How to Come Up With a Book Idea: 16 Tips [And Why You Needn’t Worry]

Are you facing the challenge of coming up with a captivating book idea? You're not alone – many aspiring authors grapple with finding that perfect concept to kickstart their literary journey.

The struggle to generate a unique and engaging idea can feel overwhelming, leading to frustration and writer's block. 

And it doesn’t help when other authors say “ideas are everywhere, you just have to recognize them when you see them.”

Not helpful.

So in this article, I’m going to walk you through every tip I know of to find valuable and high-quality ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. What makes a good book idea
  2. Where to find good book ideas
  3. Why ideas might be slightly overrated

Let’s dive in and begin your ideation journey….ideation journey? Is that a thing?

What Makes a Good Book Idea?

A good book idea is one that sparks curiosity, ignites your own emotions, and resonates with your target audience. It should be original, thought-provoking, and engaging, offering a fresh perspective or tackling an unexplored topic. 

That doesn’t mean that it has to be wholly original. While originality is an asset, a good book idea doesn't have to be completely groundbreaking. Sometimes, it's about putting a unique spin on a familiar theme or exploring a well-trodden topic from a fresh angle. 

The key is to bring your voice, experiences, and insights to the table, which can make even a well-known subject feel new and engaging to your readers.

Fiction vs Nonfiction Ideas

You may be wondering about how your approach might differ depending on whether you want to write a fiction or nonfiction book.

For fiction, the focus is often on building an immersive world, crafting memorable characters, and weaving an engaging narrative. Your imagination is the primary driving force, allowing you to create entire universes, explore different time periods, or delve into fantastical realms.

Generally speaking, inspiration can come from anywhere, but is rooted in your own personal emotions and desires. What kind of fiction experience do you want to write? What lights you up inside?

For nonfiction, book ideas revolve around sharing knowledge, providing insights, or telling true stories. The goal is to educate, inform, or inspire the reader. In nonfiction, the writer needs to be well-versed in the subject matter, able to research effectively, and present complex ideas in an engaging and accessible manner. 

That means that, generally speaking, writing a nonfiction book comes more out of what you know. What are you an expert in? Or, what would you like to become an expert at? Like in fiction, emotions and desires still play a part, but your own skills are more likely to drive your book ideas.

But let’s say you still want to write a book, but you have absolutely no idea where to start. Then read on, because the following tips will almost certainly get you there if you’re stuck.

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16 Ways to Generate Amazing Book Ideas

There are a LOT of different places where you can get your ideas, but sometimes having too much input results in an author who doesn't know what to do with what they have.

So I’ve broken down all the different ways that you can get ideas into the following tips.

I recommend picking one or two of these options that resonate with you. Then explore those options until you either come up with a good idea, or you find it doesn’t work for you and you try a new one.

1. Try Writing Prompts

Writing prompts can be a fantastic way to generate book ideas. These prompts act as creative catalysts, nudging your mind to explore new territories and develop unique narratives. 

They can be anything from a single word or phrase to a complex scenario. 

When using writing prompts, let your imagination run wild, and don't be afraid to take risks. The more you practice, the more you'll train your brain to think creatively and uncover hidden gems of inspiration.

With that in mind, we have actually put together a comprehensive list of possible writing prompts that you can use to get your brain spinning. These include the following:

Even if you don’t end up using these prompts, they can easily be a great way to get your brain thinking about writing, which can lead to a flow state, which can lead to better ideas.

2. Read the News

The news is a treasure trove of stories waiting to be told. From global events to local happenings, the news can provide you with an abundance of ideas for both fiction and nonfiction books. 

Look for intriguing headlines, human interest stories, or unsolved mysteries. Use the news as a starting point, and then dig deeper to uncover the hidden layers and perspectives that can form the basis of a captivating book.

And look in the corners of your local news, as sometimes that’s where you can find the truly weird and quirky stories that can give you ideas. Scanning through police reports and other public documents like that can also be a great source of ideas.

3. Ask Yourself What You Like

Writing should be fun. You should write about what you’re interested in, or writing will be miserable. Therefore, your interests and passions are a goldmine for book ideas. 

Ask yourself what topics or genres excite you, and consider how you can create a book that you would enjoy reading. 

