Maybe you have a ton of different book ideas, or maybe you just have one…
No matter how many book ideas you might have floating around, the truth of the matter is: you need at least ONE good book idea to start writing your book.
And although you'll need a lot more than a good book idea to succeed as an author, you’re guaranteed to fail without one.
Too many authors fall into the trap of becoming enamored with their initial idea without testing if it's likely to experience success.
After all, writing a book is a serious investment of your time, creativity, and financial resources. Why expend all that energy if your book will fall flat after launching?
Thankfully, there are tried and tested ways of not only coming up with fiction or nonfiction book ideas, but also assessing how you can give them the best possible chance for success after launch.
This guide to finding and validating book ideas for fiction and nonfiction authors covers:
- How do I come up with an idea for a fiction book?
- Use fiction writing prompts
- Take inspiration from your past
- Allow images to inspire you
- Explore new places
- Feel inspired by other types of media
- Experiment with genre and style
- Read longform nonfiction
- How do I come up with an idea for a nonfiction book?
- Address a personal pain point
- Share an old philosophy in a new way
- Consider a memoir
- Offer a complete guide
- Make academia accessible
- Repackage your existing content
- Book idea validation methods
- Assess similar book ideas on Amazon
- Search the major online course platforms
- Check Google for your book idea
- Launch a small test concept before a full book
How do I come up with an idea for a fiction book?
While you can never ensure your muse will show up with an interesting book idea, there is a lot you can do to make it more likely.
Sometimes, inspiration will strike, seemingly at random. When those moments occur, be sure to seize them and write down the idea that’s come to you.
For other occasions when ideas are less forthcoming, consider these seven methods of finding fiction ideas that have worked for countless authors.
1 – Use fiction writing prompts
Sometimes, when you’re trying to find an idea for a fiction book, you have an initial starting point to work with.
Maybe a character, or scenario, or some other seed that you can grow into a full story.
Nothing at all.
When you’re struggling to find any raw material to craft fiction from, a writing prompt can be the perfect solution.
Reading through a list of prompts can help inspire an original idea of your own, or you might even find a suitable genre prompt interesting enough to develop into a full fiction story.
2 – Take inspiration from your past
Your life is a rich source of ideas and inspiration for fiction books.
The people you have known, feelings you have felt, and places you have been can all be used to fuel fiction.
The key to this approach is to avoid straying into autobiographical or journalistic territory.
Instead, take a small element of something that's happened to you, and use it to inspire something creative and different.
Here are three ways to use your own life as the starting point for a fiction book idea:
- Ideas from your elders. Think about the lives of older generations of your family. How was the world different for them? What kind of problems or pleasures did they face? Could you rework parts of your family lore into a written work of fiction?
- An alternate you. Most of us have turning points in our lives where we took certain paths when others were available. You can use fiction as a vehicle to explore where different life choices could have taken you.
- An expanded snapshot. Have you ever experienced a brief life moment that’s stayed with you? Maybe something you saw in public, or a conversation you overheard? Take this small snapshot and use it as the starting point for a fuller work of fiction.
When you’re looking for ideas for your novel, don’t overlook the richness of your past as potential source material.
3 – Use images to inspire you
For some authors, striking visual sights can trigger the urge to write creatively.
You might be able to recall a particular photo, artwork, or album cover that inspires you.
If not, it’s never been easier to seek out fresh visual content. A quick online search can help you find inspiration for fiction, like images of people you’ve never met triggering ideas for characters, or places you’ve never been making you want to set a story there.
Also, if you’ve exhausted the power of thought exercises to generate fiction ideas, or you’re struggling with written brainstorming, simply switching your mind into visual mode can help unleash your creativity.
4 – Explore new places
You might find sticking to a regular writing environment and routine is the best way to dream up a new book idea.
However, don’t discount the power of a change of scenery to give your creativity a boost.
Sometimes, you will travel to locations where you see things that inspire an idea worthy of your next book.
Even trying to flesh out your existing ideas while spending time in a new place can work well.
You can even use Google Street View to virtually unlock the book idea inspiration that walking around a new place for the first time can give you.
5 – Feel inspired by other types of media
Have you ever heard a song lyric or watched an acting performance that left your creative battery recharged and full of energy to pour into a fiction project?
Many of the great authors of our time were inspired by music or onscreen moments.
You can find a realistic style of dialogue for your characters by listening to the way that actors recite their lines, or even get ideas for your book structure by following the story arcs of movies or TV shows.
6 – Experiment with genre and style
One of the major advantages of choosing to self-publish your next fiction book is you have total creative freedom. You don’t have to feel confined by conventional genres and tropes.
If you are looking for fiction project ideas, why not explore the subgenres that exist, and try and find an obscure option you’re excited to write about?
You can even combine different styles of fiction into something original that is truly your own book idea.
7 – Read longform nonfiction
If you want your fiction to come across as authentically as possible, consider using in-depth longform nonfiction on a related topic as inspiration.
For example, if you want to write a crime novel, reading true crime content could inspire you to add details that readers will find captivating.
How do I come up with an idea for a nonfiction book?
You can use these seven methods to come up with your next nonfiction idea:
1 – Address a personal pain point
One way to find a great idea for a nonfiction book is by addressing your personal pain points in a way that other books don't.
For example, you might have developed a set of routines or empowering beliefs that you feel aren’t covered by other nonfiction.
