In this episode Dr. Lauria addresses 3 different stumbling blocks authors run into in picking their topics: Deciding between too many ideas, Coming up with an idea when you are kind of blank, and Knowing what to do when you have an idea but you just aren’t sure if it’s good enough. Using Martha Beck’s 4 stages of change, Dr. Lauria helps you identify where you are on your book journey and how to pick the topic that’s right for you.
In this episode you will learn:
- Martha Beck’s cycle of metamorphisis and how to identify where you are in it
- How to let your topic pick you
- Easy ways to test your topic
- When to stick with the discomfort of not know and when to choose to take action even if you aren’t sure.
- How to defy the laws of the time/space continuum, connect with your book – already written – and find out what you wrote about!
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Full Episode Transcript:
You’re listening to page up with Dr. Angela Lauria Episode 12. Choosing a topic, you’re welcome to page up a podcast for authors and transformation, featuring advice on the basic fundamentals of selecting a book topic and overcoming writer’s block to advance techniques for publishing and marketing nonfiction books. Now, get ready to press page up on your book with your host, best selling author and publisher, Dr. Angela Lauria.
Hey everyone, here we are Episode 12.
We are going to talk about choosing a topic for your book. Now there are lots of different ways to get wrapped around the axle around choosing a topic for a book. So I am going to talk about the ones that I see most often. Hands down. The number one thing that I see from people is that they have so many ideas for a book and as soon as They start giving themselves permission to start thinking about one book. All these other ideas come in. And they find themselves in kind of a little bit of a puzzle, because they have so many ideas, they don’t have a way to know which one is best. And so they just keep talking about all of the ideas, and maybe nudging each of them forward a little bit, but not really making a commitment to anyone, any one choice. So you could sort of think of this like playing the field in dating. You know, there’s this guy, and I really like him because he’s creative and fun. But there’s this guy, and he’s got a great job. And we ended up going on awesome vacations. But then there’s this guy that I met at Camp when I was 17. And, you know, he’s always had my heart for 20 years and he just got divorced. And so you’re in this place where you have three or four or five ideas. You don’t want to commit to any of them. So you’re just Sort of dating them all and hoping that something magical will happen to make one of them stick. The next thing that I see is somebody who will tell me that they don’t have an idea for a book. They know they want to write one, maybe they’ve always been told they should write one. But they will say to me, they don’t have an idea for a book.
Now these people, if you are one of them, raise your hand. Hopefully keep your hands on the steering wheel if you’re driving. Um, these people often know exactly what their book is supposed to be. But they are afraid to say it out loud even to themselves. Because it’s such a scary idea. Maybe it’s so intimate or it’s something that they don’t feel like an expert on. So it must not be their idea, but they know exactly what they’re supposed to write their book on if you really ask them. And then the third.
The third type of person that I see is somebody who has an idea. But they don’t want to make a commitment to that idea because they’re not sure if it’s good enough. That’s like when you have a boyfriend you’ve sort of committed to but you’re not really all the way in because a better idea might come along, or you’re looking for some sort of outside approval. So if you are struggling with choosing a topic for your book, and any of these themes, sound familiar to you, I think you are going to enjoy today’s episode, so buckle in for the ride.
I suffer, you know, I am a certified Martha Beck life coach and love Martha. I have so many recommendations just by all of her books. Start with the first one. We’ll start with expecting Adam there’s one before that you can skip it. I don’t know if it’s available. But start with expecting Adam and then read everything she’s ever written. She’s amazing, but One of her books that I found particularly helpful to me, talked about what she calls the four stages of change or metamorphosis.
Now, I don’t think of the authors who work with me as aspiring authors, I think of them as authors in transformation or authors undergoing a metamorphosis. Because the moment somebody signs up to work with me, particularly the moment they make a payment, they are at the beginning of their metamorphosis, a book is going to happen. And it’s sort of like how we, we don’t, we don’t think of people who go to college, as somebody who may or may not graduate, they’re undergraduates. But the graduation is sort of assumed that’s part of the deal. They’re an undergraduate or graduate and transformation. Well, that’s the deal with my authors and that’s how I want you to think. I will want you to think of yourself as somebody who is already an author just as much as a caterpillar is already a butterfly, it’s gonna happen.
