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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lim

MF 223 : Narrowing down your topic list for your first book

Updated: Jun 22, 2022

On this episode, we take a look at taking your idea list and extrapolating it into an idea storm to figure out which topic you should write on. More at

Moving Forward is also available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon Music.

Part 1: A whirlwind of emotions and a reminder from a good friend

Wow, what a week! My new book came out Friday and I was a whirlwind of emotions mixed with a big dose of exhaustion. We had last minute tweaks and proof checks before we submitted both the ebook and the paperback files for publication to Amazon, as we decided to self-publish this book. I was in a strange limbo from Wednesday night, which is when I submitted the files for approval, up through when the book came out: Thursday for the ebook and Friday for the paperback. Since then, I’ve experienced the highs of congrats from friends, many who bought the book and seeing the initial sales reports to that crash that happens when you finish something big and you’re not quite sure what to do with yourself. My friend Kristin Wald, who I had on the podcast a few years ago knows this experience too well. She gave me some sage advice: “be gentle with yourself.” Give yourself a week or two to decompress and center yourself. It’s good advice. What are you working on that’s keeping you laser focused? If you recently accomplished a big long-term goal, how do you decompress?

Part 2: Narrowing down your topic list into the top two or three

[NOTE: the books covered in the book writing series are out of print. For more, check out episode 388.]

This week, we continue our discussion of writing your first book. If you’re new to this mini-series, I recommend you start with episode 222 from last week. Hopefully, you took some time to jot down some ideas and topics that you really enjoy gabbing about. If you didn’t censor yourself, you may have written down some amazing subjects. Maybe, it’s Game of Thrones or gardening or craft beers. You may have also written down a few skills and talents that relate to your profession or business.

Take a look at your list and rank them from least to most exciting. Use the smile test. Read them aloud and see which one makes you smile the most. It might not be your Excel skills but the obscure TV show or book series or a story from your life that you tell over and over when getting together with friends and family.

Next, take a critical look at that list. If it’s a big list, start eliminating the ones that don’t truly excite you. Writing a book is like a relationship: a long term commitment with ups, downs, thrills, and struggles. So choose a topic that you really love. Narrow down to 2 or 3 topics that really grab you and excite you. It doesn’t matter at this point if you can visualize it into a book yet.


Once you’ve narrowed down your topic or topics, take a whiteboard or large sheet of paper and write the topic down in the middle. Draw branches out from it and write down what you love about it and moreover, what you talk about when with your friends, family, etc. If it’s a TV show, do you talk about story, character or art design? If it’s a personal story, what are the aspects that make you want to talk about it nonstop? Start broad and get granular about it. If you have more than one topic, see which one fills up first and fastest. Finally, talk with one or two friends or trusted colleagues (preferably one you’ve talked about this subject with) and ask them why they enjoy talking about this topic with you. Optional: if you want to co-write this book, you may even want to broach the subject with them.

[NOTE: the books mentioned in this episode and in the book writing series are out of print. I am leaving these episodes mostly as is and strictly for informational and instructional purposes only. I have retracted my story from the book discussed in this episode and its sequel with full reservation of my copyright. For more, check out episode 388.]


Scrivener (available for Mac, Win, IOS) is a book writing program that auto formats for self-publishing on Amazon’s KDP and other platforms. It’s a great tool with rich features that allow co-writers to collaborate through Dropbox. Scrivener has a bit of a learning curve but I’ve been a fan since 2017 and have talked to many authors who use it as their go-to. If you’re interested in Scrivener, you can use the coupon code MOVINGFORWARD to get 20% off your purchase (for Mac or Win). It’s a one-time license fee and available for Mac, Win, IOS.

Note: this section contains affiliate links and coupon codes for which the author may receive some compensation.

Part 3: What I’m reading / read

The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau (****). I read this while in Florida and thoroughly enjoyed it. While the title may sound a bit sensational and hyperbolic, Guillebeau does a great job providing case studies and examples of people who started side hustles from $100 or less and turned it into businesses. He balances the success anecdotes with stories of people who hit road bumps along the way, showcasing they pivoted or change course altogether. Guillebeau’s thesis is that entrepreneurship (or the new age of “solopreneur“) breaks down into three components: 1) find a problem, 2) create a solution, 3) create a way to get paid. While it seems simple and commonsensical, many of us miss one or more elements that prevent traction or success. I would have liked a few more case studies on the negative side and on businesses that didn’t succeed despite having the three elements; perhaps due to some unforeseen challenge, to balance out the analysis. Overall, a very engaging and thoughtful book and one I highly recommend, especially to those who are in school and struggling to figure out what’s next.

Books by John

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