Nonfiction books are about ideas. If you’re considering writing a book, you must make sure your idea has four key qualities: it must be simple, big, new, and right.
Let’s look at a popular recent book, Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear, and show how it satisfies all four qualities.
Book ideas are simple
You should be able to explain the idea in a single sentence. For example, the idea behind Atomic Habits is that changing habits requires a system.
To make your idea simpler, talk to people about what you believe. If they are confused, simplify the way you describe it. Simple ideas stick; complex ideas are much harder to sell.
Book ideas are big
No one can write a whole book about a small idea. A big idea is one that has a powerful and broad impact on the people in the target audience. You can have a big idea for a niche audience (for example, Empowered by Marty Cagan is for product developers), but a big idea must make a big change in how they think. The big idea in Atomic Habits is that changing your habits is fundamental to all self-improvement.
To make your idea bigger, think about consequences. The more aspects of someone’s experience that the idea impacts, the bigger it seems.
Book ideas are new
There’s no point in writing about an idea everyone already knows about. You either need a new idea, or a new spin on an existing idea. Atomic Habits isn’t the first book about changing habits, but it’s the first one with a full set of tactics dedicated solely to habit change.
An author must constantly be on the lookout for competing ideas, to make sure their spin on the idea is new. For tips on how to differentiate your book, see this.
Book ideas are right
We’re talking nonfiction here. That means you need evidence that your idea works. You need statistics, case studies, and corroborating evidence. You may not be able to prove your idea is right, but you need to at least be convincing. Atomic Habits is full of evidence and case studies that make it hard to refute.
If you believe you’re right, you need to constantly test your idea and find evidence to prove it. Poorly supported ideas won’t hold up, and in the end, won’t sell.
People you trust can help improve your idea
It’s very hard to create a great book without getting feedback from people you trust.
They can help you refine the idea, to make it simpler.
They can help you to explore the consequences of the idea, to make it bigger.
They can help you find ways to differentiate the idea, to make it seem newer.
And they can suggest evidence and stories that convince people the idea is right.
Don’t stop with your first take on an idea. Develop it until it’s got the qualities it needs to be book-worthy.
(This treatment is taken from Chapter 3 of Build a Better Business Book).