Where do good book ideas start?


An early question that I ask friends or clients when discussing their book is “Where did the idea came from?” Then, “How did you capture it, and how did it grow?”

If those sound like odd, intrusive questions, my curiosity had first been piqued when I wrote a long article many years back about how four established authors found their respective book topics and how they built a book from that original germ or thought.

Most ideas, it seems, grow out of the writer’s own experience or curiosity about things they see up close—or do. How to can beets, how does the flight attendant handle a loud loony, what’s a successful strategy for getting elders (or their kids) to eat, how often does one really need professional tooth cleaning? (Or a thousand other things much more exciting!)

Others hear something on TV or the radio or in conversation. Still others are intrigued by a snippet (or full article) they read in the newspaper, a magazine, or in some mailer. Sometimes ideas or topics bloom seedless: they just pop into your mind, without precedent. Or someone suggests a great subject or plot, and you spin it off from there. (“That’s interesting, but what about…?”)

Without fail, though, book writers then write the idea down. Some in the wee notebook it’s said that all writers always carry (don’t ask), others on a nearby piece of paper (like a receipt or an ashcan scrap). Still others keep it in mind until fear of forgetting forces them to preserve the gem in written words.

What happens between an idea on paper and a book?

For me, since I write nonfiction, I would first write an article about it, or a series of articles—now it might be a blog. Since the articles usually required some research and interviewing, I then knew where to find more material if a book beckoned. Two things would prompt a book being written: (1) I couldn’t stop thinking about the topic (often because I’d continue to see or hear more news or facts about it in the media) and/or (2) the obvious interest on the part of others in response to the article.

Other book writers had different intermediary means of keeping their book ideas alive and growing. Some talked about it in letters (now probably e-mails) to family or friends. Some were in writing groups and they bounced the idea off of their colleagues. Some were journalists and they either wrote directly about the topic or it became part of another feature or piece. Sometimes the idea emerged from the writer’s sphere of expertise, so the book became a valuable product to sell. One author was curious about whether an earlier news piece was true and how it was resolved, so he talked to a school buddy cop who linked him to a detective involved in the investigation…

Fortunately, writers are writers. The bookfolk mostly converted that first spark into a note that got print life when it continued to smolder. It sort of nagged itself into a book.

So if something particularly catches your fancy, make a note of it. It might be a book shouting for an author!

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. You are invited to sign up for my free, monthly newsletter. And if you are thinking of publishing that book free and fast, look at How to Get Your Book Published Free in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days.

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1 Comment to “Where do good book ideas start?”

  1. By Hailey Schnur, October 24, 2012 @ 3:17 pm

    Dear Gordon Burgett, thank you for the helpful information about capturing an idea for a book. I am in need of a book idea, and this really helped me a lot.

    Sincerely, Hailey Schnur