When Your Nonfiction Book Idea is Stuck in the Mud
by Andrea Campbell
What’s It About?
I’ll ask them what their book is about and listen as they try to explain their book to me. Most can’t seem to articulate what the book topic is in one sentence, often they can’t even do it in one paragraph. Typically, it turns out, they can’t even explain it with a full page of writing!
First Level Thinking
Nine times out a ten it’s what I call first-level thinking. This is a term I use to explain when someone has an idea that is usually very generic. It could be a common idea or something that has come to the attention of people-consciousness with a “groundswell” of information, (meaning, it’s been in the universe so long that many people have picked up on it). Since thinking and true brainstorming are so difficult (we get tired after five concentrated minutes of it), these writers can’t get past the initial idea. They get stalled thinking that their first idea is their best idea. Now, in reality, in order for their idea to be even mildly successful, they need an idea so strong that it provides true visceral feelings or emotions. This idea then has to provide the structure for every important element in the book proposal—from title to chapter sample. Their idea must do some heavy-lifting. And it must Wow! us at the same time.
Parse the Book
Take Your Idea
How about: a method? Sprint walking, Full body walking. Walking backwards.
How about: a group? Marathon walkers, charity walkers, dog walkers.
How about: history? Famous walkers. Walking records.
How about: location? Walking botanical gardens. Walking Iraq.
Now we’re getting somewhere. With “walking botanical gardens” you can provide a guide to the best, most inspirational gardens in the United States, complete with maps, and some tips on how to prepare. (And the gardens themselves usually have gift stores, so you’ve also identified a market for sales!)
And walking Iraq. That’s interesting too. If you’ve done a tour there you can talk about the citizens you’ve met, the dangers you’ve encountered, and the changes your walking there has made in you. And you can format your stories with interviews and maps. (Plus, the military who have been there too, would most likely help make up a readership.)
So, we’ve taken an unlikely, unpublishable topic, walking, and found out through book parsing, two possible ways in which to focus our topic and get a book proposal subject that just may work. Truth is, if you believe in your subject, you need to develop ways to work with it, but at least you have a start: a viable idea.
Andrea is a member of several professional organizations and stays current with book business. Her classes always offer students much more than they thought they’d get. One of her students recently got a “very good deal,” and, according to Publisher’s Lunch, a $100,000-plus book contract.
Andrea is also a WOW! Women on Writing Classroom instructor. Her interactive workshop THE GATEKEEPERS: ALL ABOUT AGENTS AND EDITORS—Getting them, Working with them, and Growing as a Career Author starts Monday, April 25th. This class is limited to 10 students, so make sure you reserve your spot today. Click here to sign up now!