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Wondering What to Write About? What to Publish? Still Plenty of Great Ideas Out There

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In troubled times, it’s easy to become discouraged about writing or publishing books. Who’s going to buy or read this anyway, you might think. However, I see this as a time when readers need your ideas more than ever. While it might be harder to determine what people are going to want to read, there is more of a need to find comfort, solutions and, yes, perhaps a little distraction in books. To this line of thinking, add the fact that buying a book is different than purchasing a new home or a new car; the monetary investment is much smaller but the rewards can be quite rich. Thus I believe that though sales may not be quite as strong, people are still going to buy books.

What will be important are the ideas that you choose. Basically, your options are either an idea that will speak wisely to the times no matter what the future brings, or a topic of constant interest.

Having ideas shouldn’t be a problem if you’re in the editorial end of publishing–either deciding what will be published or selecting what you are going to write about. Probably you’re an idea person. I know ideas are what keep me excited about publishing. Being on the cutting-edge of thinking. Learning new things. Opening my awareness to new ways of seeing life, relationships, and challenges. But just in case your thinking needs a jumpstart, here are 10 possible springboards for new book ideas:

Springboard #1. What’s next?Back in my journalism classes decades ago, I was trained to read the paper and to scrutinize the news. Where were the holes in the story? What should be covered next?slets type of training serves you well in the book business. Recently I was listening to a radio interview in L.A. on KCRW with Farid Younos, President of the Afghan Domestic Violence Prevention group. He is organizing Afghans displaced in the U.S. to return to Afghanistan to rebuild the country after a new government is established there. Listening to Younos talk about refurbishing museums and the like, I was touched and thought, Now here is a forward-thinking person who senses what issues could be relevant in the future. In terms of books based on cutting-edge thinking, I offer the example of the Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control. It seems someone at Rodale Press recognized that people were going to want to know how to get rid of pests and plant diseases in their gardens without using chemicals. Did you know that planting radishes among your cucumbers and squash can help repel cucumber beetles?

Springboard #2. An obscure idea is ready for the big time. Times change, and suddenly an activity or idea that is popular with a small subgroup has an appeal for a larger audience. For instance, Garrison Keillor and his Lake Woebegone were once known only to people within the range of a St. Paul, Minnesota, radio station. Now Keillor’s a national figure. Here’s another example. Recently I went to an alternative health conference in Los Angeles that was packed with attendees. I filled two notebooks that day. Only a few years ago, I viewed the sponsoring group’s message as too “far out.”

Springboard #3. A personal experience sheds light on a widely held problem. No one goes through life without experiencing some problems, some challenges. But there are those unique folks among us who find a different and better way of dealing with these situations. Or of thinking about them. This could be in business, health, personal finance or relationships. Susan Moss’s Keep Your Breasts! Preventing Breast Cancer the Natural Way is just one of many examples.

Springboard #4. A unique point of view makes ideas come to life. The core concepts in the book The Four Agreements are beautiful in their simplicity.“Don’t Take Anything Personally”… “Always Do Your Best”… However it is the unique voice of a Toltec master, Don Miguel Ruiz, who made Oprah and over 1.2 million readers around the world pay attention. In the framework of ancient Indian wisdom, the book’s basic ideas take on new power.

Springboard #5. An unaddressed need will resonate for readers. This area is where ideas are found that trigger a response of “Why didn’t I think of that?” Somehow the need for the book was so obvious, yet it remained overlooked for a long time. Trust me, you’ll recognize one of these titles the next time it lands on your desk in the form of a review or published mention. Or maybe if you shift the way you view the world just a bit, you’ll see it first!

Springboard #6. A taboo subject can arouse interest. Authors of these books bravely go where no one dared trek before. Some of these ideas have to do with parts of the body that turn faces red when discussed. Recently an inspired author-to-be approached me to talk about such a topic at a dinner party. While I did think her idea was brilliant,I could tell that others were embarrassed when the topic was mentioned. (I recommended that she write it with humor.) To be honest, sometimes I balk at these “forbidden” books too. For example, somehow I knew that I wasn’t the right editor for a first-person alien encounter book that a Southern Californian author presented to me. (Actually two different writers have called me about books like this.) Yet I was intrigued. (I love science fiction.) Who knew if these supposedly “real life” stories were true?

Springboard #7. Access counts, to a public figure, a remote part of the world, a rarely experienced slice of life. Books can take us places where we otherwise could never go. They can allow us to gain insight into people we will never meet. At this writing time, recent events have propelled Taliban by Ahmed Rashid (about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan) to the 2nd Best-selling Nonfiction Paperback slot and Bin Laden by Yossef Bodansky (about the events that shaped this man’s life) to the 4th Best-selling Nonfiction Paperback position in the Los Angeles Times. Other readers found refuge by escaping to the City of Light through Adam Gopnik’s highly praised Paris to the Moon (7th on same list).

Springboard #8. An existing entity inspires a new product. When I originally jotted down this jumping off point for ideas, I was thinking of performers, films, companies, products, etc. that might trigger book concepts. Remember all the Leonardo Dicaprio books and historical Titanic titles released around the time of that film? However, recently I was researching Stephen Covey’s work and discovered that at least the following spin-offs had been inspired by his original The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (which itself is said to have sold over 10 million copies). Spin-offs: Living the 7 Habits: The Courage to Change; Daily Reflections for Highly Effective People: Living the 7 Habits; The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families; The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens (which was followed by a workbook and a journal for teenagers). Have you written or published a book that could gain new life from a spin-off title? (Note: One Covey spin-off was simply an expansion of a chapter from Book One [Habit #4]–FirstThings First.)

Springboard #9. A real-life situation prompts the creation of a fictional tale. Years ago when I was dating a TV writer, situations from my life were loosely adapted into two sitcom episodes–one show was flatteringand the other, not.Actually the writers on those shows were not trying to either flatter or offend me; they just needed show ideas. I was in their world. Sometimes fiction springboards are stories heard second-hand, or we may personally witness a situation that stays with us and insists on being captured on the typed or written page in some way. Fictionalizing it may allow us to tell a story that would otherwise go unaddressed. (Ah-ah! Maybe Kevin Spacey’s new movie, K-Pax, was inspired by someone who heard about a first-person alien encounter. See Suggestion #6.)

Springboard #10. A character calls for a story/book to be built around him or her. At some point, Harry Potter was just a character prancing around J.K. Rowling’s brain. Now he is transcending his genre and gaining adult readers as well younger ones! And as the saying goes, we all need heroes (and heroines). These are the kinds of times when they walk right up out of real life. Look around. Be alert. Keep an open ear for inspiration. Farid Younos, the displaced but visionary Afghan who dreams of rebuilding his country in a post-Taliban time, is just one inspiring real person. The fire fighters in New York City are others. There will be more.

Of course, writers and publishers will want to carefully consider which ideas are worth the investment of their time and energy. Some concepts will obviously be in bad taste considering recent developments. Others, too costly. Still others will be too time-sensitive, except using the most aggressive production schedules or possibly e-publishing.But I hope these springboards help you think of concepts that are likely to wisely address or transcend the times. Many good ideas are just waiting for you to think of them!

Robin Quinn is a book editor and ghostwriter from Los Angeles, where she gains daily inspiration from the spunk of her tuxedo cat Tao. Quinn specializes in the topics of spirituality, alternative health and psychology. Offerings from her Quinn’s Word for Word editorial service range from ghostwriting, to all levels of editing (from developmental to copyediting), to the writing of press kits. E-mail quinnrobin@aol.com, or call 310/838-7098, for more information.

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