October 22, 2019

Building Books with Big Enough Ideas (Writing Tips)

Small ideas often cannot fill the big shoes of a publisher's title

Small ideas often cannot fill the big shoes of a publisher’s title

Are your ideas big enough for a book? Or, are they more chapter size? Or, a three-volume set size? Ideas need to fit their container without too much stretching or crimping.

I’m a big fan of Oprah’s O Magazine. Its number of pages has grown and shrunk over the past two years.

The March 2012 issue has a helpful series of articles on clutterers and what needs to change in the clutterer’s life in order to reduce the mess.

I have a combo problem.

First, I am a “Knowledge” clutterer. For this problem–big stacks of books and manuscripts on the night stand–the deeper problem is an improper belief, namely, that owning the books somehow means I own the knowledge. The solution? (1) Get digital books whenever possible, (2) keep only the last three issues of any magazine, and (3) keep clear limits on where and how many books are kept on the night stand.

Second–and here is my real problem–I hide messes behind closet doors and chairs and other places that will hold back a landslide. According to the chart, the deeper problem is that I “live in some flawless future rather than the present.” Or, as the chart reports: “Perfectionists, control freaks, harried working moms, anyone who’s time-starved and overbooked; perfectionists.”

All the types–including the feature of expergating Gayle King’s closet and the sidebar about the woman who declutters too much–all these and their fabulous photos run from pages 140-157 or only 9 percent of this monthly issue.

Could these ideas be the basis of a book? Yes. Perhaps each over-clutter-type could be its own chapter. Interviews of several such persons could be recorded and shared. A list of mediate causes and solutions given. And so on.

Consider all the sub-types and illustrative interviews; all the luscious photography in magazines that rarely carries over to books; all the considerations and recommendations–even with all these elements, the set of ideas would be stretched too tightly over the large container of a book.

Writing Tip: How can an author tell early on? What I recommend isn’t effortless, but it will tell as soon as possible whether you need to contact an agent or Oprah’s O.

First, write a narrative outline–a list of chapters each with a paragraph stating what will go into each chapter–can be telling. A book’s chapter often runs between 4,000 and 5,000 words. Multiply this by your number of chapters; you will want a minimum of 40,000 words for a nonfiction, how-to-type book.

Second, hot write the chapter about which you know the most. Make up examples based on your friends’ lives. Or gush about your own life. How easy or difficult is it to get enough material to stretch to 4,000 words? Now look at the chapters in your outline. How many also seem easy to write? How many look like pure drudgery?

What I call the passion test is the most decisive. Everything else is observation and research. So if your idea’s footprint fits snugly into a typical book-size shoe, then finish your nonfiction book proposal!

Photo is #3022364 from 123rf.com

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