If you’re listening to this show, especially if this isn’t your first episode. You are an author in transformation and there are some stages that caterpillars need to go through to become a butterfly. So we’re going to talk about those stages. And once you understand these, I think you’ll understand the tips that I want to give you about choosing your topic. If you can figure out which of these four phases you’re in, and really, there’s probably three that you’re in one of these, it’s gonna help us identify which of the tools will be the right one for you when it comes to picking your topic. So phase one Martha calls dissolving or death and rebirth. So this is definitely the scariest phase and if you picture a caterpillar, this is when the Caterpillar goes in the cocoon. And what I always thought before I worked with Martha, this is going to show you how ignorant I am. What I thought happened was that the caterpillars body was the center of the, of the butterfly. And I thought the caterpillar went into a cocoon and drew and grew wings. But that’s actually not what happens at all. What happens is sort of horrifying. When the caterpillar goes into the cocoon, there is a soup that I think of. It’s kind of like the digestive fluids, fluids in your stomach, and it actually dissolves it becomes formless. And if you’ve been a caterpillar like it’s pretty tempting to just stick with being a caterpillar if the option is to become a formless soup of digestive liquids, like that just feels awful. Nuts caterpillars are not in the cocoon for very long when you think of their whole lifespan, but this is a very uncomfortable period.
And there is an urge if you are without a book idea here, if you are in this phase one, this dissolving phase, there’s an urge to just label a thing and come up with a book idea. And maybe it’s something you use as an example for my life, I wrote a very successful master’s degree thesis. And if I were in phase one, I might be like, I’m just going to pull out that thesis and I’m going to turn that into a book. It may not be the next thing for you, but it’s something that feels comfortable. So phase one, if you are in this dissolving death and rebirth phase, often not the best time to pick a book topic, we’ll be able to identify if that’s where you are, so don’t worry about it. Martha gives a mantra and I use these all the time. Her mantra for failure.
One is I don’t know what the hell is going on and that’s okay. Now, if you can lean into that, I don’t know what book I’m supposed to write if you really embrace that, and I actually say, take a stand here. I may write a book at some point, but I’m not working on it. Now, that doesn’t make you any less of a butterfly. That doesn’t make you any less of an author. If you can identify I’m in the soup right now, I am not in the butterfly making process. The more you can lean into that the faster you actually can leave the cocoon, the cocoon.
Okay, phase number two, and I would say at least 60% of the people who I talk to are in the imagining phase or remote the calls dreaming and scheming. This is phase two. Phase Two is when your book ideas are starting to flow in and so if you have three or four or five ideas, and they make Crazy might be like, I have an idea for a kid’s book and I’m thinking about writing erotica. And I also have an idea for a nonfiction book, but I want to write a guidebook or workbook, I want to do that first. But then I have all these pictures I’ve been taking. So I’m thinking of doing a coffee table book. If that sounds like you, you are most likely in the dreaming and scheming phase. You are becoming this new author, but we don’t know which one yet. And so I have some tools we’ll talk about today I’m going to talk to you about a way to defy the laws of the time space continuum. And we will talk about if you are in the dreaming and scheming phase, how to get yourself ready to write your book and how to make it rise or bubble up to the surface. Martha’s phase two mantra if that sounds like you is there are no rules and that’s okay. Your job is to try out these Kind of imaginary book ideas and one of them is going to feel right it’s almost like going to going to a shopping mall and walking into forever 21 and trying on some clothes that maybe they fit you but they don’t look age appropriate or they feel kind of weird on and then going into let’s say Talbots and trying on some women’s suits that are worsted well and just feeling sort of awkward. And then finding your style anthropology or free the people or wherever you like to shop, the limited and trying on those clothes and feeling really comfortable. So try on a bunch of these different scenarios. I’ll talk to you about how you can test them out and see which one feels really good. All right, phase three.
