Where Do Books Come From?

How books are conceived and then get to the reader (in case you were wondering).

Storks, these days, are charged not only with the delivery of babies, but also with the birth of new book ideas. The circumstances that result in the delivery are well known: you just need to be at the right place at the right time and make sure the stork you approach is the right one.

As the author of eight business books and some fifteen books to date you’d think I’d have a glib answer to the question of where books come from (the intro para doesn’t count) but the truth is I don’t or at least, it’s not glib. Every book is a process that takes into account what I, the author, would like to do next, what my readers are reading and what the publishers want to see.

If that sounds to you a little like a very modern menage-a-trois that keeps us guessing on paternity, you’re right and there is even a midwife in the picture in the form of my agent. Now, the innocent among you may think that publishers know what the public is reading but that’s not entirely true. Publishers know what the public is spending money to buy to read, which is a somewhat different proposition.

Their sales sheets and focus groups provide them with a picture of what is selling and what isn’t but when it comes to what might sell they’re usually in the dark and the sales data they have is already indicative of trends past, rather than future reading tastes and needs. So, it’s the author who is usually left to get down on the ground and come up with an idea that successfully links up current reading trends to future ones.

When Google Semantic Search was born, for instance, semantic search wasn’t even a thing and books that sold on search and search engine optimization (back then) were decidedly different in content. It was my deep engagement in industry forums and the direction of the conversations, coupled with my awareness of search engine research that convinced me I was on the right track and I then had to work hard to convince my publisher. The book was a runaway success even before publication so, their trust in me was justified.

That doesn’t make the next book any easier to sell to a publisher unless it’s exactly the same, which totally defeats the point. The update to SEO Help a book that first appeared in 2010 required a complete rewrite to bring it into the semantic search age and in the process I took into account practical questions that were being asked of me at workshops and conventions. It was this “proof of concept” that made the greenlight possible, and again the concept proved both timely and right.

“There’s an article you’ve written that would make a great book,”

Authors, of course, don’t know everything. “There’s an article you’ve written that would make a great book,” was the opening gambit by my agent in a recent conversation. I was dubious. Articles don’t always translate well into books. Sometimes the material required to go the distance simply isn’t there, which is why they are articles in the first place. “Three quarters of a million readers on it, that’s great proof of concept” she added. Understandably I hesitated, “I have a publisher waiting already,” was the clincher.

In proposed books it helps when you’re not the only one rooting for your idea. Here, two thirds of the equation had already come together. The holdout, perversely, was me, the author.

I went away, thought about it, did my research and there was actually more to it than met the eye. So now I am deep in the writing of a new business book. In the meantime market trends and reader likes coexist in continuously rising and falling analytics Bell curves of mutual, developing needs, fads and market shifts. By the time I come out of my self-imposed silo of writing the world around me, perversely will have subtly changed. It’ll be my job, again, to divine what the change is and come up with a new book idea. My mind’s eye, firmly fixed upon that approaching stork.

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