Authors! 12 Easy Ways to Select a Non-Fiction Subject
So you want to write a non-fiction book. Maybe you have an idea and maybe you don’t, but choosing a topic for your non-fiction book should be easy. Start with what you know, love, or care about, but always, always, always search for the unique angle. Simply rehashing the same old, same old won’t cut it.
Talking about a new angle–how many diet books were in the market prior to Dr. Atkins entered in 1989 with his high-protein, low carbohydrate diet? More than you can name, I’m sure, from the infamous Grapefruit Diet to the Scarsdale Diet. Every new diet idea has to have a book, or two, or three. Diet books were already a huge market. The field was crowded, but his new angle was a breakthrough and changed the diet scene forever.
Shortly after it became a smash hit, other protein diet books appeared. He spawned a whole new way too look at diets and this motivated other authors. There were books created to support his point of view, other books to tweak it, and others to challenge it. Then along came the cookbooks. High-protein, low carbohydrate recipes were all the fad. I don’t know the total number of books created directly as a result of the Atkins diet, but I daresay it is in the thousands. Do you think the publishers said, “Oh no, not another diet book?” Or did they rush it to print to take advantage of the buzz?
- What do you know that is a little different from what has been published before? Bookstores and libraries are chock full of self-improvement books. How many ways are there to find your inner power, create success, sleep better, be happier, stop smoking, find God, and develop irresistible powers of attraction? Yet, with all of this information truckloads of new self-help books hit the market every year. Each of them say essentially the same things, but they all seek a different hook. Will new angles ever be depleted? It doesn’t seem so, but if you have one, don’t sit on it or someone else will come up with it too while you are languishing in the starting gate. A good idea is too valuable to waste.
- Is there new information you can bring to the table that may have been overlooked? Research and discoveries are continuing in every field of endeavor. If you are keeping up with the latest information, your book by hitting the market first could propel you into the spotlight.
- Has technology changed the landscape? How? There are few subjects that don’t benefit from improved technologies. Even in fields like restoration of old paintings technology is used to discover what is unseen to the naked eye but vital to the correct restoration.
- What do you expect will happen to your topic in the future? Project yourself into the future, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, or more. What does the future hold for your field of interest?
- How has your topic altered, improved, or ruined your life? Get personal. Readers are bored with dry reading; they want to know what your experience has been, even if it turned out badly. Especially if it turned out badly. In fact, there is a reason news shows lead with murder and mayhem. It’s sick, but humans are very curious about disasters. Even if your experience is and was very positive, you’ll want to look for some contrast to create drama.
- Has new information been unearthed that alters previously held beliefs? People are forever studying the history of this, that, or the other. You can rest assured that someone will come across with an old memo, forgotten manuscript, or lost photos. Perhaps those discoveries will contradict previous truths.
- Do you have doubts about the subject and can you prove them? Every subject needs balance. If all of the books written glorify your subject, you may think about being the devil’s advocate. Look for evidence of the dark side.
- What are your ten rules? Huh? You don’t think you have rules, ah but you do. Things that we enjoy doing required us to learn how to do it. Think back to when you started and list the steps you had to learn to master it. Write them down one through ten and dedicate a chapter to each of those steps.
- How does your subject fare in other countries? Would utilizing practices from a foreign country improve performance here? Have the practitioners of your subject in distant lands created ways and means that are more effective? Would your readers be served well by knowing what those differences are?
- What have you always wanted to say but kept to yourself because certain areas are sacred cows? Fear of rejection or expulsion has killed many a good book. If you have a burning desire to tell something that will stir up trouble, it takes real courage. Do you have enough guts to be the one? Just think of all of the people who would benefit from the truth you are keeping to yourself.
- Who will read your book, a well-informed practitioner, or a novice? Consider the books currently in the market on your subject. If the majority of them are written for the beginner, perhaps the experts would benefit from your expertise. Be sure you don’t write over the heads of the newbie’s or talk down to the pros. Write for the audience you choose. The purpose of a non-fiction book should be to dispense information, not dazzle the readers with your prose. Save that for creative writing classes or novels.
- Can you latch on and ride with a trend? Like the Atkins example, is there something hot in the marketplace right now? Maybe it doesn’t even have to directly relate. If something in your title, or cover art indicates a relationship you could benefit from the trend. When President Obama was elected there was a fervor that rivaled religion. Suppose you had a book of stories and folk sayings from his birthplace Hawaii, couldn’t you call it something like Folk Stories from President Obama’s Birthplace? I know it is a stretch, but crazier things have been done like the Obama Chia Pet.
Note: Be sure to check out the Author’s Platform. Writing your book is only part of the job and may be the easiest part. Finding readers willing to buy your book is difficult especially if you don’t know the ropes. The very reasonably priced Author Platform prepares you to negotiate through blogs, social networking, Amazon, virtual book parties, etc. I have used it and recommend it heartily. –Bill Ruesch