How to Choose a Subject for a Book

Some people know exactly what they want to write a book about. If you aren’t one of them, this article is for you! We’ll cover three specific exercises you can use to help generate ideas for your book, research your market and choose a subject you’re excited to write about.

Exercise #1: Brainstorm Subjects for Your Book

The best way to come up with a topic is to brainstorm a list of every possible topic you know about that might be interesting or helpful to others. Remember, you don’t have to be a recognized expert to write a book. You just need more knowledge than your readers. That’s an important point to keep in mind as you brainstorm your list. Don’t leave out ideas because you think you don’t know enough or you think the idea “won’t fly”. You can sort that out later. Compile a solid list of ideas before you begin to judge them!

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  •  What trials or failures have you experienced?
  • If you have clients, patients or customers, what are the most common problems they have?
  • What kinds of questions do people ask you regularly? (What makes you the go-to guy or gal?)
  • What do you know how to do that people would pay you at least $50 to teach them?
  • What would you really enjoy writing about that you could easily talk about for 90 minutes?

Brainstorm a list of at least 10 answers to each of the questions above. This will give you 50 great ideas to choose from. Then, before you move on to Exercise #2, narrow your list down to the top five to ten subjects you most want to write about. These topics will be your search terms for the rest of the exercises.

Exercise #2: Research the Market

Before you write a book, it’s important to know that there is a demand for it. No one wants to write a book and have no one buy it! So how do you decide if there are enough interested people out there?

Check Your first step is to check Are there already books out there that have been published on your subject? Look at individual book listings. You’ll notice that the year of publication is listed next to the title of the book. Find out how many books have been published in the last five years and how many have been released this year. If books are being published and are consistently selling in your subject over a course of years, that is a good indicator of constant demand for your topic.

Check Bestseller Lists. You’ll find the hottest topics for books by checking out bestseller lists. Here are links to several lists to get you started.

The New York Times: The Times tracks 19 different categories based on genre and format. For example, you can choose from Children Series, Hardback Non-Fiction, or E-Book Non-Fiction. Each list gives you the top 10 titles for each category.

USA Today: This list gives you the Top 100 Best Sellers this week. You can choose from a drop down menu of specific categories like Business or Cookbooks to easily find books in your subject area. Amazon lists their top 100 sellers in the Books category. But you can also choose from 16 subcategories in the left sidebar. When you select from the sidebar you can access the top 100 bestsellers for the subcategory you choose.

Barnes and Noble: You’ll find the Top 100 Best Sellers list and some interesting additional options. The left sidebar lets you choose from This Hour’s Top 100, Top 100 Nook Books, B&N Weekly Store Bestsellers, Bestsellers by Subject, Paperback Bestsellers, The Year’s Top 100 and even access The New York Times Bestsellers page.

Exercise #3: Choose the Subject for Your Book

Why you’re here! But if you want to see your name in print, you’ll have to eliminate a good portion of your list. If this makes you anxious, think of it this way. This is only your first book. The other items on your list represent all your options for your next book.

Here’s an exercise to help you choose a subject based both on logic and on your emotional attachment to a topic. Here’s what to do:

  • List all your subjects down the left side of a sheet of paper.
  • Create five columns to the right of your list. Then place a rating from 1-10 in each column by following the steps below.
  • In the first column, indicate how much you really want to write about that subject. A score of “1” means you’re not that interested. A score of “10” means you’re dying to write about it. 
  • In column two, rate your own expertise in that subject. The longer you could talk about the subject (no notes allowed!) the higher your score. A “1” means you can’t talk very long. A “10” means you could go on for hours. 
  • In column three, rate how well ranked each subject is on the bestseller lists. Again, “1” indicates the subject isn’t really appearing on the lists and a “10” means it’s a hot topic. 
  • In column four, rate how consistently books have been published on the topic based on the publication years you found on A “1” means very little consistency for the topic. A “10” indicates it has been published consistently for years
  • Use column five to total the scores for each subject you’ve listed. 
  • Circle or highlight the top two subjects. (These will be the two with the highest scores.)
  • Choose which subject you’ll write about (of flip a coin if needed).

Remember, in the end the most important thing is to choose a subject you really want to write about. You’ll need that passion and interest to keep you writing…all the way to the finish line. So look at your results, pick a subject that makes your heart sing and start writing that book!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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