2 – Rework an old philosophy into a new book idea
A lot of successful nonfiction book ideas are found by applying older ideas or philosophies to our modern context.
Newer books covering Stoic philosophy or how to live mindfully are examples of this idea in action.
3 – Consider a memoir
If you’re looking for a way to express your personal story through nonfiction, consider writing a memoir.
To make this idea a success, make sure you focus on serving your intended reader by sharing life lessons rather than promoting yourself or straying into a full autobiography.
4 – Offer a complete guide
Sometimes, you’ll find an opportunity to offer a more comprehensive guide to a particular nonfiction topic than any other available book.
If several different books only partially cover a topic, or aspects of that topic aren’t covered at all, you might have found a great opportunity to offer an all-encompassing guide that readers will find huge amounts of value in.
5 – Make academia accessible
Many classic nonfiction books provide value by repackaging scientific or academic ideas in a way that is understandable for a non-expert reader.
If you choose this nonfiction idea, make sure that your representation of the science is accurate, and that the ideas shared are directly useful to the reader you are seeking to serve.
6 – Repackage your existing content into a book
Some authors are in the position of being able to create a nonfiction book idea from their existing content, rather than having to start from scratch.
If you have any of the following platforms, consider repackaging your content in the form of a book:
7 – Update an outdated book idea
Sometimes, in the course of your nonfiction book idea research, you’ll find that successful books on a particular topic contain information that is out of date.
Examples include annual travel guides that haven’t been updated for the current year or study guides that refer to out of date test formats.
Book Idea Validation Methods
So, after choosing a fiction or nonfiction book idea you want to pursue, how do you assess its commercial potential and find competitive advantage opportunities?
Here are four methods to give your fiction or nonfiction book idea the best chance of success after launching.
1 – Assess similar book ideas on Amazon
Before moving forward with any of your book ideas, it’s important to assess similar books on Amazon.
Consider these six factors when considering the competitive picture on Amazon:
- Recency. How recently have books with ideas similar to yours launched? If there haven’t been any new releases in a long time, it might indicate demand for that type of book has died down. On the other hand, if there are a lot of recent launches with a similar focus to your book idea, you need to carefully consider how your book will differentiate itself with so much competition.
- Aesthetics. Do you notice any book cover style trends you need to keep in mind? If a potential reader is browsing Amazon quickly, especially on a smartphone, your cover must be able to convey a similar tone and feel as other similar books.
- Reviews. Checking out book reviews for titles similar to your intended idea is an essential step. For nonfiction books, you can discover what readers value most about similar titles, and discover any content gaps to cover or pitfalls to avoid. For fiction books, you can gauge the elements of the story that delighted or disappointed readers.
- Pricing. What kind of price point are similar books to your intended idea offered at? How will this impact your approach to pricing and the number of copies you need to sell to make a profit?
- Formats. Do books based on similar ideas to yours tend to be offered in multiple formats? If so, are they performing well? Is it worth considering additional formats for your book idea, such as an audiobook edition?
- Metrics. Take a look at the ABSR for books based on a similar idea to yours. The lower the ABSR, the more popular the book. If all the top-performing books have a very low ABSR, it may indicate that the niche is too competitive. If the ABSR is generally too high, it could indicate that there is not much organic demand on Amazon for that type of book. To find a book’s Bestseller rank, simply scroll down until you see the information shown below.
2 – Search the major online course platforms
Take the time to search for ideas related to your book concept on the major online course platforms.
This step has several benefits:
- If you have a nonfiction book idea, you can gauge interest in its topic by checking out the popularity of related courses. You can also use the contents of these courses to find potential topics to include in your book.
- If you have a fiction book idea, there is still value in checking out the course platforms, as they often cover the essential elements of particular genres that your book should include, as well as advice on presentation and marketing.
- You can potentially discover a brand new book topic that is performing well on the course platforms but hasn’t yet been covered by an author.
3 – Check Google for your book idea
It’s always worth carrying out a Google search for any book idea you’re considering writing.
By doing this, you can discover:
- The latest information about the idea your book will focus on.
- If there is realistic scope for a paid book that offers more value than the free information available online.
- Best practice ideas and advice related to the type of book idea you are validating.
4 – Launch a small test concept before a full book
Sometimes, you might want to test your book idea by releasing a smaller or more limited version of its content before going ahead with a full book.
There are ways you can use this approach for both fiction and nonfiction book ideas.
Fiction concept test ideas
- Could you work on a beta version of your book on a relevant writing community or platform, getting feedback and making small changes as you go?
- How about creating a sample chapter and getting honest opinions from fans of that genre?
- Could you test out your ideas in a short story?
- Or could the Kindle Singles platform allow you to validate the appeal of a shorter version of your book idea?
Nonfiction concept test ideas
- Would it be useful to launch a blog to test topics and get feedback on the ideas your full-length book might contain?
- Could you offer guest posts to relevant authors within your book niche to see how your ideas land with their audience?
- Would it be viable to release a concise PDF containing the core concepts of your broader idea before creating the full book?
Ultimately, you’ll know you’ve found a viable book idea when you can answer these four questions:
- Have I decided on writing fiction or nonfiction?
- Have I come up with a book idea that excites me?
- Have I checked if my book is likely to succeed, and do I know what my competitive approach will be?
- Have I considered if a concept test could work ahead of a full book?
Now that you have both a book idea and a path to success, it’s time to take action and make your book a reality.