Choosing a Subject on which to Write

Every individual has his or her own interests. Many of us not only become practiced in these interests, but knowledgeable in them as well. If you wish to share your interests by writing about them, you must have an in-depth knowledgebase about your subject. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, let’s pick a topic—literature. Well, naturally, this is too broad and generic, so we should pick a genre—let’s go with fiction. Still, this is too large a subject to write about. Let’s pick a specific time period—the late eighteenth century, and a specific geographical location—Britain. Let’s also narrow it down a little more and talk about only novels. Well, there were many types of novels written in this period, but the most popular was the Gothic novel, so let’s focus on it, and let’s give some flexible dates to the period—1765 through 1805, which covers most of the time span for the classic Gothic novel. This is a topic of great interest to me, but not to everyone, and not really to anyone outside academic scholars in the field, or English majors who have a thorough background in British lit. Therefore, writing a book on this subject, on which so many books and articles have been written, will probably not get me a wide readership or many sales.

So, this is the major lesson here—if you’re going to write about something of interest to you, that you’re well versed in, and can do the research necessary for writing a saleable book, you first need to find out the details of your book’s competition and target audience. Try to get as specific as possible but do not write yourself into a corner and be so specific that you miss out on a wider group of potential readers.

It’s essential that you do the market research: Do it first and do it right! Find your target audience, your interested readers; your readers who may have had similar experiences if you’re going to pen a memoir, for example, on which you can share your own experience and lessons learned. The key here is to ask yourself the following questions:

• Is there a market for my book? If so, how big or small is it?
• If it’s small, are there too many other books out there like mine already flooding the market?
• If it’s a large enough audience, how do I tap into and cultivate it? What are the available marketing channels to achieve that objective? How do I gain access to them and promote myself, my book, and my unique take on the subject before I’ve started getting too far into writing?

What’s fundamental is that you use social media and the Internet as a field upon which you brand yourself as an author, either as a new voice in fiction or an emerging scholar in your field. Command the landscape on which individuals interested in your subject or your writing style tread.

But before you begin to establish your author presence you have to find out who your competition is—authors and titles—and investigate, investigate, investigate! Buy some of the newest titles and read them through. If you’re writing a work of nonfiction, say a book on World War II battles in the Pacific, then search out titles that have a focus on the Pacific geography of the war and assess their value for you in terms of what your thesis will be. Do you want to refute a prior book’s argument, or support and further expand on it with new information?

What’s important here is that once you’ve done the preliminary research into your competition you should begin to question your proposed thesis and see whether it will be just another needle in the haystack, or if you can revise it so as to add something new to the plethora of books out there on the subject. If you can salvage your thesis, then go for it—if you’re writing nonfiction then do the research: search the Internet, find blogs that are relevant and other forums online, go to the library (yes, they still exist and there are some good ones out there, you just have to find them) and do detailed research by locating and reading through as many published books on the subject that you can find. Once you’ve put together a notebook or two of notes that you’ve gleaned from your research, you can start outlining the book piece-by-piece, chapter-by-chapter, and start writing.

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