Phase Three makes up probably 30% of my career. And this is the reforming phase of what Martha calls the hero’s journey or the hero’s saga. And this is when your idea is pretty clear. Maybe you’re deciding between two ideas or maybe you’re like that person I talked about who knows what they need to be writing, but is a little frayed about actually fully committing to that and saying out loud to other people, even one other person is the book I’m writing. Those are often very personal books. They’re often very important books. They’re often terrifying books.
If you feel like you know what your next step is, but you just aren’t sure how to make it. You might be in the hero’s saga. And this is a very painful period in that you have this moment of insight I’m in. I’m going to do this And then you start to do it and it feels terrible. When I talk to all my clients very often when they sign up, things will happen to them that would make them want to quit. So I have to give them some really strong incentives to stay focused on their book. Because if your car was going to break down, it’s going to break down right after you sign up for the program. And if you were going to get into a fight with your husband, you’re going to get into a fight with your husband right now. I’ve had clients who have had their house infested with baby squirrels. I’ve had clients whose mother fell down and broke her. I think it was her wrist or her hip right in front of right in front of my author’s house. So she became a sudden caregiver while writing her book. I’ve had women in their 40s become unexpectedly pregnant as soon as they sign up to write for her book. It’s somebody who has a surprise kitchen remodel.
So when you say hey, I’m totally in, I’m a Butterfly, let’s do this thing. It doesn’t quite go the way we expect. And you really need what Martha calls the tenacity of a pitbull. That is true. I actually try and build some of that into my program and encourage you to know in advance when you do pick this book title, and you declare it to the world, it is very likely that at that point, your computer will blow up and you will lose all of the files that you thought you were going to need for this book. So just plan for that. Just know when that happens. That is a sign you are on the right track. And the phase three mantra, which is my favorite is this is much worse than I expected. And that’s okay.
Now, Seth Godin has a book that I love which is all about phase three and is called the dip. I am going to include a link to the dip in the show notes you can get to that at the Author Incubator comm slash Well, that’s the author incubator.com slash 12 for the shownotes Seth Godin talks specifically about why the dip is there. So why once you commit to something, it gets so freakin hard, and how that dip is actually good for you and working in your favor. He also talks about knowing when to quit, because the fact of the matter is, things might get really hard. And that might be a sign that you are not supposed to write this book at all. So how the hell are you supposed to know the difference? We’re going to talk about that a little more in the show as well. But just keep all that in mind. All right now most of you aren’t here. phase four, but just to sort of complete the cycle of change. phase four is the promised land that is when you are the butterfly. It’s like crawling out of a cocoon and you’re waiting for your wings to dry off into take off and fly that tomorrow. describes it. And it’s really the payoff. Now, this is a really important time I have found with my clients with my authors for massive, massive amounts of gratitude. And instead, what often happens is people don’t even identify that they’re in the promised land that they are now a butterfly. They will have these cutesy little stories about how well they’re not really an author. And these are very creative, because very often these will be authors on Amazon with a best seller flag next to their name. And they’ll tell me like, Yeah, but it doesn’t really count.
One of my clients, Leah cesari, she came to me working on a book that was a novel. And in the process, she published a completely different book that’s absolutely wonderful. And I interviewed her for my other podcasts, book journeys, which you can get On,I’ll see if I can put up a link to that to that particular interview of journeys with Leah. But so in this interview, Leah actually tells me, well, this didn’t count, I don’t feel like an author. And people will do this, they will find anyway when they get to the promised land, not to acknowledge it, not to savor their success or acknowledge their success, because they feel more comfortable in another phase of the soup. So they go back to the hero’s journey. So you will, there will be some sort of cataclysmic event or maybe it won’t be so cataclysmic. Maybe it’ll be marriage, it could be many things. There will be something that will throw you back into square one into that unknowing square where you have no idea what’s going on, and that’s okay.
