The Idea Factory
Guest Post on bloggingauthors.com by Isabel Anders
“Ideas won’t keep; something must be done about them.”
—Alfred North Whitehead.
“To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”
People are always asking me how, as a book author, I come up with so many workable ideas. It is a question that I can only attempt to answer in a context. I have self-identified as a writer ever since high school, based on an intuitive “sense” that this was to be my life’s work. I used to think, “Just put me in a room and let me write!” And today, looking back—I see how personal circumstances, slow but steady growth in confidence as a writer, and lessons learned from a decade and a half of working in publishing offices—have made just that scenario possible. I now sit in my study and write nearly every day.
Thinking about and developing ideas for future books is a large part of my career. Two of my last four books were instances of a publisher coming to me (or my agent) to make a proposal and offer a contract. In both cases (40-Day Journey with Madeleine L’Engle, part of a study guide series; and Blessings and Prayers for Married Couples, a small gift hardback in another series with a different publisher)—I was not only happy to be asked, but enthusiastic about digging into the subject matter. These two titles are currently my best-selling books.
But far more often, a book idea hatches in me, takes form in the context of my life and my reading, and becomes a personal project that THEN must be developed, written and rewritten, and finally proposed and sold out in the real world. I am most fortunate to have a truly savvy agent who imagines possibilities and has the discipline and drive to search out every conceivable avenue to help these ideas find fertile ground.
For me, having the imagination for ideas, and even the writing process itself, are far less daunting than the careful positioning, synopsis-writing, and excerpt-choosing that go into successful selling—both to a publisher and to readers. The latter—connecting directly with an audience—now seems more and more within reach, through my ongoing roles as a blogger, speaker, and networker. As everyone in the publishing business realizes now, the writing itself is only a portion of what a writer “does”—and really just a beginning.
Nevertheless, there are ways to make the ground of one’s imagination more receptive to ideas, and I’d like to list a few.
What do you love? Let your writing flow along the lines of your own passion, and both the research and the crafting of your book will seem like enrichment as well as work. This is not to deny the difficult parts, the discipline of showing up in your own life to actually write, and the snags (including dry spells, busyness, and simple procrastination) that can keep writers from following through on good ideas.
For whom are you writing? While some writers insist they write only for themselves—and one of the pleasures of actual writing is showing yourself you CAN express your idea in words—I believe it is important to think of a niche to fill, a need to address, a question (or more than one) to answer by your book. Such concerns will help you to identify your audience (and any publisher wants to know whom you envision the book to be FOR—that is positioning in the market).
What else is out there that has already fulfilled these needs or answered these questions? You must do Amazon and Google searches to find out, read other books in your field, be familiar with current and past similar titles—and find out whether they are in print and still being bought. Is what you envision writing yourself truly needed?Sometimes, even when there are other “takes” on your idea out there, the answer is still YES.
Begin—and see how it develops on paper. Who among us has not begun a project with full intent to follow through, and then found it was really an article, not a book? Or we’ve become distracted, sometimes for good reason, and put our energies into a different idea, leaving the other on the shelf. But if your idea is sound, your work is promising (get others’ opinions), and you are convinced the world needs to know your idea, wrapped up in this book—then go for it!
The idea factory is YOU. Arthur Koestler has said, “Creative activity could be described as a type of learning process where teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.” A lot of my advice to would-be authors is encased in this ideal: nurture yourself in whatever ways it takes to see your dream realized.
The feel of that first copy of your own print book in your hands (or perhaps simply viewing the newly posted product page of your ebook ready for downloads)—there’s nothing quite like it.