So, you think you have an idea for a book? But how do you decide if it has an audience and publishing potential? Or, says Ann Kepler, Adams Press (adamspress.com), who has worked with many authors throughout her career, how can you “take it from basement to book?”
“For example, several years ago I considered writing a book about how to buy a house. I started collecting articles, taking notes, and putting them in a folder. After many months, my accumulation of material became overwhelming and I needed to make sense of it. I knew it was time to organize and evaluate the information.” Whether you’ve scattered your resources throughout your computer, parked them in the cloud or stuffed them into a box, get ready to take them out of the “basement.”
Ann suggests that you start by developing themes or general categories. “My first themes for buying a house included home evaluation steps, neighborhoods and communities, financial issues, and selecting an agent.” She discovered that she had two to three possible chapters for each theme.
Ann then realized that she had to regroup for each theme and clearly identify the market and target readers. “Your first question to yourself should be ‘Who would buy this book?’. Ask yourself if there is a market for this topic. Are there other books like this available?” says Ann. Visit online and brick-and-mortar book stores to see what is selling.
This investigation will help you identify your target readers. What stage of home buying are they in, what then would be their reason for reading your book, and what themes respond to their interests and goals?
“Once I decided who would want to buy this book, I went back and winnowed my information, regrouping on themes and chapters, putting them in a sequence that the target reader would need, and throwing out what wasn’t relevant. The process seems endless, but my pinpointing the target readers provides a ‘blueprint’ that defines the book.”
Research for Resources
Is your collection of notes, clippings and links still considered current information? To find out and discover more resources, do an online search to see if what you have is still applicable and usable and if there are other potential themes and chapters you had not considered. You might have to toss some chapters, add new ones, or switch their order.
As you research, remember that you will have to attribute or credit quoted content you use in your book, particularly if it is protected by copyright. Those that are copyrighted require permission to use or quote, whether it’s used in the basic content or in a sidebar within a chapter.
U.S. government sites, however, are in the public domain. This means that the intellectual property rights do not apply, and the information does not require permission from the government or payment of copyright royalties to be used. “Try to avoid sources that require permission unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Ann advises.
As you research take notes on possible resources, such as relevant URLs, books, magazines, government resources. Each of us has our own approach to organizing. “I prefer to start out ‘physical’ with accordion file folders and sticky notes that I can move around,” Ann says, “and then when I’m ready to move forward, I switch to electronic.”
After this initial research phase, step away from the project for a few days, and reconsider your vision for your book. Has this research reinforced your interest? If so, read on.
From Basement to Book
Now that you have a framework for writing, it’s time to address the structure of the whole book. Start by developing an outline with a title and subheads for each chapter. These may change as you proceed, but as soon as you begin, the titles and heads will propel you forward.
This is a good time to talk to someone who can look at this with fresh eyes…whether another author, editor or an engaging person who can offer feedback and who asks questions. “Whether you want to build this from the outside in or the inside out, you need to hear things you might not have thought of before,” Ann says.
Then, based on your initial research and accordion files stuffed with new information, revisit the neighborhood (or your book’s subject) with fresh perspectives. What other issues in the book should you address (for example, suggest driving through a community during the day, and then again at night to check the street lighting and parking). Since you now know your reader better than you did before your research, revisit your book to develop headlines or chapters that your audience wants to or should know.
Double check your presumptions and facts, look for stories and stats that reflect each chapter’s focus, think of sidebars that complement the content, and consider aids such as checklists.
You have now brought your book out of the basement into broad daylight. You have done your homework, and researched the market, the potential reader, and the topic. You have constructed the framework of the book. You have determined that you should move forward. Your next step?
Become the author.