But for now, the mantra Four that Martha gives is everything is changing. And that’s okay. For me the mantra of square four is, I am grateful and unattached, and that’s okay. And that’s a tough balance. But it is a very powerful balance to be both grateful and unattached and able to be open to the next thing and not clinging, clinging to this new identity. But also knowing that more is in store for you. So what I mean by that is sometimes people will write I’ll use the Lia example. Sometimes people will write a book on a specific topic, and they will become an expert in that Leah’s book was on parenting. And they will begin to see themselves as a parenting expert and then they will get some sort of download from the universe that they’re supposed to be working with. Oh god who knows Tibetan villagers. You know, people in Nepal who are dealing with an earthquake, and they’re like this, but I can’t, I’m a parenting expert. And so there are events that will shock your identity and being willing to let go of that as much as you are enjoying it and grateful for the opportunity. That is a really fun balance to play with as an author. So depending on where you are, there are some different tools that I think will help you to pick your book topic. The first one I recommend is something I call the book basket exercise. This is where you make a list of anything you know, right now that’s going to go in your book, and they might seem unrelated. It might be the story of when my cat got locked in a closet and left there for two weeks, but survived. It might be and then you might also know that you want to Teach meditation exercises that you invented. And you think how I can’t be related to that and maybe, you know, you have a book that you love that you want to tell people about in your book. So write that down. Anything that you know, just on intuition or a hunch, or for any reason that’s gonna go in your book. What I like to do is just write those down. In fact, I’m doing that right now. I’m going to pull this up on my phone while we’re talking. So I started to get a download for my next book and it came to me in the shower, which it often does actually, usually the pool for me but water is very exciting. And I don’t know what any of this means exactly. But what I wrote down was everything you know about book marketing is wrong. Forget book
marketing, marketing happens in the book. And then I wrote down three types of books. build your list by the book by making each chapter free webinars. I think like a new, a new school acquisitions editor, book marketing techniques are supposed to drive book sales dumb. Like, this is not a book. These are just this is just a book basket. And I have several of them open. But that’s clearly the one that’s bubbling up for me now is about book marketing. Because I’m doing so much of that with my clients. And so those are just ideas. It’s not a definitive topic. It’s not.
There are lots of different ways I can go with that. I can tell different clients stories, I can interview super successful book marketers, I could interview new authors about what they think about book marketing. I could write a guide that gives people instructions. So there’s a lot that I can do with that. But just writing that list, and sort of seeing what comes up especially if things are unwritten And see if the book starts to come together on its own. But keep adding to that book basket, until your book really tells you what the topic is. The next thing that I recommend is actually a market validation of your ideas.
So I had an amazing advisor for my master’s thesis. And she always said to me, she wanted me to describe my thesis in one sentence with no commas. And I want that for you. I want you to be able to describe your book when you do pick a topic in one sentence.
It did not include the phrase, it’s complicated.
But as easily as you can describe your book, and I want you to share that as a Facebook status as a blog post, or as a subject line for an email and I want you to see What kind of reaction against so there’s nothing, you don’t have to say this is my new book title. In fact, don’t because then people will be commenting on the fact that you’re writing a book. But instead just write a little blog post. Like for me, I’m gonna pull up my list again here. I might do a Facebook status update that says, most marketing happens in the book. But most people try and skip this step and do the marketing after. And I might ask for thoughts on that, or that might be the title of a blog post or a longer Facebook status. And then I might have another one. Let’s see, what’s the first thing I wrote. Everything you know about book marketing is wrong. And I could do both of those as Facebook statuses and see which one gets more likes and comments. Now, what you don’t want to do like I said, Say pick my book topic. I see this all the time. Unfortunately, I’ve done too much academic work to know how this works. People are answering a different question than you think I used to run a lab when I was in grad school. And if you ask people what they will do, it’s very different than what they actually do. So that’s just a couple easy ways to pick your topic. Now, if you are afraid to sort of put yourself out there. That’s cool, too. What you can do in that case, is just buy some ads, give yourself a 50 or $100 budget, and buy some ads on Google or Facebook and just see how people click and you could even make sure it’s people who aren’t friends with you. And use possible book topics and see what gets more clicks.
