Saddling Up: 16 Questions for Test-Marketing Your Book Idea

You got it! You’ve come up with this great idea. You’re hot to trot. You can hardly wait to saddle up and start writing your proposal or manuscript.

Just hold your horses, pardner. Writers approach me constantly with query letters full of excitement for books that are unsalable. It’s possible to be passionate about an idea without enough commercial potential to justify the time it will take to write and promote it or find a publisher for it

Thanks to technology, somebody’s going to publish your book, even if it’s only you, for free, as an ebook, print-on-demand book, or a podcast. And if that’s good enough for you, it doesn’t matter what you write or how well. If it has an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), online booksellers will list it, and the world on the Web will have access to it.

Taking Your Idea for a Ride

How can you determine whether your idea is worth taking to the rodeo? You have more ways to find out than ever. So before you throw a harness over that stallion, corral the answers to these questions about your idea:

  • Does the idea have the depth to generate enough text for a book?
  • Do you have literary and publishing goals for the book that will keep you motivated to do all you can to achieve them?
  • How long will it take to write?
  • Will it require an expense budget and, if so, how much?
  • Are there competing books and, if so, how many of them?
  • Have you come up with a fresh approach for your book?
  • Do you have the passion you’ll need for researching, writing, selling, and promoting the book, and, if necessary, building your platform in the field?
  • What groups of consumers will buy it, and how large are they?
  • What sales channels will it have besides bookstores?
  • What will you have to do to promote the book to make it sell?
  • Are you committed to taking entrepreneurial responsibility for the quality of the writing and the success of the book?
  • Does the idea have transmedia potential for film, foreign, audio, electronic rights, a game, or merchandising?
  • Do the members of your writing community, trustworthy booksellers and experts on the subject share your enthusiasm for the idea?
  • Will the timing for the book be favorable when it comes out and for as long as you want it to sell?
  • Will the book appeal to reading groups?
  • Will the book have the potential to attract review and media attention?
  • Does the idea lend itself to a series of books?

If the income you’ll earn from the book is less important than writing it and getting it published, that’s fine. But at least you’ll have a realistic perspective about its prospects. If you’re writing a memoir for your family, these questions aren’t important. You can write it and publish it as a legacy, and it may be the most valuable thing you can leave your loved ones.
But the higher your hopes and the more determined you are to bet the ranch by devoting a chunk of your life to an idea, the more important these questions are. Hope this helps you earn your spurs.

Happy trails.

I write the blog to help you and me understand what we need to know about writing, publishing, promotion, and agents. I hope you find it worth reading and sharing.

Rants, comments, questions, and corrections greatly appreciated.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20,  2012 / / [email protected] / ttp:// / @SFWC / / 415-673-0939 / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109 / San Francisco
Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / / [email protected]
/ @SFWritersU




  1. Conor Neill says:

    Powerful questions that help me frame my thinking – thank you for sharing. Best of luck.


    Admin Reply:

    Conor Neill

    Many thanks for writing. Glad you found the post helpful. Best of luck with your writing.


  2. Mike Larsen says:

    Sorry for the typo! Pity I can’t edit it.


  3. Mike Larsen says:

    Glad you found the post of inteerst. Please call or write with questions. Best of luck.



  1. [...] the BEST book idea? Mike Larsen, of Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents, shares 16 Questions for Test-Marketing Your Book Idea on his award-winning [...]

Speak Your Mind