How to come up with an idea for a non-fiction book

So you’ve decided to write a non-fiction book? Great! But how do you decide what to write about? How can you be sure it’s an idea for a non-fiction book that people will want to read? Will it even sell?

You’re not alone. Lots of new non-fiction authors worry about generating ideas. Either, you have endless possibilities or you experience tumbleweed moments, with a mixture of analysis paralysis thrown in for good measure.

A book can enhance your business in many ways. But finding the right idea to write about is crucial to success. After all, there’s no point in writing a book that no one wants to read.

So if you’re stuck on finding your non-fiction book idea, here are nine tips to help you.

Generating ideas for a non-fiction book

1. Write what you know

Cliche alert! But it’s actually sound advice. This is often a good place to start if you have experience in a particular field. Are you an expert in dog grooming? Do you have a strategy that can help people with a career change? Are you an experienced marketer? Your expertise is often the starting point you need to write your book.

And the best bit? You know your ideal reader really well, as you’ve been interacting with them for so long as clients. Knowing the pain points of your reader stands you in good stead to write a book that delivers on its promise.

2. Common client problems

Say you’re someone who’s often asked about your knowledge of creating a better work/life balance. Or maybe people come to you for advice about branding. What are the common problems that come up time and time again for your clients? Which topics do you cover the most frequently? Common client problems are often great ideas for non-fiction books. 

If not problems, consider questions. What are the most common questions you’re asked about your particular area of expertise? These questions could be your jumping-off point to start making notes for potential chapters. 

3. Speaking experience

Picture this. You’re standing in an auditorium and you’re invited to speak on a particular topic for 20 minutes. What would you talk about? What could you share with the audience without needing notes or feeling flustered? Often there’ll be a topic you love to talk about, so what is it?

Maybe you already speak regularly, in which case you’ll be really confident about your chosen talk. Speaking gigs are also a great place to sell books. Often, when you’re confident to talk about something, you’re confident to write about it too.

4. Courses/workshops

Masterclasses, courses and workshops you’ve run in the past can also make great non-fiction book content. Modules from your course can often be turned into chapters – and seeing as most courses follow a linear path, it can give a really good flow to your book. The structure of a masterclass/workshop can be a great starting point for the structure of your book – you’ve done all the hard work already, phew!

Once again you can use feedback and questions that have appeared during masterclasses/workshops to help inform your book’s content. Once you’ve taught something, it’s easy to put it into book format as you know exactly what your reader wants and needs.

5. No idea is a bad idea

Write a list of all your possible options, even things you simply enjoy. Include ideas that make you laugh derisively at your own audacity – it might not be the book you write straightaway, but who’s to say you can’t write it in the future?

As an experienced business owner, there’s no doubt you’ve had ideas in the past that could work. It might be that you’ve got an interest in a topic that could be tied into the work you’re currently doing.

Obviously, if you’re a dog groomer and you want to grow your business by writing a book, you wouldn’t write about fashion accessories or hypnotherapy.

Writing all your ideas down makes it easier to cross off the least sensible options.

6. Rank your list

Look at the list you’ve made and decide which topic is jumping out at you more than any other. It might be two or three topics, which is great. Order them numerically from your top choice to your bottom choice.

Listen to your gut here. What’s your intuition telling you? You’ll probably feel a pull towards one of the topics over the others, so that may be your top choice. Which of the others would make your top three? Write these down on a separate sheet of paper.

If you feel torn about the topic to choose, keep this in mind. You may have more than one book in you – and that’s okay. Keep other ideas aside and who knows, one day you might write those too, or even create a series of books in your niche.

7. Brainstorm the possibilities

Once you have your top three ideas, sleep on your decision. Sometimes, returning to your list on a different day can either confirm your choices or make you realise you’ve completely missed something.

Take your top three ideas and write down some quick bullet points as to what you would include in those three books. This is just a brainstorming activity, not a definitive list.

Is there a particular topic you’re able to generate a greater number of ideas for? Or is there a list you feel you’ve got greater confidence in writing first?

8. Get some perspective

Find someone you trust and respect, and talk to them about your ideas for the three books. See what they think. Verbally running through your thoughts can give you further clarity and confidence in your choice too.

But remember! Whilst it’s great to get someone else’s perspective, be mindful that they don’t put you off what you feel is right. They’re not writing the book after all. Take feedback/opinions with a pinch of salt if you have to.

9. Read other books

Choose the best-selling books in your chosen niche. What are they offering? What could you offer that’s different/better? Reading widely within your topic area will only make your writing better.

Take a look at the reviews for these books on Amazon/Goodreads. But instead of focusing on the 5* reviews (cue imposter syndrome) or 1* reviews (written by people who hate life) focus on the 3* or 4* reviews.

Here you’ll find people who loved certain aspects of the book, but not others. You’ll then be able to serve up those missing pieces in your own book.

Summary

By the end of this process, you should have a firm idea of the topic you want to write about. Try not to spend ages on this stage. If you’re thinking about writing a book, chances are you’ve already got an idea swirling around in your head.

The easiest books to write are those that come from a place of genuine interest and passion. Don’t write about a topic because you think you should or because it might sell loads of copies. Write from the heart. Write something that can transform people’s lives through new knowledge or behaviour.

Write about a topic you love. Because your love of that topic will shine through in the words you write. And there’s no better experience for the reader, right?

For more support with writing your nonfiction book, why not check out my latest book, Dare to Write? It takes you step-by-step through the whole book-writing and publication process.

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