The problem with all this brainstorming and creativity is that you end up with a ton of ideas. I have a drawer jam-packed with ideas, which I now categorize into fiction, self-help, workplace, and others. That’s why choosing which book to write next is such a difficult task.
If I’m stuck, I just scratch around in there until something speaks to me.
But what if you are trying to decide on the main concept for your next book?
You are sitting with a number of possible ideas and all of them seem great. How do you decide?
Write Them Down
If you have a big whiteboard now is the time to use it. Otherwise, use a wall and sticky notes, or even a large notebook.
Write down the main contenders, leaving a bunch of space around each one.
As you work through this chapter, you will be adding keywords to each idea to help you eliminate some.
Go for Passion
Of all of your ideas, which one do you feel the most passionate about. For example, if your topics are Child Abuse or Managing Anger, which one do you feel a stronger emotional connection with. Not the one you think “should” be more important, but the one that you feel a gut-level tug toward.
Don’t overthink it. Stick a star or a post-it with the word “passion” next to those book ideas which get your emotions going.
What goals do you have for yourself as a writer? If you see yourself as the next Wallstreet financial expert, then an article on how to breastfeed might not fit into that goal.
You want to be building a name for yourself, and a brand that aligns with who and what you want to be as a writer down the line.
So if any of your ideas fit your goal more closely, write the word “fit” next to those, or give them another star.
Timing and Relevance
What are other people writing about at the moment? What are the buzzwords on the internet and the media? You can be sure if something is a current buzzword then by the time you have finished your book it probably won’t be anymore.
Who could have predicted many of the issues we are facing this year? Well, if we look back there were some rumblings. There were TED Talks on what a global epidemic would do to us, and race and gender discrimination have been a permanent issue forever.
Do some research and look into what futurists are saying. If you type futurist predictions in google you will find loads of guidance. What might be next? There are some things we can predict with a large degree of certainty, like economic hardship and also the psycho-social effect of the stress 2020 has caused in many people’s lives.
In terms of what is happening in the world, what might be a hot topic in the next few months or years? Take into consideration how long it will take you to write what you have planned.
This won’t be the only factor, but it does help you decide. The more popular the topic the more potential sales you can expect down the line. Also, from a humanitarian point of view, people will be sensitized and want to know and understand more about hot topics that are sitting in the front of their minds. This is also a good opportunity to add your voice and help others gain much-needed clarity.
Now go back to the drawing board, and write the words “timing & relevance” and pop it under those ideas that you believe will be relevant by the time you have finished writing them.
The Cost of an Idea
Some ideas require more in terms of resources. More research time, perhaps costly travel or photography. I wouldn’t let cost be the only factor which decides me against an idea, but really, can you afford it? If not, can you find a sponsor or fundraise for it?
And if the answer is still no, and it also lacks other factors like passion and relevance, then I would put it on the back burner.
Of course, if the idea has a lot going for it, but requires more money than you have available to get it off the ground, the next question is how much time and effort are you willing to put into it to raise the necessary funds and find the resources?
Resources may not only be money-based. Time and access to information may be a factor too. You may need to travel to Africa and interview orphans, for example. You may need to wait for next Spring to get the images you desire for a gardening book.
I recently drafted a book on a highly personal topic, and the cost of that was some emotional pain. However, it also resulted in a lot of resolution and healing, so the payoff definitely outweighed the cost.
If you are planning to write your memoirs, or mention experiences and people you know (even if under changed names) what could the cost be? Could you potentially destroy lives, break down relationships, or even be involved in expensive litigation down the line? How does that weigh against needing to get the message out? What harm might this choice be causing to others, or to yourself?
This is a difficult cost to measure, and one I would spend quite some time making. It might be best to discuss your intentions upfront with the people involved, and to speak to a lawyer in your country to make sure you have all bases covered.
Some writers go for shock factor, others need to unburden themselves, and others want to expose a great wrong in the world. What are your motivations for why you wish to write a piece which has an emotional or social cost? Does the payoff or goal justify the cost?
No matter what the resource is, it can be quantified and measured in some way, and compared to your other priorities and factors in the decision-making process.
On your drawing-board, write “high cost” or “low cost” next to each idea.
Test Your Idea
Whatever you do, do not choose best friends or your mom for this, unless you are also 100% sure they can remain completely objective.
There are plenty of ways to test an idea. You can do a poll on social media, you can ask people you know, you can pay a marketing company to test it for you, or you can take a look at how well similar ideas have worked for you and others in the past.
What value will you be adding once this work is published?
This is a vital question to ask. I have read too many memoirs where the writer vomits their life onto the page. In the process they undergo a catharsis, but there is no clear lesson, growth or value to the reader. You are simply left feeling bad, or worse, bored.
That kind of writing is probably best left in a private memoir or journal.
Ask yourself who will buy your book, and why? Your target market or audience are an important factor to keep in mind throughout the process. Put yourself in the readers’ shoes and see how you feel about it. Would you buy your own book? Why? What is the demand or need for the information you will be sharing?
Of course, there will be a balance between getting feedback and also leaking your one-of-a-kind idea into the public domain where another aspirant writer could snap it up.
Be careful not to fall into the false consensus trap of thinking just because you think it’s a good idea that everyone else will. This is simply affirming your own thoughts and in reality, does not stand as a good test of potential success. How do you really know what other people think? You have to ask them. It’s the only valid way.
And of course, asking only a few is not really enough. If you choose people who are close to you, they may tell you what you want to hear, to please you. Or they may have a similar mindset to yours so it’s as useful as asking yourself. Which is not useful at all for test purposes. Or worse, they may have their own agenda, and totally shoot your idea down and demotivate you.
Rather choose to get feedback from people who have no real connection to you. If you are going to get feedback, ask a larger number of people chosen from your target audience, to get some idea of what people really might think.
You could even write a mini-article and publish it to a blog or your social media to see what sort of response you get to your sample. If you have a good idea of how well the idea will be received, and you’ve tested it, then write “tested” next to it.
Then again, maybe you don’t care about sales or public opinion, in which case you can totally skip this step.
Once you have rated your various ideas against all the factors we have listed you should have a great visual of how each one rates. Which idea has the most stars or contributing criteria listed next to it?
When you speak your idea out loud, or write down the first few words on the page, what does your gut tell you? Is it a clear yes? If so, venture onward bravely, and stick with the idea until completion.
This blog post article has been an excerpt from my book Becoming a Productive Writer.