Amanda Luedeke

February 26, 2015

Thursdays with Amanda: Is Your Nonfiction Book Idea Viable?


Amanda LuedekeAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

When I first met Chip, we were working at a college (me in admissions and he as a visiting professor). I had a BA in writing and a love for books, so naturally, I pitched him some ideas. I mean, why not?!

I’ll never forget his reaction to the only nonfiction book I ever ran by him…

Now mind you, I had this GREAT book idea. I was in the midst of planning my wedding, and I was super inspired by this strong desire I had to make my wedding feel like me. What did that mean? It meant embracing the traditions that fit, while ignoring the ones that didn’t–and replacing them with things that were more Amanda & Tad and less standard wedding.

This whole concept exploded in my mind. I mean, what if you have two sports-lovers getting married?! They could plan their wedding around a particular sports event and have a reception in which they serve wings and beer while watching the game! Or what if the couple is really into theatre? They could do a murder mystery reception that is super interactive and even includes clues from the invitations and programs!

I went crazy. I started jotting things down and obsessing and then one day I casually pitched my wedding planning book idea to Chip. (And when I say casually I mean totally on the fly…you may as well envision us walking through campus and me dropping this bomb on him. Poor guy.)

And you know what he said?

He said no.

He said it in a very nice way…in a way that probably had me thanking him for turning me down as conversation shifted. And he also said this: “You don’t have a wedding-planning platform, Amanda. So who would buy this? It should be an article instead.”


All those buts meant squat. Because the biggest but was the “but you don’t have a platform” one.

I tell you this painful and funny story because there are so many people out there who are just like I was. You have a great idea. Or you have a great personal story. Or you have this or that. BUT that doesn’t mean you can also have a book.

Nonfiction needs a platform. Think about it! If you need some advice on finances, are you going to buy a book from Joe Schmoe CPA or from Dave Ramsey or Suze Orman?!

Because nonfiction promises to solve a problem or provide answers or information we care about, it MUST come from an author that the readers view as an expert on the topic.

This is why books about cancer only succeed when they are celebrity stories or tied to well-known bloggers. And this is why my wedding book would have failed failed failed. I was and am a nobody on the topic of wedding-planning. And I had and have ZERO plans to become a somebody.

In nonfiction it’s very rare that a book comes before platform. So rare, that it’s not even worth considering as a “what-if” scenario.

So what do you do with this information? If you have a nonfiction book idea and no platform, consider whether you’re willing to spend the time, energy, and resources needed to develop a platform for that book topic. Because that is what it’ll take to give your book idea a shot at publication. It’ll take time and dedication. It’ll take effort on your part to become an expert. You don’t need to be as big of an expert as Dave or Suze! But you DO need to be an expert to some people. And the more people who view you as an expert, the more likely you’ll get that deal…and the bigger that deal will be.

Share :


  • johnvonhof says:

    I love niche book ideas. My first book was Managing the Pastoral Search Process, which I self-published in 1997 after being told at conferences that it was too small a market. The Alban picked it up in 1999 and we later did as 2nd edition in 2010 renaming it The Pastoral Search Journey. Yes, it’s a niche market but they have kept it active and it still sells. Then in 1997 I also self-published Fixing Your Feet, a book about foot care for extreme athletes. In 2004 Wilderness Press picked it up and did the 3rd edition. In 2011 it came out in a 5th edition, Rodale optioned hardcover rights, and it was released in complex Chinese. In both I had a platform, which certainly helped, but even more important in my view, was my identification of a unique audience, and knowing what they needed and how to reach them. Writing nonfiction is great because it give authors the opportunity to help people find solutions for their problems. I’ll never forget a workshop leader and publishing house editor tell a writer at the Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference that her idea for a nonfiction book for parents on how to protect their children at school didn’t work because there was no need for it. Two years later Columbine happened. I often wondered if the writer did something with her idea. In today’s publishing world, we have more opportunities than ever. And yes, I have a bunch more niche book ideas and will pursue them.

  • Really well-described, Amanda, and well-argued…and true.
    While I was pitching a book teaching women to find answers to their hardest theological questions by teaching them to study and interpret the Bible on a seminary level without going to seminary, I had what I’ve come to realize was a “semi-platform” in the eyes of publishers. I had twelve+ years of ministry experience, a M.Div., and a D.Min. in “Effective Ministries to Women”, and had lots (and lots) of fantastic contacts along the way; but I was not in vocational ministry at the time I was pitching. Several large houses were tempted and sent it out to their readers, but the marketing team in all instances gave it the ix-nay. I kept at it though, while blogging, writing, speaking where i could, and building my marketing plan (key for those with no built-in platform). A smaller and lighter-on-its-feet house, Wipf & Stock in Oregon, gave me the foot-in-the-door I needed. Their m.o. is to stay light so they can give good ideas the light of day in a way that larger houses are unable to do. It came out in May 2014 (PTL!!) – Women, Leadership, and the Bible: How Do I Know What to Believe? A Practical Guide to Biblical Interpretation ( <–shameless plug :-).
    So, it is possible; but I'll be the first to say that if you're going to pitch sans platform or "semi-platformed" like me, then be sure to do three things:

    (1) grow thick, thick skin (read: somewhere around 40 or so no's; felt like a thousand, but I just kept going, trying, and trusting);

    (2) develop that platform: blog, develop an email marketing list of your "tribe," speak wherever folks will let you (ask!!), and the like; and

    (3) create a killer marketing plan for your proposal (one on which you will follow through post-publication!).

  • Ellen Gee says:

    Amanda, you made the case for building a platform so clear. Goes to show how adding a personal story can really drive home a point. Thanks for putting yourself out there for our benefit.

  • Preston Brad Rentz says:

    This is the best description I’ve read as to why platform is crucial for us non-fiction folks. Well said Amanda. Excellent post.

  • Kristen Joy Wilks says:

    I also have a great non-fiction idea and no platform…so I’m working on writing fiction, because I love love love stories and would rather work hard to get a novel published than work hard to build a platform…wherein I would have to talk to other people. Yikes!

    • CathyS says:

      I see your point but you might want to rethink it. Novelists have to talk to people too, from what I hear. lol
      Cathy Shouse

  • CathyS says:

    This is kind of painful to read but I know all that you have said is true. Years ago I interviewed Marla Cilley for a newspaper. She’s the famous organizer and clutter buster known as FlyLady. She had a massively popular website and blog long before she ever wrote the mega-best selling “Sink Reflections.”

    I’ll always remember that she told me she didn’t want to write a book and charge her “Flybabies” for it because all of her online advice was free. Her fans begged her for a book, something to hold in their hands. This was in 2002 before e-books took off. She wrote her book in two weeks and the self-published book (I think) sold like hotcakes (forgive the cliche). Then Bantam came calling and begged her to accept their book deal and let them publish it for her. Marla had unknowingly created the ideal situation in which to launch a nonfiction book. In my story, I couldn’t resist saying she had literally gone from rags (cleaning rags) to riches. lol The question is, how can we duplicate that and should we even try?
    Cathy Shouse

    • Kristen Joy Wilks says:

      Oh! I love the fly lady and her cleaning system totally worked for me…for several months…until my third son was born. Now they keep sneaking their pet chickens into the house and hiding them under the covers on their bunk beds despite my (no chickens in the house unless you have a fever and she is wrapped in a towel) rule. But yeah, the fly lady is awesome but at least my boys are old enough to do the clean up when I discover their chicken stowaways. Ha

    • CathyS says:

      Yikes! My household is a zoo already without chickens to add to the mix! lol
      Cathy Shouse

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.