You may be tempted to skip over this section on how to research a book idea, but I want to urge you to stick with me. Book research can make or break your idea, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.
I’ve edited a lot of content, and often, I just shake my head at some of the pieces written without an iota of scientific backup. One piece was so ridiculous that I pointed it out to the author. I feel responsible for the content I put out there, particularly when it is irresponsible and can result in negative consequences for the reader. Unfortunately, the writer was unimpressed with the contradicting research I offered, but I simply could not find any research that backed his stance. That self-righteous attitude will cost you! Take some tome to learn how to research a book idea before jumping in the deep end.
But what if you’re writing fiction? Do you really have to spend time learning novel research methods when you’re writing non-fiction books? What if you know everything there is to know about your self-help book? After all, you have all the facts in your head, right? Not so fast!
How to Research a Book Idea: Non Fiction Research
I want to respectfully say that you have the opinions in your head, and you need to find the facts to back it up. How do you do that? You research, of course. But I want to warn you that research is not as simple as Googling your question and using the first result you agree with. There’s a process to it, and a few things you should know about how to research a book idea:
- You will find ,many people online who agree with your facts and you will find even more who disagree. If you’re 100% sure that you want to use the facts you believe to be true, you have to find sufficient research to back you up. Find research from reputable sources to back you up, or leave it open-ended for readers to make their own interpretations.
- Just because someone agrees with your views on their blog, does not mean you have found valid research.
- Having out-of-the-box opinions does not make you wrong – just find the research to back it up.
- Research gives you an opportunity to make your fiction work shine. It makes your story more relatable when you use factual information
What research should you include in your nonfiction work?
- Having a great quote is awesome, but you must attribute it to the original author.
- Medical, legal, and historical facts / suggestions must always be supported by reputable sources.
How to Research a Book Idea: Fiction Research
You’d imagine this list to be shorter than for nonfiction, right? Well, that depends on how deep and believable you want your book to be.
- Psychological traits or medical facts of your characters
- Procedures (legal, investigative, education, medical – depending on your book)
- Time limes
You want to make sure your story makes sense and has as few flaws as possible. While poetic license applies, you don’t want to create ridiculous conflicts.
How to Research a Book Idea: Reputable Sources to Use for Research
While you can visit your local library, Google probably has much more recent and relevant research to offer. But I want to remind you again: Do not just grab the first bit of info you agree with. Do due diligence. It will give you more authority as an author and ultimately result in more book sales for follow-up works.
Here are some reputable sources of good information:
Google Maps – Visit the neighborhoods in which your story is set. Use the streetview function for a virtual tour, and if you want names of stores, restaurants or pubs, simply use the search function. Want to know how your character would get from point A to point B if there’s a road closure? Search for alternative routes .
Wikipedia – Here you can find any up-to-date info you might need on an actual person, or a place, object, belief or anything, basically. It also usually lists relevant links for further research.
NY Times’ 36 Hours – This column shares amazing facts about fascinating places. Beautiful!
Medical sites – Depending on your views, you may or may not value the research provided by sites like WebMD, MayoClinic, etc. Also, look at Dr. Oz, Dr. Axe and Mercola for balanced, facts-based research.
Research papers – Simply type “[your topic] + research” in Google, and your top results will be research papers. It should show the names of the researchers.
Psychology – You can get psychological research from the medical sites and research papers above, as well as from Psychology Today and the blogs of licensed psychologists. The sites should contain their license numbers and qualifications.
Topic experts – Depending on your topic, you will need to speak to a person who is qualified to give you the information you’re looking for.
How to Research a Book Idea: Interviewing Topic Experts
You may need to speak to various topic areas for different parts of your book. Here are a few ideas of people to speak to, as well as tips for your interview:
- If you’re writing about living with a disease, speak to someone who has the disease, or to a family member who has endured it, as well as a doctor who
- If you’re writing about a crime, speak to detectives, cops and lawyers.
- Learn more about life in a certain town or country by speaking to people who live there (social media!).
- If you’re writing about a chef, ask to spend a few hours in a professional kitchen.
- If your character is a photographer, ask to spend a few hours shadowing one.
For more casual topics, read books and blogs from which you will learn the jargon, processes and behaviors that will enrich your book.
Requesting an Interview
Almost anyone would be honored for you to get in touch asking to interview them for your book. People love to share their knowledge and to talk about themselves. It’s as simple as calling or sending an email asking if you can interview them. If they are busy, you may have to follow up a couple of times.
How to Conduct the Interview
It’s best to find chatty candidates to interview. They will give you all you need, plus interesting anecdotes that may give you more “meat” to include in your story. Use these tips for a successful interview:
- Bring along a small thank you gift – homemade cookies, a 6-pack, flowers, a pot plant, or a thank you card with a coupon – that your interviewee will cherish.
- Ask if you can record the interview. Use your phone or a voice recorded. You could use a notebook and pen, but a recording will provide much more detail that you don’t have to try remember and won’t distract you during the interview.
- Ask open-ended questions that you have prepared in advance.
- Ask follow-up questions based on their answers.
- Ask if they can refer you to other experts (other professionals on your list) who would grant you an interview.
- On conclusion, ask if they mind you following up via email if other questions pop up during the writing process.
Your research would be inserted at various points in your book outline, and you can then write it into each chapter.
Now that you know how to research a book idea, you’re ready to start writing. It’s not uncommon to feel slightly overwhelmed at this point in the process, but don’t panic too much. Just write and worry about the style and editing later on. For now, your goal is to get the story out.