How To Come Up With Nonfiction Book Ideas That Sell

by Bennett R. Coles

How to Come Up With Great Book Ideas For Business Owners

Learning how to come up with a book idea that truly moves the needle is critical for nonfiction authors. In fact, all successful nonfiction books are based on great ideas that deeply resonate with their readers.

So, now that you’re thinking about writing your own book, naturally the first thing on your to-do list is to come up with a great idea. You begin to do online research to find out how to generate great ideas for your book, and you find posts with titles like these:

  • XXX Great Ideas For Nonfiction Books”
  • How to Find/Pick/Choose/Develop The Perfect Idea For Your Book”
  • Where to Get Good Book Ideas”
  • XXX Ways to Find The Best Book Ideas”
  • The XXX Best Sources For Great Book Ideas”

Let me save you some valuable time: Aside from the often-overwhelming number of choices they offer (I’ve seen some posts where the “XXXs” go into the hundreds), there’s a very good chance they’re going about finding great book ideas the wrong way.

In this article I’m going to demystify the search for your great book idea and I’ll provide you with an approach that actually works, especially for entrepreneurial authors.

I know I’m sounding a bit presumptuous here, but as you read on you’ll realize not only why this approach works so well where others fail, but you’ll also learn the “secret sauce” behind the success of so many blockbuster nonfiction books on the market.

How to Come Up With a Book Idea

Before we can go into specific strategies, we first need to explore what makes a “Good” idea for a book.

To do that, we’re going to use first principles. Let’s start with a question: Who judges what makes a good idea for a book?

As an entrepreneurial author, you’re excellent at problem solving – it’s in your DNA. You’ve found your success in business by coming up with solutions to specific problems in your field of expertise.

With so much experience delivering results and so many happy customers, you might think: “My solution produces great results for my clients, so it’s definitely a great idea for a book.”

Well, I can tell you that your idea will have at best a 50/50 chance of making it as a book. In other words, it’s as good as a coin toss.

Now, how can I say that given that I don’t even know what you do for a living? After all, you really know your stuff and you know you’re well qualified to judge your solution as a good idea.

The problem is that you’ll never be the true judge of your idea, no matter how great your solution may work for your clients.

When it comes to nonfiction books, there’s a well-documented history of mediocre solutions that went on to sell millions of books while great solutions turned in lackluster book sales.

The reason is that there’s only one judge and jury of what makes a great book idea – the reader. And even though this statement sounds simplistic at face value, in reality, it’s quite profound.

What Makes a Good Book Idea?

Good Book Ideas

In order for a reader to judge your book idea as great, the solution that you provide can’t just solve a problem that you think, or even deeply know, your reader has. Clearly, in your view, your reader truly needs your solution – you just know it, and years of experience are telling you so.

But being of service to your clients is a very different thing from convincing strangers reading your book that your solution is what they need.

For your book to be judged as a great idea in the eyes of your readers, you can’t just solve a problem you know they have, you have to solve a problem that is deeply painful to them.

The deeper the pain they feel, the greater your book idea will be perceived. If you’re solving a problem that is a little painful (say, a 2 or 3 in a scale from 1-10), your idea will be perceived as just okay. If their pain is only at level 1, then your idea won’t resonate with them at all and it’ll be judged to be mediocre at best.

(Incidentally, this judgement doesn’t in any way reflect on your skills or on your ability to come up with a great solution that delivers real results. It simply reflects the fact that your solution has little or no resonance with the pain level your target readers are experiencing.)

However, if their pain is at level 9 or 10 and your solution addresses that pain head on, then you have a winner.

And here is the clincher: it’ll take you exactly the same amount of effort to write a book that addresses a pain level of 9 or 10 as it’ll take you to write a book that addresses a pain level of 1.

In Short:

  • The judgment of what makes a great book idea is always, without exception, in the eyes of your target audience.
  • How “great” your book idea will be perceived to be is directly proportional to the level of pain that your target audience is experiencing, which your idea will make go away.

How Do You Come Up With Original Book Ideas?

This brings us to the most important part of how to identify a great book idea:

Before you can find out what constitutes a high pain level for your audience, you need to understand very clearly who your true audience actually is. In other words, you have to first develop a deep understanding of your market niche.

