresh. The publishing world lives and dies by FRESH.

So how do you plug in and figure out if something is fresh or not?

A few tricks and then I'll send you off to do the research.

Google Zeitgeist

This Google site is fresh. Here's what people are searching for around the world on a monthly basis. Don't try to pick your topic based on this information. Figure out how to "tweak" your topic by utilizing this information to tell you what people are interested in right now. (Remember, that your book will not be published right away, unless you are self-publishing or doing an e-book. Traditional publishing commonly works at least 2 to 3 years in advance.) Don't take the zeitgeist information as gospel. Play with it, brainstorm with it, use your imagination, and have fun.

Read magazines. Magazines have to stay fresh or they are dead in the water. What is fresh for a magazine can be fodder for a book project down the road. Watch television. Is Dr. Phil or Oprah targeting certain topics regularly? This is fresh. This is what people are interested in. Can you tweak your book idea using the information you see them dispensing?

A common trick of magazine writers is to try and keep up with new scientific or medical studies from the big journals, e.g., JAMA, NEMJ, Nature. Is there a recently published study or new data that could help your book idea to be fresh?

If you really tackle some of this front-end research, your book will be stronger and you won't have spent time writing something that a publisher or agent will reject. It won't be dated, it won't be overdone, it won't be too broad, or too specific, it will be fresh!

Good luck. If you have questions, just ask and I will try to answer to the best of my ability.

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