What to Do When Your Book Idea Just Isn’t Working

Writing a book is never an easy task. From developing your idea to finding the time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as is more likely the case), it is certainly a journey. Furthermore, at nearly any stage of your book, the whole thing can start to fall apart. So what do you do when your book just isn’t coming together the way you had envisioned?

This is actually something I’ve run into recently with a project that I’ve been batting around for a while now. With politics at the heart of my thesis, surely you can understand how the deluge of daily news would complicate bringing such a book to fruition. As a result, I’ve been thinking about some plans of attack for resuscitating my title, while also consulting with some author friends for their advice. Here’s are some of our ideas for diagnosing your book’s issues and finding the right prescription for moving forward (note: these tips are mostly intended for nonfiction titles but some may be helpful to novelists as well).

Give your book a critical edit

Often times the first step in assessing your project’s situation is to review what you’ve already written. As you do this, however, you’ll want to pay greater attention to how the material flows, how clearly it expresses the points you’re trying to make, and how each chapter, page, paragraph, and sentence fits into the overall theme of your book. In doing this, you may find fixable flaws in your writing that could be preventing the project from fully gelling.

One example of this is including passages of text that are, for lack of a better word, boring. When writing a nonfiction book, there may be times when we as authors feel the need to include discussions and topics that aren’t exactly thrilling but that we perceive to be important to the subject at hand. Author and podcast host Gretchen Rubin offers a solution for how to write on such topics: don’t. As she explains, “In writing all my books, if there’s an aspect of my subject that bores me, I figure out a way to write around it. And no one has ever seemed to notice.”

On the other hand, there can also be times when anecdotes and long tangents that may be interesting to you don’t do much in the way of furthering your book’s theme. At best, their inclusion may be viewed by some readers as filler and, at worst, they may bore them to the point of abandoning your work. In the end, sacrificing these beloved but misplaced elements can go a long way in fixing your book’s focus problems and elevate the rest of the material as a result.

Restructure and re-outline your project

As I’ve talked about in the past, having a solid outline for your project before you start writing can serve as a guide map for your book. Unfortunately, even when you know where you’re going, there’s always the chance that detours can take you off of your intended course. However, this isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it may be worth embracing these new ideas and rethinking the path your book will take.

When I was preparing to write my first book, The E-Ticket Life, my original plan for the structure of the chapters and book overall looked very different from the finished product. Moreover, given the diverse nature of the stories and essays I included, my chapter line up and arrangements changed several times as my manuscript developed. I’ll admit that, during this process, there were several times where it seemed all too haphazard to tell a cohesive story and left me doubting the prospects for my project. Thankfully, by being open to restructuring and reorganizing the bones of my book, I was able to get myself back on track and bring the whole thing together in the end. So while it’s great to start off with a plan, don’t be afraid to let those plans change if it’s for the better.

Expand the focus (or narrow it)

Similar to my point about restructuring your book, you may realize that it’s not just how you arrange the material you’ve written but what that material ultimately adds up to. In some cases, you may be surprised to find that a subject you believed to be rich and deep doesn’t offer as much as you thought. Alternatively, in writing your chapters, you may determine that your points might land more effectively when put them into a larger context. Both of these are valid reasons to consider expanding the scope of your book and hopefully get it to the level you had envisioned.

Of course, there is always the opposite scenario. When a single book tries to cover too much, it can not only be overwhelming for a reader but can also make it more difficult to market to those who are only interested in one aspect of your focus. Because of this, if your book is starting to get a bit unwieldy, perhaps it’s time to get a bit more granular and drill down on a single subject. Besides, you can always save that other stuff for a follow-up or for blog entries and articles you can shop around to promote your title (which brings us to my last point…).

Use the material elsewhere

While there’s something special about completing a book and seeing your work in print, sadly not every project will make it to that stage. For any number of reasons, you may ultimately find that your writings may be better served by another medium. Whether there just isn’t enough material to craft a cohesive narrative or, like in my case, the subject at hand is evolving too rapidly to pin down, you may want to consider other venues for your ideas.

One potential solution is to adapt your material into blog posts or articles. These could be posted on your personal website, platforms like Medium, or even pitched to various outlets. While this might not be the fate you had envisioned for your work, there is still value in getting your thoughts out there. Plus, should you eventually want to revisit the subject and have a new project angle, you may be able to repurpose these already-printed posts and place them in the book they were always meant to be a part of.

Of course, if you’re still dead set on releasing your work as a book (of sorts), you could always put it out as an ebook instead. While shorter printed titles typically fail to be cost-effective, there’s really not a page minimum for ebook titles since they can a) be priced at any level and b) can be delivered to readers easily and at a low cost. Additionally, if time constraints are a factor for your project, the good news is that ebooks can be uploaded nearly instantly. Ultimately this could be a be a great option for authors as it keeps your material together as intended and enables to you get your work into the world quickly — oh, and you could also make a few dollars in the process.

As I know first hand, there are certain hurdles that can pop up during the book writing process that can be difficult to clear. Moreover, no matter how much you planned in advance, sometimes your project seems to fall short of what you wanted it to be. Instead of being discouraged by these trials, consider ways to breathe new life into it by editing with a critical eye, making a change to your structure, widening or narrowing your book’s focus, or perhaps pursuing other mediums all together. Good luck!


Kyle Burbank

Kyle is a freelance writer and author whose first book, "The E-Ticket Life" is now available on Amazon. In addition to his weekly "Money at 30" column on Dyer News, he is also the editorial director and a writer for the Disney fan site LaughingPlace.com and the founder of Money@30.com.

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I can say that writing is not for everyone and even good authors are at times struggling with ideas, but if you really love writing, go for it until you finally achieve your goal.

If you didn’t succeed the first or second time, just don’t be discouraged. A lot of famous authors failed on their early years.

Some good points here. Sometimes you just need a good rest to refresh your mind of ideas and try again.

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