Could there ever be a productivity book to top Stephen Covey’s international bestseller – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? It seemed impossible until Timothy Ferriss published The Four-Hour Work Week. Done. Until Dermot Crowley published Smart Work. Productivity might have been done to death, but the global appetite for productivity books never dies. We all want help to squeeze more out of our day, to achieve balance, to work smarter. It’s called an ‘evergreen’ topic.
In short, no topic is ever ‘done’ – there is always more to say and more to write. The most popular topics will certainly have been written about before. That’s great because it tells you that your topic is going to attract a readership, providing you can bring your own new and fresh approach to it.
The secret is on the shelves
To differentiate your topic, hop along to the best bookshop near you and look at the books on the shelf. Check out what is current. In particular, pay attention to the audiences for the current titles. Are there any that have been overlooked?
Read the classic and bestseller on your topic – for example, Covey is the classic on productivity, while Ferriss is the current bestseller. I got this tip from Matt Church, the founder of the Thought Leader Business School, who also suggests a cool approach to reading these two texts. Settle into your reading chair with a notepad to your left, headed with the word AND, and a notepad to your right, headed BUT. Whenever you find a cool idea, think to yourself: is there anything I would add to that idea and write this on your AND notepad. Or, is there anything I disagree with, which goes on your BUT notepad. It’s a powerful way to develop ideas and angles that are your own.
Now you are ready to find your own take. It might be a new audience – ideally a very narrow one. Are their specific ways that naturopaths could become more productive, for example? Do all of Ferris’ and Covey’s ideas work for naturopaths? I’m sure you’ll find you have new ideas to add if you know your audience well.
Look for a gap – an approach to the topic that is rarely addressed. For example, a lot is written about how to be a better leader, but not a lot about how to be an effective ‘follower’. Challenge the whole subject area as Barbara Kellerman did in The End of Leadership, or Corinne Maier’s bestseller: “Bonjour Laziness: Why Hard Work Doesn’t Pay”. Write an update – ideas either go out of date, especially with today’s pace of change, or can be applied to modern situations – Baz Luhrmann’s movie, Romeo and Juliette, springs to mind.
Can you help condense existing ideas into a new, digestible format, or take just part of a topic and deepen and expand it? Can you change the structure or presentation?
All great ideas (and books) stand on the shoulder of those that came before. In fiction, there are classic stories that are told again and again. On the other hand, you are unique. No-one else in the world has your genes, your upbringing and your experience. Bring your uniqueness to your topic and your writing and you will write something new and fresh.
The topics that have been done to death are the evergreen topics that every generation wants to read about – love, work, family, spirituality, money. Nothing is new. Take heart. You may be underestimating the difference you bring. It doesn’t have to be revolutionary to be helpful and to matter a lot to your readership. Commit to your idea, reference previous thinkers and authors, and then share your genius with the world.
PS: Thanks to Wendy, a participant at my recent event, How to Write an Awesome Book that Sells, for the question that sparked this blog.
PPS: Want more. Read ‘Is there an ideal platform for writing your book?‘