Testing your book ideas
Do you have an idea for a book, but you’re not sure if it’s a good one? I’ve written here about eleven criteria for writing books that other people are going to be interested in, but here I’d like to share additional ways that you can actually test out your book idea to see if it’s a good one. This is a mix of both the practical and the creative.
The Passion Test
First, it’s wise to start with yourself. Do you have enough interest in your book’s topic to fully commit to the process of writing a book? I suggest considering seriously whether you can commit to living and breathing your book’s intended content for at least 2 years, but really 5. Do you want to spend a year or two of your life writing and editing a book on this topic? Do you feel excited to commit to one to three years of promoting this book and its content to others? Better yet, could you spend the rest of your life fired up about this topic?
The Qualification Test
Are you legitimately qualified to write a book about your topic? Good books are written by people with deep, intimate knowledge and a nuanced understanding of their subject area. They’ve considered the subject more deeply than most people and have synthesized their knowing into something really valuable they can now share with others.
Good books are written by people with deep, intimate knowledge and a nuanced understanding of their subject area.
This goes for books in which you share your ideas (i.e. non-fiction) AND books in which you share your stories (i.e. memoir). In both cases, you have to have fully digested and processed your subject matter and be able to share cogently and clearly with your readers the knowledge, insight and expertise that is yours to share.
But here’s the thing, two things actually. One, I can almost guarantee there’s a voice in your head saying “But Jaime, what if I don’t know enough about my topic? Who am I to think I can write about this? What if I don’t have what it takes?” Let me tell you this is likely the voice of your inner critic talking, not the real you speaking.
So, let’s not let that runaway fear-train derail us here. I invite you to consider from a wiser place inside of you whether you have enough knowledge and commitment to write about your chosen topic.
You don’t have to have everything perfectly figured out and synthesized before you write.
Second– and this is really important so listen up– you don’t have to have everything perfectly figured out and synthesized before you write. I’ll say that again: you don’t have to have everything perfectly figured out and synthesized before you write. That’s not how this game works.
The process of writing your book will make you an expert in your subject area. The process itself will bring greater clarity, discovery and depth of wisdom about your topic and/or your life experiences than you could even imagine. The process and the expertise it will create in you cannot be underestimated.
In fact, writing a book is one of the best ways to actually gain expertise and depth of understanding in your area of focus. But you have to be willing to engage in your work deeply to emerge from your writing as an expert in your field. And you have to come in with a degree of expertise or knowing that you can build on.
Writing a book is one of the best ways to actually gain expertise and depth of understanding in your area of focus.
The Fear Test
Does the idea of your book stir something deep in you? Does it scare you, a lot or a little? While it may seem the opposite, fear in the face of our creative potential is actually one of the strongest clearest indicators that we are onto something big, that we are on the path of our souls. Thus, fear can actually be a sign that our idea is the right one for us.
Steven Pressfield, author and champion of the inner creative, writes in one of his brilliant books* that if we are deciding between a few book ideas, we should always go with the one that scares us the most.
Does your book idea scare you? That’s a good thing.
The Visibility Test
Do you have the means to get your book into the hands of your intended readers? Do you speak to your intended readership on a regular basis about your topic area? If not, could you begin now? And in what ways? How could you begin to contribute your wisdom and knowledge to your target audience now so that you have a ready and poised audience to receive your book?
Platform building is beyond the scope of this post, but I do invite you to consider how you will reach people with your book.
The Short Write Test
Another great way to discover if you have a strong concept to which you want to commit is this: write 25-40 pages of your manuscript as an experiment. Simply write a chapter or two of your book before you commit. Get your feet wet. See how it goes and what you learn from this experiment. Obviously, this sample won’t be perfect, it’s just a first draft, but you can learn a lot about your book by testing the waters in this way.
Did you love it? Do you want more? Can you dive deep enough into this topic to write a whole book about it? Can you swim in these waters a while? What did you learn about organization, style and tone of your book? What else did you discover in this process?
Testing your idea with others
Talk with trusted circles and book sellers
You can speak with other experts in your field, members of your prospective book’s intended audience, and other smart folks you trust about your book concept and get their perspective on it. If you know anyone in the publishing industry you can also speak with them about your ideas. Lastly, you can go to your local book store (extra points for going to the indie book store in town!) and ask them for feedback on your book idea.
If you have a mailing list or a social media following you may begin to pose questions that gauge interest in your potential book’s subject area. Now, you may not come right out and say you’re considering writing a book, but you may invite some feedback on your subject area so you can begin to get an idea of what people are interested in, what their questions and challenges are with your subject area, and the like.
Offer talks about your topic
You can begin to test your ideas and messages by offering them in free or paid talks in your local community. You may also offer readings of some of your polished written work to get support focusing and structuring ideas.
Share your ideas in smaller bites
You can seek out guest posting opportunities on blogs, podcasts, and online publications and newspapers such as the HuffPost. (Be sure to include your name in the content of any guest blog post you write.) You can offer live videos or posts on social media platforms to share your ideas and gauge interest.
You can start a blog on your book topic and notice the level of engagement, interest, and other feedback on your work. (Blogging as a strategy for book writing is a longer topic to be covered elsewhere.)
From these options, what feels like the most exciting way to test out your book ideas? What other ideas come to mind as you read this list? I’d love to hear from you! And if you found this blog post useful, please share using the links below.
*Pressfield’s War of Art, Do the Work and Going Pro are amazing reads for aspiring authors and other creatives.