By tapping into your own interests, you'll be more motivated and invested in the writing process, increasing the chances of crafting a book that resonates with readers who share your passions.

You’ll also enjoy the journey more.

4. Walk Through the Different Elements of Fiction

There are multiple elements of fiction that you can pick apart. They include, but are not limited to: 

By examining each element individually, you can brainstorm unique combinations and permutations that can lead to a compelling book idea. 

Play with different character archetypes, settings, and narrative structures. As you experiment with these elements, you may discover the perfect blend that captures your imagination and sets the stage for a captivating novel or short story.

5. Be Bored

Boredom is a good thing. Embrace boredom and let your mind wander. 

Research shows that boredom can stimulate creativity, as it allows your brain to make unexpected connections and generate novel ideas. 

During moments of idleness, your subconscious can work on problems or concepts that have been lingering in your thoughts, potentially leading to an inspired book idea.

Personally, some of my best ideas have come when I’m in a quiet space without my phone, or while out on a walk. 

In fact, I would intentionally schedule some boredom time. This means putting aside your phone and ALL other electronics. Then simply let yourself exist and your mind to wander. You might be surprised what comes up.

6. Start With What You Know

I usually hate the saying, “write what you know,” because I’m a fantasy author and none of what I write is real. However, the phrase “start with what you know” is slightly different. 

You personal experience is often a great place to start, because doing so gives authenticity to your writing.

Draw from your personal experiences, knowledge, and expertise when brainstorming book ideas. Your life experiences, whether extraordinary or mundane, can provide the foundation for a captivating narrative or an informative nonfiction piece.

7. Write Something for Family/Friends

Consider writing a book tailored to the interests or needs of your loved ones. For example, while my dad has never published a book, when I was younger he would make up stories that were specifically designed for my education and growth. He would tell me science fiction stories that were grounded in real astronomy, or invented scientist characters to teach me about certain scientific principles.

(I actually owe my dad a lot for my own personal love of storytelling. But that’s another story for another time.)

The point is that the people you know have unique needs, and those needs can easily spark an idea in you.

By focusing on a specific person or audience, you can craft a story or nonfiction work that has personal significance and emotional resonance.

8. Travel

I like travel more than almost any other option on this list, not just because it is fun, but because nothing helps me think outside the box more than being exposed to ways of life that I had never before considered.

Travel can broaden your horizons and expose you to new cultures, experiences, and perspectives. As you explore different places, observe the people, customs, and environments that you encounter. 

These experiences can provide a rich tapestry of inspiration for both fiction and nonfiction works, allowing you to craft vivid settings, dynamic characters, and engaging narratives.

9. People Watch

Observing people in their natural habitats can be a fascinating source of inspiration. As you people watch, take note of unique behaviors, mannerisms, or interactions that catch your attention. 

These observations can serve as the seeds for intriguing characters, storylines, or themes that can be woven into a compelling book.

10. Scrabble

Playing word games like Scrabble or Bananagrams (a favorite of my wife and I) can help you uncover interesting combinations of words or concepts that could spark a book idea. 

As you manipulate the tiles, allow your mind to make connections between seemingly unrelated words.

And while I do encourage these word games as a source of inspiration, my point is more broad than that. Simply bringing unrelated words or images together can be a great source of ideas.

You can even find a random word generator online and simply put them together and see what kind of connections you could make between two unrelated words/topics. 

It’s a great way to spark and exercise creativity.

11. Consult Trivia Resources

Delving into trivia resources can be a treasure trove of inspiration for story ideas. By perusing trivia books, websites, and quizzes, you can uncover fascinating facts, historical events, or obscure details that can spark the beginning of an intriguing narrative. 

I rather enjoy watching Jeopardy for this reason. It gives me access to knowledge I hadn’t know before, which can work wonders when brainstorming new ideas.

These newfound nuggets of knowledge can serve as the foundation for a compelling plot or unique character, infusing your story with depth and originality.

12. Write Down Your Dreams

Dreams are a gateway to the boundless, surreal realm of the subconscious mind. Jotting down your dreams upon waking can lead to a wealth of story ideas, as you capture the essence of your mind's nocturnal wanderings. 

The bizarre landscapes, unexpected scenarios, and peculiar characters that populate your dreams can be the starting point for an immersive, fantastical tale that captures the imagination of your readers.