Now the next technique that I want to suggest to you is actually something I call the creativity temple. To put this up at the Author Incubator comm slash 12. So you can do this exercise, but you can actually do a visualization where you connect with your book in it’s already completed state. And you actually just observe the cover, you observe the inside of the book. Sometimes you can see a title. Sometimes you get a message from your book, and your book, when you sort of tap into your intuition or your inner knowing about your book, about the book, you were born to write your book, we’ll actually just come on out and tell you what it is. Now I can’t tell you the number of clients who have signed up to work with me on one book. And when we did this creativity temple exercise another book just inserted itself right in the process. And very often the reason you’re not getting your book done is that you are really in square two, you are trying to tell yourself you’re in square three. So with your left brain, you are picking a topic, the topic that you should write, maybe the topic that a coach or a mentor suggested you write. And it is not the book that you were born to write. And so very often I will get this message from clients on an intuitive scale that I know the book that they’ve come to write with me is not the book that they are here to write. And so we go through this creativity template exercise that like I said, about half an hour, I’m going to post it on the show notes and go through this exercise and see if your book appears and if it’s what you thought it would be, which topic you thought it would be. Now, the other thing that sometimes happens, actually, surprisingly rarely is when people do creativity temple exercise, sometimes they get nothing. And if you do get sort of a blank book or a blank page, this is fantastic news. A lot of people get scared by it. But it just means that you’re in square one. And you can simply send a message to your inner author, that you are ready for the book idea and unattached to when it comes. And the more you can relax and detach, the sooner your book idea will come.
Why often will I talk to people one on one, which by the way, if you want to talk to me just go to talk to AngelaLauria.com and that gives you my schedule. And when I talk to people very often the thing I am telling them is to release the idea of writing a book. And to make a declaration right now I’m not working on a book that is very often the fastest way to get a book. If you can truly commit to not doing it.
Okay, the last technique that I want to teach you is really about sticking with that discomfort of not knowing versus when to choose action. So this is a little bit of a paradox that I’ve set up for you. Because on the one hand, I want to tell you, you have to take action to get results. On the other hand, if you’re not ready, it’s just going to be a wasted effort. And so how do you know the difference? Well, again, this is something I like to test. And I use the author feeling state scale to test this, which is if you have three or four topics, ideas for books or even potential ideas for books, what I would love for you to do is give yourself a 15 minute writing assignment. And the only thing that you are going to do is just write it out. The answer to this prompt, which is why do I want to write about and it doesn’t matter what it is, why do I want to write about donkeys and set an alarm for 15 minutes. And what I want you to do is identify where you are on the author feeling state scale. Now if you haven’t listened to Episode Four, go to the Author Incubator, calm slash four, and listen to that episode and it’ll help you identify where you are on the author feeling state scale. But if you can do this exercise, what you will find is the place where you feel juiciest and most calm and connected and collected is the book that you’re supposed to write and where you feel pinched, or forced or like it’s the right thing to do, but not necessarily the juiciest thing to do. You won’t stick with that anyway, so no bother starting. Um, but it’s If you do have that 15 minute period, that juicy feeling, but you’re still afraid or unsure, don’t think you know enough or aren’t good enough or whatever is coming up for you. That is a sign you’re supposed to stick through it stick through the dip that book I recommend. So knowing whether you are in the hero’s journey and this is your mission, and it’s going to be hard as hell. Or if you’re in square one or square two, you’re dissolving or dreaming and scheming and trying to force yourself into going back to being a caterpillar into being a butterfly, that feeling of force and stickiness. That’s a sign that you should just drop it and go to yoga class. Don’t worry about it, that’s just going to be a lot of wasted effort. But if it’s hard, scary, that is a sign that you’re supposed to push through this and get through the dip, because that is your assignment from the universe. So choosing a book topic is quite a landmine. If it’s easy, For you make sure that you have some gratitude for that because for many people, it’s hard. And if it’s hard for you to have some gratitude for that too, because when you do have your topic and you know it’s right, your journey and your connection to your topic is going to be that much deeper. So good luck picking your book topics, go to the author, incubator comm slash 12. Let me know what you thought of the show and let me know what your book topic is.
This has been another episode of Page Up, where we help nonfiction book that makes a difference. If you like the show today, be sure to tell a friend and leave us a review on iTunes. Check out houses to show book journeys also on iTunes. And don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list at WWW dot the author incubator.com where you can learn more about how you can get your book.