Quick and Easy Ways to Pick the Perfect Book Topic and Organize Your Content

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When you are in the process of writing your book, you may be overwhelmed with all the ideas that you could possibly put into your book. You have ideas, stories, illustrations, and quotes flooding your mind, as well as a wealth of blog posts, articles, and other written material to pull from. All these ideas can start swirling around in your mind and keep you stuck instead of moving forward in your writing.

I call this swirl of ideas ‘the curse of a creative mind’, with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek. Most aspiring authors have many ideas for a digital book. In fact, many have more book ideas than time to write them.

It’s possible to research a book topic that you know nothing about and write a credible book. However, it is much more enjoyable process if you select a book topic based on your strengths, interests, and passions.

If you are bored silly by your topic, just imagine how difficult it will be to force yourself to sit  at your computer every day and work on it. When you select a topic based on your strengths, you’ll be eager to devote time to writing and marketing it. Plus, you’ll be able to add illustrations and personal examples which make your book unique and authentic.

Many of us are experts in areas and do not realize it. For most of us, our strengths are things that are so easy for us that they feel like no big deal. We take them for granted.

Your strengths are golden topics for digital products. What you know is valuable. If you can save readers time, money or stress, they will love your book.

Use this simple creative exercise to help you discover a winning book topic:

Step 1: Set aside 30 minutes of time when you will not be interrupted. Turn off your phone, don’t check your email, and close your door. If you are able, go outdoors.

Grab a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. This exercise works best when done by hand, not on a computer.

Close your eyes and think of your ideal reader. See him or her sitting at your kitchen table with you, asking for your help. Spend a couple of minutes bringing that vision into sharp focus. Then, open your eyes and fill in this sentence starter:

My book helps __________ (describe your ideal reader) to __________ (list problem you solve in the book) so that they can __________ (the ultimate benefit of solving the problem).

For example:

• My book helps parents of teenagers stop fighting about chores and homework so that their teen develops personal responsibility and independence.
• My book helps new coaches who hate selling to attract new clients confidently so that their coaching business becomes profitable in 90 days or less.
• My book helps corporate managers spot great candidates during the first 10 minutes of a job interview so that they can build a dependable and productive team.
• My book helps retirees manage their 401K funds so that they don’t outlive their money.
• My book helps new gardeners grow beautiful roses so that they can be the envy of the neighborhood.

I call this sentence the problem/benefit statement for your book. This one sentence statement clarifies your book topic and gives you a sense of direction.

Step 2: Once you have a clear idea of what problem your book solves for your readers, write down the steps you will teach in your book. Then organize your content in a logical order for the reader from easy to more difficult or from start to finish. This sequence is the learning path you will share with your readers in your book.

For example, for the book on interviewing skills for managers, the learning path could look like this:

1. How to screen applications so you select the top candidates for interviews
2. Preparing a set of standard questions before the interview
3. How to read applicant’s body language for clues about her attitude
4. Asking follow-up questions to probe for initiative and responsibility
5. Checking references to get the real scoop on workplace behavior

Notice how this learning path follows a logical progression with the information presented in the same sequence someone would use to prepare for an interview. It’s important that the steps you present in your learning path follow a logical, step-by-step progression so that it is easy for your reader to implement the steps. A confused reader won’t finish your book.

Your problem/benefit statement and learning path should fit easily on one piece of paper. It is designed to be a visual guide to help you stay true to the purpose of your book while you are writing it. It will also become the bones of your table of contents.

Once you’ve finished this exercise and have a one page summary of your book, post it where you can see it as you write. Use it as a guide to help you sort your ideas as they develop. The next time you are overwhelmed with a myriad of ideas for your book, you can compare each idea to the learning path and see if that idea belongs in the book or if you want to save it for another purpose.

To take this exercise one step further, create a mind-map for each step on your learning path brainstorming all the ideas and information you know today about each step. I like to create my mind maps on big sheets of paper or a white board. However, there are some excellent free online mind mapping tools which are also very effective. I like The Brain, Mind Meister and XMind.

This exercise is all about creating order from chaos. When you can organize your ideas using these simple tools, you will free your creativity to produce more great ideas but they will be targeted to your book topic instead of a distraction.

Are you up for the challenge? If you’re feeling stuck about picking the perfect book topic, do the exercise in step 1 and then share it in the comments.

Lynne Klippel
Lynne Klippel is a best-selling author, publisher, and book strategist who focuses on books which build a business. Her clients are non-fiction writers who create books on spirituality, business, personal development, relationships, and how to books which delight readers and convert them to clients.
Lynne Klippel
Lynne Klippel
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Comments

  1. Just a quick note to also remind people that old school 3×5 cards can work great too for organizing. Put an idea on each one and you can arrange and re-arrange as much as you’d like. Much like going outside can help in the initial exercise above, doing something tactile like this, away from the screen, helps you visualize and process the information in a different way.

  2. Thanks Elizabeth- use that line with my compliments any time. It always feels good to claim that for yourself LOL

  3. I’m going to shamelessly steal that line, “the curse of a creative mind,” the next time I need an excuse for lack of productivity. In the past I’ve used a related one, “It’s a sign of higher intelligence.” 🙂

    You’ve given a fantastic framework for getting a book from head to reader — I especially appreciated where you started. When you begin with the problem/benefit statement, it can drive the rest of the book and also help to keep it on topic by asking yourself at the end of every chapter (or paragraph): does this fulfill the promise implied in my benefit statement?

    Thank you for this very helpful guide.

  4. Lynne, thanks for sharing this post. I wish I would have had it when I published my latest book Self-Publishing Simplified: How to Publish a Book on Kindle. Even though I didn’t have your article I took the steps you talked about in organizing the information in a way that was easy to follow. At first it did feel like it was all spinning around in my head. This is a good idea for organizing your thoughts.
    Blessings,
    Deborah H. Bateman-Author

  5. Thanks for the very clear, concise information. These steps I can follow.

    • Thanks Paul. I’m glad you found these tips easy to follow. It can be hard to describe a creative process so if this information was clear, then I hit the mark.

  6. This is really helpful Lynne and it gets the creative juices going and the wheels turning. Was intrigued by the foundation you lay and then how you take things further with mind mapping. Thank you for sharing these tips!

    • Thanks Dvorah-
      I get some of my best ideas when mind mapping on big sheets of paper. Plus, I can see the holes where I need to gather more information for that area of my book.
      Hope you enjoy it too!

  7. Hi Lynne,

    I so agree with you about writing from your strengths and passions! And…even that can be a huge amount of information. I love how you have a process for narrowing it down.

    I’m also a big fan of mindmapping – hand-drawn especially but also using software when I’m taking an idea from brainstorm to commitment. I also like iThoughts for the ipad – very colorful for us who need that visual stimulus!

    • Thanks Laura-
      The iThoughts program sounds great for mind mapping. I’ll check it out!

    • Laura, I’ve recently started using iThoughts because it has gotten great reviews by those who compare it to others. I’m not totally in the swing of it yet, but it seems to work beautifully on my iPad, which I use now instead of a laptop.