5 Quick, Easy Ways to Generate Nonfiction Book Ideas

How to generate ideas for nonfiction booksWhen I first decided to write nonfiction books, the topics I chose were not ones in which I had credentials per se. They were topics I felt passionate about and had a desire to pursue as a service to others. It wasn’t that I didn’t have sound knowledge and personal experience with these subjects, but I had no diploma and few qualifications proving I was an expert. The books were meant to give me expert status so I could develop a speaking and coaching business around the same topics.

Later, I decided to write books based on my area of expertise. I was a professional writer, editor and book coach, and I had both a degree and work experience to back up this expert status. However, a book would add credibility—especially a traditionally published book. Such a book also would boost my business.

A Book Boosts Your Authority and Credibility

In both cases, one fact remained true: a nonfiction book would help me gain credibility and authority within my target market. This would not only help me sell books over time, but it would allow me to create a business based on the book.

If you would like to write a nonfiction book that helps you boost your credibility and business or build a business,  you can relate to these scenarios. But maybe you don’t know where to start. You may be having trouble thinking of even one idea that seems worthy of a whole book—even a short one—that would help you move closer to your goal of becoming an expert on your topic or being seen as an authority or thought leader.

So, you just sit and stare at your computer screen. You watch as other writers, or, worse yet, your competition, produces not just one bestselling book but two or three…or more. And you wonder, “How the heck do they come up with all those great ideas?”

I used to have that problem, too.

Finding the right idea for your nonfiction  book doesn’t have to be so difficult. In fact, if you try the five methods below, you will soon find the perfect idea for your first book—if not a few ideas. Before you know it, you will have more book ideas than you can possibly write in a year.

1. Ask your ideal readers, clients or customers what they would like to know.

If you want to write a book that serves the needs of your ideal readers, which is the only way to produce a book that will sell, as well as your potential clients and customers, the best way to accomplish this goal involves asking them what they want. Send them a survey using surveymonkey.com or traitwise.com. When you speak to them in person or on the phone, never end a meeting without inquiring what they would most like to know about your subject, business, service or product. If you don’t yet have an email list or blog (Heaven forbid!), contact them using a social network, like Facebook or LinkedIn. Once you have asked 10-50 people, tally up the answers. I bet you’ll have enough data to produce at least 1-10 books.

2. Identify your ideal reader’s or customer’s most common questions, problems, pains, or goals.

In every business, customers and clients typically ask questions about the products and services we offer. Readers are no different. If you already have a business, you don’t even need to solicit answers to the question, “What do you want to know?” Your customers or clients provide this information every time they call or come in to inquire prior to making a purchase or hiring you. Think about this, you will soon know what topic to cover in a book or in multiple books. If you don’t yet have a business, think of potential readers or clients in the same way: For what reason would they read your book or hire you? What question would they want answered, problem would they want solved, pain would they want relieved, or goal would they want achieved? By focusing on these issues, you can produce the book they desire—and you should have many book ideas.

3. Look at your website stats to see what keywords or keyword phrases are most searched for.

keyword search for article ideas

You don’t need to know a lot about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to put your website, or blog stats to use when searching for book topics. If you have a self-hosted blog, which means you pay for hosting, or a website, go to your c-panel analytics program, and look for the information on keyword searches and keyword phrase searches. You can also use Google Analytics for this. These terms indicate the words or phrases put into search engines, like Google, by the people who show up on your site. These search terms, also known as keywords or keyword phrases, offer good choices for books subjects because you know your potential readers, customers and clients, are search for information on them on the Internet. Not only that, when they do so, they find you!

4. Look at your website to see which past articles get the most traffic.

Using the same strategy as proposed in #3, use the information form your c-panel analytics or Google Analytics to check for the most read posts on your blog. If potential readers are finding these posts via searches and ending up on your site, this information is just as golden as the keywords and keyword phrases you uncovered previously. Once you know which posts are most popular, you know what topics interest your potential readers—and what topics to focus on when writing your nonfiction books. (Hint: Just expand on your popular blog posts!)

5. Spy on your competition.

Take a look at what your competition is doing or has done. By competition, I mean other authors producing similar books, other bloggers blogging on similar topics, other experts, authorities, thought leaders who discuss the same subject matter, and other business people who offer the same types of products or services you would like to offer or already offer. If you know your competition has done a great job (or not such a great job) of writing a book or producing a product or service, spend time reading what they write and exploring their offerings. Figure out how you can do it better and differently. You need to study your competition to produce a unique and necessary book for your market, so consider this part of your competitive analysis. Of course, don’t plagiarize. Put your own spin on any idea! (Ideas cannot be copyrighted.) Add your own great experience and information! No two people can write the same book. I’m not suggesting you steal anything from anyone; be ethical and creative.

Find a Topic That Combines Your Passion and Purpose

In the end, you must also find a topic you feel passionate about and that serves your purpose or the purpose of your company. When you combine passion and purpose in to a book topic, you’ll feel inspired. That’s when the best idea will pop into your head, and you will sit down and write your book easily and effortlessly. If this topic also serves your potential readers and customers—and if it’s based on your experience or expertise—your idea may very well be a marketable nonfiction book idea.

Create a Marketable Idea

No matter how you develop your book idea, or what idea you decide to pursue, take time to evaluate if it is marketable. Can you say with certainty that it has enough potential buyers–a large enough target market–an that it is unique and necessary in that market an in it’s category? Do your idea readers need the information you plan to provide? Will they benefit from your content or story? And will your book be different and better than anything else previously published on this topic? These are important questions to answer before you decide to actually write a book based on your idea—at least if you want your book to actually sell many copied.

To learn more about how to create marketable book idea, attend my my upcoming three-hour workshop, Prepping Your Idea And Yourself For Success: 9 Steps for Developing a Winning Business Plan for Your Book, which is based on my new book, The Author Training Manual, at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference on February 13, 2014. (You don’t have to attend the conference, which runs from Feb. 14-16, to register.)

Photo courtesy of naphotos 123RF Stock photos


  1. You have such great posts! I don’t just read them, they stay up on the screen for awhile as I go over them several times in my mind (and sometimes on paper)!

  2. These are great ideas, Nina. Thanks!

  3. Nina, these can loosely apply to fiction pieces, as well! But — having said that — I’ve been working on two books, one fantasy-fiction and the other non-fiction, and I have been wondering what I might do when both of my projects are completed. These are great ideas to get a jump-start on solving that problem. Thanks! 🙂

Speak Your Mind