Start by writing down your dreams every morning. This not only gives you story ideas, but it’s actually good for your memory. If you write down your dreams immediately upon waking, you will soon find that you remember your dreams much more clearly in the future.

13. Try AI

Artificial intelligence has come a long way in recent years, with language models like GPT-4 offering creative assistance to writers. It’s still a little rusty when it comes to the actual writing, but AI is phenomenal at brainstorming.

Utilizing AI-based tools, you can generate a plethora of story ideas or even entire plotlines, simply by inputting a few keywords or phrases. 

I personally use ChatGPT for this, though other tools like Sudowrite are also great for brainstorming, and I’m already at the point where I can’t remember what it was like to brainstorm without it. Needless to say, my brain hurts a lot less now.

14. Free Write

Free writing is a technique where you write without inhibition or concern for grammar, structure, or coherence. By allowing your thoughts to flow freely, you can tap into your unconscious and discover unexpected story ideas. 

I personally recommend freewriting by hand, but that’s not 100% necessary. I just find that writing by hand activates more parts of my brain and really gets the juices flowing.

The process of free writing can help you break through writer's block and uncover hidden gems within your own mind, which can then be refined and developed into a captivating tale.

15. Retell a Classic

Reimagining a classic or public domain story can provide an opportunity to bring new life to a timeless tale. 

By taking a well-known narrative and infusing it with your own perspective, you can create a unique adaptation that retains the essence of the original while adding fresh twists and character development. 

This is basically the crux of my entire career, as most of the books I have written or plan to write are (at least loosely) based on an existing public domain property. 

You can adapt a classic story into a different genre (such as the modern day, or a sci-fi/fantasy story), or you could try alternative versions of the same story, or stories that could have existed alongside the original classic but were never told.

16. Explore Keywords and Categories

Keywords and categories are essential tools to show up on Amazon and help the algorithms find you.

But did you know that researching keywords and categories before you start writing is also beneficial?

In fact, if you are a nonfiction writer, this is almost a required step. 

I recommend researching keywords that people are searching for, because that will almost certainly spark ideas by showing you needs that are not being met.

Additionally, by finding high-demand/low-competition categories, you have the option of reaching a hungry audience with a new idea that you might not have thought of otherwise.

The best way to do this research is with Publisher Rocket, the all-in-one tool for researching keywords, categories, and more.

Rocket has a wealth of data, all of which can help you brainstorm what your book should or shouldn’t be about.

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Don’t Stress About Ideas

A lot of authors get stressed about finding the “perfect idea”. While ideas are certainly important, and a lack of ideas definitely is one source of writers block, in this next section I’m putting an argument out there that ideas…might be a bit overrated.

With countless aspiring authors tirelessly searching for that perfect idea to catapult them to stardom, it's easy to lose sight of what really matters – honing one's writing skills. 

Case Study: The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher

In fact, the story behind the creation of the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher is a perfect example of how an accomplished author can take seemingly unrelated or even bizarre ideas and weave them into a compelling tale.

The Codex Alera series originated from a bet made in a workshop that Jim Butcher attended when he was still a junior writer and not the famous fantasy author that he is today. 

Participants were discussing whether a great concept was more important than a skilled writer. 

Butcher firmly believed that a talented author could transform any idea, no matter how outlandish, into a captivating story. He was so confident in his position that he accepted a challenge to write a story based on two randomly selected concepts: the Lost Roman Legion and Pokémon. 

The result? A highly successful and widely acclaimed fantasy series.

Execution > Ideas

This anecdote serves as a powerful reminder to authors that obsessing over finding the perfect story idea can be counterproductive. 

Ideas, while important, can sometimes be overrated. What truly sets a story apart is the skill and creativity of the writer who breathes life into those ideas. 

The best authors are those who can take any concept – even one as seemingly absurd as combining the Lost Roman Legion with Pokemon – and make it shine.

Instead of stressing over discovering the ultimate idea, focus on refining your writing skills, developing unique characters, and building immersive worlds. Embrace the challenge of turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. 

Remember, it's not the idea that defines the story, but the author's ability to transform it into a literary masterpiece. So, take a deep breath, trust your instincts, and let your talent guide you in crafting unforgettable stories, regardless of the ideas you start with.

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