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Getting FeedbackIn a previous post, I shared my 9 essential tips for researching a nonfiction book idea, one of which was to survey your potential readers as a way of gaining specific insight on your subject matter. In today’s post, I want to expand on this idea of connecting with your future audience as well as a trusted advisor (or a few) to help you as you shape your book. This is a strategy I use for every book idea I develop.

For my book Doable, I sat down individually with a few teen girls and picked their brain about my plan for the book and the doable process itself, asking pointed questions about their lives, their challenges, how they and their friends consume self-help books, and so on.

For another book for millennials I was developing but never ended up pitching, I pulled together a dozen twenty-something men and women and had them over to my house for wine, cheese, and conversation. I stuck a tape recorder in the middle of the floor, explained to them the premise and goals for my book, and let the conversation unfold.

For my book for young women about career exploration, In Their Shoes, I took my friend Bridget out to a neighborhood noodle house with a notebook in hand and a ton of questions. My plan for the book was to interview fifty successful career women, and that dinner with Bridget helped me clarify my plan for approaching prospective interviewees, as well get a handle on how to get the information I needed that would be most relevant and useful to teens.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting book development by committee. But as writers, we spend a lot of time in our own heads. Creative places to be for sure, but the truth is, we don’t know what we don’t know. I’ve yet to have a pre-writing conversation with a trusted that hasn’t resulted in at least a few invaluable a ha moments.


1. Prepare a list of questions you want answers to before your interview or “focus group.” You want to make the best use of your time and ensure you get the insight you’re looking for.

2. Be open to following the conversation where it goes. Again, we don’t know what we don’t know. Sometimes tangents lead to great revelations.

3. Don’t make big decisions about the direction of your book right away. Take a few days to absorb and assimilate your key takeaways from any conversation before making changes to your project.

4. Consider creating your own “advisory board” that you can reach out to at key points throughout your writing for advice and perspective. If you do this, be clear in the ask about your needs and expectations for people’s involvement.

5. Don’t feel compelled to change your book based on what you learn. As always, take what works and ditch the rest.

6. Choose people you trust. Sharing your idea at this early stage can feel vulnerable, so only reach out to people you trust to be positive, helpful, and kind with their feedback. (That’s right…Negative Nelly doesn’t get to chime in on your beautiful book idea).

Next week I’ll write about fleshing out your personal stake in the ground for the book you’re about to begin writing.