How do you get started writing a book?

A good friend of mine asked me a question this afternoon that I’ve heard many times from authors on the proverbial fence about writing: “How do I get started with a book idea?”

My answer to this question is always the same, and it starts with the question of how much you love the subject your’e going to write about, because, just like the old saw about a PhD dissertation, you’ll probably end your book project with less affection for the subject than when you started! I’ve known plenty of PhDs who find that their passion is spent by the time they defend their dissertation, and they end up needing a break.

But I’m getting sidetracked. Here’s the real answer I gave Bryan…

A quick caveat first, though: I believe that writers will find writing a book more fulfilling if their book sells and finds an audience, so I have a somewhat more market-driven approach than many other writers who are apparently happy writing the book they wanted to write, even if it only generates enough sales to cover a half-dozen sandwiches at the local deli. Anyway, here’s what I said:

“Here’s what you need to do, Bryan: spend an hour or so with the best research tool book writers have on the net: Amazon.com. Identify a half-dozen possible topics for a book then search and explore what’s out and what’s coming in those areas. Read the reviews to identify which books are the best/worst, and see if there are obvious gaps in coverage that you could fill.

“Also look at publishers: if there’s a publisher that has three weblog books, they might be a great candidate for a proposal on your weblog-related topic, for example.”

It’s true. The first two things I do whenever I consider a new book project are spend a few hours exploring Amazon.com (and since they have upcoming books it’s really a window into the next three months of publishing in addition to the current books on the market) then I go to a local bookstore and spend a few hours pouring through the table of contents of every single book in the segment that has any meaningful sales figures.

Between these two efforts, you can really gain a good idea of what’s in the market, whether there’s space for your own work, and how you might approach your topic to make it the most interesting to both a publisher, the sales department at a publisher, and the general book-buying public. And with a little bit of good karma, you’ll burst onto the scene as the latest successful author!

If you are a writer exploring a book project, you’ll want to stay tuned to this weblog for some very exciting news a few weeks from now about a writer publicity training system I’m developing. ‘Nuf said for now, but it’ll be very cool, I promise.

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