If you’re like most entrepreneurial authors, you’re likely writing your book because you want to take your business to the next level.

This is typically motivated by a revenue ceiling or plateau you want to break through, and you know instinctively that keeping doing what you’ve been doing for years isn’t going to achieve that goal.

You want to scale your outreach beyond your current level, and want to use your book to open new markets and new doors. So the question now is, how do you grow beyond your current audience?

The answer: By niching down.

What Techniques Do You Follow In Generating Book Ideas?

If you’re providing a business service that is broadly available in the marketplace, then it could be that your target market is too large and too competitive to expand with your current resources – hence the ceiling or plateau.

For your book to successfully scale into new markets, you’ll need to niche down and find a sub-niche that is under served by other entrepreneurial authors.

If you’re publishing a book in a sub-niche and your competitors aren’t, then you’ll be the one perceived as an expert in the eyes of your target, sub-niche market.

Now the million-dollar question is: How do you find a sub-niche where you can shine? Simple. By looking for a cohort within your current niche that has a problem that registers at a pain level of 9 or 10 which you can easily solve.

The challenge with going after your full niche with your book, is that once you find what the #1 most painful problem is, it’ll be shared so broadly that the competition will be fierce – as an example, look at the overcrowded psychology and nutrition industries. Trying to stand out will be very difficult. You’ll likely be outgunned, outspent and outmaneuvered by authors with much deeper pockets than yours.

Why try to be a small fish in a big pond when there are so many under-served small ponds where you’ll instantly become the big fish?

Leveraging Your Great Book Idea

Even better yet, and this goes to the heart of scaling your business with the help of a book: if you identify an under-served sub-niche and then find their most painful problem and address it with your solution, you can then identify a different sub-niche later on and address their most painful problem with yet another book – this is what I call growing your audience “horizontally.”

In addition, you can grow your audience “vertically” by writing additional books within the same sub-niche (where you now have a following!) and solve another high-pain problem they suffer from, or even address the same problem, but from a different angle.

What may happen over time if you follow these strategies, is that you’ll begin to be recognized in a number of sub-niches and all of a sudden you’ll be able to start competing “up niche” with the giants in your space.

Time to Take Your Great Book Idea For a Test Drive

Now that you’ve honed into your sub-niche, it’s time to get to know these people (or businesses) deeply so that you can understand what their most painful problems are. Although online searches may shed some light into this matter, a better approach is to interview as many people in your sub-niche as possible.

Remember that it’s not what you think their biggest problem is that really matters; it’s what they think it is. It’s only when you unearth this information that you can begin crafting the main idea for your book by tailoring your solution to address that problem.

And when you do, you’ll have finally arrived at your great book idea!

All you have to do now is to come up with a great title to match and you’re off to the races. To help you develop the perfect title for your book, you’re welcome to read my article entitled How to Come Up with a Killer Title for Your Nonfiction Book.

Next Steps

Now you know why brainstorming ideas or reading the “XXX” greatest ideas for nonfiction books doesn’t work, because a great book idea isn’t about the idea itself but about solving the most painful problem in your sub-niche.

That’s the “secret sauce” that you won’t likely find in the posts you’ll encounter in an online search for “book ideas,” because they’re focusing on the outcome and not the root cause.

Once you’ve identified your great book idea by following the above steps and you’ve come up with a great title that captures it, you’re ready to begin writing your book. To save you some time, I’ve created a follow-up article that details the steps you need to navigate in order to create your nonfiction book in the least amount of time. It’s entitled How to Write a Compelling Book in 12 Steps: A Must-Read Guide for Nonfiction Authors and it’ll walk you through all the stages necessary to turn your great idea into a great book.

Best of success with your book project!

If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.


Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to generate additional leads for their businesses.

Here are some related articles I highly recommend:

How to Grow Your Business Writing a Nonfiction Book

How to Use a Mind Map to Create a Great Book for Your Business

How to Come Up With Killer Book Titles for Your Nonfiction Book

10 Nonfiction Book Layout Tips That Will Glue Your Audience to the Page

How to Write a Compelling Book Introduction That Will Move the Needle

Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.

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