12 Ways to use creativity to separate your book project from the competition

Hipster businessman with idea, light bulb above his head, isolated on black backgroundYou’ve determined to dive in and write that monograph or textbook. You know it will be countless hours of work, but it will be worth it. Right?

No one wants to spend time on a “me too” project; going over ground already covered in other books. By spending time up front using creative thinking, you can increase your project’s chance of success.

A writing project likely germinates over time. When it is ready to sprout is the best time to do some creative thinking. First step, come up with some bulleted sentences that define the project as it currently exists in your mind. What is the project about? Who is the intended audience and the intended educational level of the audience? What format would be best (e.g., workbook, monograph, textbook)? How long will the project be?

Now list the top five competitive titles to the book. Every book has competitors; no exceptions. If the competitors don’t readily come to mind, ask colleagues or go on a listserv to see how the current audience learns about your topic. Next, compare your project outline to the competition. Is your idea too close to those books? Are the differences subtle and therefore a challenge to market them?

Here is where creative thinking comes in. Turn your phone off, exit out of social media, get some more caffeine. Use these 12 techniques to potentially reframe your idea to set it off from the competition:

  1. Look at books outside your specialty. Browse online or at a bookstore for unique approaches that books in other areas have used successfully.
  2. Narrow the focus of your book. Make it more defined. Focused many times is better.
  3. Conversely, expand the focus. Consider broadening the topics to pull in a larger audience.
  4. Change the format. Thinking monograph now? How about a workbook instead? Look at other books in a bookstore like Barnes and Noble to see many different formats. Maybe a highly visual book would be best.
  5. Add a co-author or co-editor and change the focus to interdisciplinary, and thereby expand the market.
  6. Keep the book very, very simple. There is a reason why the words idiot and dummy appear in so many titles and that is because that format resonates with most people.
  7. Think of a really, really great title. Titles can make a significant difference, even in academic publishing.  Consider taking a position or being provocative. Part of the reason why books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and How to Win Friends & Influence People are so popular is because of their engaging titles.
  8. Maybe your project should not be a written project. Perhaps a series of videos on YouTube or Vimeo instead?
  9. Step away from what you’ve written so far. Maybe start from scratch. Do not try to reconstruct your efforts but try to reimagine the idea while you rework it.
  10. Maybe talk to the authors or editors of the competitive books!
  11. Sit down with five or so students or the intended readers in a group and explain your project. Ask them what they want and how you might alter the idea.
  12. Finally, get away from your desk and your computer and take a long walk outdoors. “Whoever you are: some evening take a step out of your house, which you know so well. Enormous space is near.” Rainer Maria Rilke.

By using creative thinking, your book or writing project can stand out in your area of specialty. Separating your book from the crowd will likely make the marketing easier for you and your publisher. The more your project can be distinctly defined, the more likely sales will increase and your project will be surfaced through online searches.

The risk to any writing project is obscurity. Make your project a star.


John BondJohn Bond is a publishing consultant at Riverwinds Consulting and the host of the YouTube channel “Publishing Defined.” He has been in scholarly publishing for 30 years. In his career, he has directed the publishing of over 500 book titles and 20,000 journal articles. Contact him at jbond@riverwindsconsulting.com.

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