The Question You Need to Ask Before You Start Writing Your Book

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If you’re thinking of writing a book, you might wonder: Where do I start?

My answer might surprise you. Put down your pen, shut down your laptop, and think about the following question: What is your book about?

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not.

When I put the question to authors at Barlow Books, they often come up with pretty vague answers, or perhaps a long list of points.

When they do, it tells me they can’t answer the question clearly.

That’s when we go to work with our authors to define what they want to write about.

We often pull out the classic way to define what a book is about: What question are you asking? If you look at non-fiction books, most of them pose and answer a single question, so the most important thing at the very beginning of a book project is to decide what that question will be.

Author Norm Bacal, for instance, asked why the law firm that he ran imploded in a very short time. The result was a bestseller, Breakdown: The Inside Story of the Rise and Fall of Heenan Blaikie.

Barlow author Chris Clarke asked how you can have it all — money, love and purpose. Her book, True Family Wealth, answered that question.

In her ground-breaking book, The Boy Who Could Run But Not Walk, neonatologist Dr. Karen Pape asked why children with brain damage are neglected by the system, with the result that they end up with motor difficulties that could have been avoided.

So if you’re starting a book, make sure you know what question you’re asking. And as you write the book, be sure to explore and even answer that question.