One of the greatest challenges for writers is to come up with a unique book idea. If Ecclesiastes 1:9 is true (and it is!), then there is nothing new under the sun—but then where does that leave us for a book that isn’t like others?
Have you ever noticed that the word, unique, starts with you? I don’t mean “you” with the proper spelling. But u! Where I’m from that equates to shorthand for you or y’all!
In reality, we need to think of ourselves as having the creativity to come up with an idea that makes editors at publishing companies go, “Wow, I haven’t seen anything like this before and I love it!”
As a literary agent, I most often tell writers to work hard on the uniqueness of their idea. And I know it can create a blank stare or a long pause if I’m sharing that suggestion verbally. It’s as if they are staring back with a look that says, “How am I supposed to do that?” And to that I say, “Be creative. Use your innovative mind to think about where there is a hole in the market and try to fill it.”
To begin with, this takes proper research. You need to go into an actual bookstore and look at many of the books in your category or genre. And read some of them to get a feel for the way authors present their material. Another way to research is to go to Amazon.com or ChristianBook.com and enter key words to try to find books on the same subject. I like going to both websites because they will pull up different searches. Both bring up helpful titles and formats of books that you can check out. You can look up devotionals, Christian fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, and more.
I’ve seen writers skip this step entirely, thinking that when they find books that compare to theirs, publishers won’t want to offer a contract based on their idea. But it’s the exact opposite. As agents, we know there are already books on topics that are similar to most of the proposals we review. We need you to show us how your book is different from previously published books. And not showing any comparative books reveals to us that you haven’t done thorough research.
So, it’s okay, and even helpful, to show that readers of a particular author/book are the target market for your book. But then show how you are putting your creative foot forward to make your idea stand out for the audience that will resonate with your book.
After all, you are in touch with your readers, and no one has the exact duplication of an audience that you have. You are what makes your readers want to tune into what you are writing. Make sure you’re capitalizing on that as you write your book and as you come up with marketing plans that will resonate with readers.
Now, for the real zinger. Don’t just assume that because you’re writing the book it will be unique because it’s your story. That’s not necessarily true. Many people writing books are all writing from their own personal experience. And chances are, a good number of people writing books will have had an experience that’s similar to what you’ve gone through, and they’ll be writing from that perspective.
So, what we need for non-fiction is to see your hook, your approach to the topic, and the angle you are taking in your book. The topic may not be new, but your approach will be fresh.
For fiction, even if you’re writing a story that is based on a family member or that’s a real story you know about, it still needs to have a storyline that is unique and not like other storylines out there. Think about the value of the story, since fiction is for those who want a great story and an entertaining read.
Sometimes when writers write fiction based on a personal story that happened to their family or in their geographic area, they’re so focused on telling the story just as it happened that they won’t give themselves any creative license to be imaginative. And then the writing feels stifled, because it can get stuck in the actual events of the person’s family member or town that the story is based on.
So, when researching for your novel, make sure that you bring in a unique twist, an unusual plot, or unexpected twists and turns that keep the reader coming back for more. If the writing sounds like a predictable storyline that others have written, or if the book feels like many others telling the same type of story, then your reader isn’t going to stick with you. And that’s a problem.
Your experience, your heart and passion, and your ability to write on an idea sparked by your credentials or research is important. Don’t underestimate what you bring to the writing process. After all, you are showing up on the pages and the characters you created are coming alive.
But make sure that it’s unique enough so those of us reading your work can say, “I haven’t seen this approach before. This would stand out because _________.”
If we cannot name how the book would stand out, then it probably won’t make it very far in the consideration process with publishers. A sellable idea that sticks out as something quite special and new is one of the more challenging aspects of writing, but certainly not an impossible task when it comes to publishing.
Be you and be you-nique, and you’ll find an audience that will be captivated by your words!
About Blythe Daniel
Blythe Daniel is a literary agent, author, and marketer. Her agency markets books and represents non-fiction and fiction. Blythe was the publicity director and marketing director for Harper Collins Christian Publishing and a literary agent for 18 years. Blythe co-authored Mended: Restoring the Hearts of Mothers and Daughters and I Love You Mom: Cherished Word Gifts from My Heart to Yours with her mom. Blythe and her daughter co-authored Let’s Be Friends: A Tween Devotional on Finding and Keeping Strong Friendships.