Books, Culture and Society

How to Generate Best-Selling Ideas for Your Book or Novel

There's nothing mysterious about coming up with ideas for your book. Within a page or two, you'll have more ideas than you know what to do with. Your ideas start with YOU.

How to Generate Best-Selling Ideas for Your Book or Novel

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There’s nothing mysterious about coming up with ideas for your book. Within a page or two, you’ll have more ideas than you know what to do with. Your ideas start with YOU. When you think about what you enjoy, about your past experiences and your knowledge, you’re guaranteed a regular fountain of ideas. Let’s turn on the fountain.

1. Idea Generator One: What Are You Good At?

Make a list of 20 things you’re good at. Don’t think too hard about this. Maybe you’re good at buying presents for people-you’ve got a knack for choosing just the right gift. Maybe you’re a good cook, or a good parent, or a good swimmer or a good tennis player. Or maybe you used to be good at one or more of these things. For example: I grew up with horses, and owned horses for many years. I’m good with horses, and a good rider. If I saw a gap in the market for a horse book, I’d feel comfortable writing the book.

You get the idea. List at least 20 things that you’re good at, or have been good at in the past. For example, if you know you’re an excellent gardener, even though you now live an apartment, list “gardening.”

2. Idea Generator Two: Tap into Your Past Experiences

Experiences sell. If you’ve been abducted by little green men from Mars, it’s a book. If you’re a bigamist, it’s a book. People have written books about their illnesses (see from challenge to opportunity below), their addictions, and their pets. Browse through the bestseller lists to see what personal experiences people are writing about.

Here’s where you walk down memory lane. If you’re in your twenties, it’ll be a short stroll. If you’re in your forties or older, it will be a hike. Don’t get bogged down with this, list 20 experiences you’ve had that spring to mind.

The easiest way to come up with experiences is to work backwards through the stages of your life, or through decades. Again, don’t take a long time over this. Set yourself a time limit — ten minutes is enough.

3. Idea Generator Three: Tap into Your Knowledge

What do you know? Start by making a list of all the subjects you were good at in school. Then list all the jobs you’ve had – yes, part time work counts.

Also list:

Your hobbies. Are you a keen Chihuahua breeder? Do you quilt? Take photographs?

Your current job. What are you learning in your job that other people would pay to learn?

The places you’ve lived. Your hometown may be boring to you, but guide books sell well.

Your family tree. What special knowledge do your nearest and dearest have that you could write about?

Spend around ten minutes writing down as many subjects as you have knowledge about.

4. Idea Generator Four: What Do You Enjoy Most in Life?

Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson freely admits that she cooks because she loves to eat. Nigella has turned her love of food into a career. She regularly produces bestselling books. (Her chocolate recipes are brilliant.) What do you love? People have written about garage sales, cosmetics, cars, vacations. If you love something, chances are that thousands or maybe millions of others will love it too.

Watch the newspapers and take note of current trends. Or better yet, listen to what your children are talking about, or asking you to buy for them. Children tend to be well up on what’s happening.

Remember that it will take around 5-8 months for your book to reach the bookstores. Therefore, the currently hot topics on the bestselling lists may be old news before your book is in the stores. This doesn’t mean, of course, that you can’t write on perennial favorites like money, sex and exercise. These topics never go out of popularity, and a new twist on one of these is always a sure bet.

The idea of writing about what you enjoy is that you will be bringing passion and enthusiasm to your topic. Enthusiasm is a must.

5. Idea Generator Five: From Challenge to Opportunity

You face challenges every day. Most are minor, some are major challenges. If you’ve ever faced a large challenge, or if you’re facing one right now, then consider that the things you learn could help other people. Whatever your challenge is — whether it’s moving house or confronting a life-threatening illness — other people face the same challenges, and in those challenges lie the seeds of books.

Make a list of 20 challenges you’ve faced in your life. Anything catastrophic qualifies: losing your job, facing bankruptcy, the betrayal of a spouse. If you’ve had a quiet life, then make a list of challenges that the people you know have faced.

Additional challenges you can consider include any habit you’ve broken, from congenital lateness to overeating.

When you’ve finished brainstorming, you’ll have dozens of book ideas. Winnow out the non-starters. Don’t delete them, move them to another computer file. Call it “odds and ends” or “snippets.”

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