I can tell if your book idea is any good in 5 minutes

People contact me all the time for help with books. I usually take the time to talk with them and help if I can. I’ve become very efficient: in five minutes, I can typically tell whether to take the book idea seriously or not.

I look for three things:

  1. The author talks about a group of people with a problem, and a solution to the problem. It could be startup founders who need to raise money, marketers who need to measure results, or managers who need to get along with difficult colleagues. If there’s a problem and they can solve it, great. If there is no clear group of people with a problem, or there’s no solution offered to that problem, it’s not really a book.
  2. The solution is not obvious. At Forrester, my mentor Bill Bluestein used to talk about “meaningless platitudes” — statements that are true, but so obvious they don’t teach anyone anything. You know, like “Hire smart people,” or “Be more confident.” If your book idea is based on a platitude, I’m bored, and the reader will be, too. If it is based on a counterintuitive insight or a new way of thinking about the problem, then I’m interested.
  3. The author’s experience is credible. If you’re going to advise startup founders after having started one company, I’m unimpressed. If you’re doing so after funding 40 startups, then I will believe you might know things others have missed. It’s not enough that you know and can share new ideas. You need some basis — research, experience, or interviews, for example — for making the claim that your insights are true.

Unless the author and their idea have all three of these qualities, it’s not a book. If all three qualities are present, it is a book, at least potentially.

Other weaknesses I can fix

Books with all three of these qualities can still fail. But they are fixable. Either I or another editor can help you.

If the idea is too fuzzy, we can can develop it further.

If the audience is too narrow, we can expand it. If it is too broad, we can refocus it.

If your narrative about your idea is all over the map, we can untangle it.

If you lack case studies, you can do research to find some.

If your writing is flabby and uninteresting, I can edit it.

Assuming you are solving a problem with a credible solution based on solid data, all the other problems are solvable. I can keep talking with you, and perhaps you should hire me to help.

If not, hiring me would be a waste of time — and you probably shouldn’t write a book.

Five minutes and I can tell.

Too harsh? Or the voice of experience? You tell me.

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