September 5, 2019 by

First Draft: Finding the Topic for Your Book

First Draft is a monthly blog series that breaks down the book writing process. Written by the ASCD Book Acquisitions Editors, this series will help educators understand how to go from a book idea to a first draft in order to share their expertise and passion with the field.


As ASCD acquisitions editors, we spend most of our time talking with authors about ideas. Together, we’ve worked with hundreds of authors to translate their expertise into actionable, engaging books that make a difference in the lives of educators and students. From those innumerable conversations, we’ve learned a thing or two about the writing process and in this new ASCD InService blog series, First Draft, we’ll be sharing some of that knowledge with you.

This month, let’s talk about how to find the topic of your next book. here are three questions that we often ask authors when brainstorming new book ideas and we hope they’ll spark your own imagination and creativity.

  • What topic do people seek you out for? Whether you’re working as a consultant, professor, administrator, or classroom teacher, you have some expertise that people are hungry for. What topic do educators ask you to speak on? Which blog or social media post has received the most attention? The answers should give you insight into your valuable expertise and what topic is most in demand.  
    • Get Thinking: Make a list of all the requests for advice you’ve received in the past two years (and anything coming up). This means requested presentations, trainings, questions posed on social media, emailed queries for advice, and personal conversations. What topic appears most frequently?
  • What topic do you want to be known for? This is the flip side of the previous question. Perhaps you’ve been sought out for a particular topic, but you actually have expertise and passion in a different area. When you think about your career in five years, ten years, what do you want to be talking about? What trainings do you want to be doing? Make sure that your book supports your larger career goals and the brand identity you want to create, and that you’re not just writing on any topic in your wheelhouse.
    • Get Thinking: Set a timer and write for 15 minutes about your vision for your career. Are you still in schools or are you consulting? Do you want to be a keynote speaker or conducting field research, or both? When you see yourself in your ideal role(s), what topics do you want to be talking about? What do you want to be the recognized expert about? How do you most what to help others?
  • What book do you most want to read, but can’t find? Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” This is a bit tricky when writing nonfiction, as you should have expertise in the topic. But if there is a topic that has been plaguing you and you can’t find a book on it, could you become the expert on that topic and write that book? If the book you’re looking to read—and perhaps write—is related to your current expertise and you have a real passion for the topic, perhaps that is the direction your research and work should go. Consider again the previous question, what do you want to be known for? Is this new path of inquiry going to support your career trajectory and make a contribution to the field of education?
    • Get Thinking: Make a list of topics you’d love to read a book on. Check out Amazon to see if those books already exist. If they don’t, are there related books to help you improve your expertise? What sort of research would you need to do in order to develop expertise? How would you test the strategies in the field to ensure their efficacy? This path to writing another book is more labor-intensive and will take much longer, but also may be one of the most rewarding.

We hope this has gotten the wheels turning! Often, book ideas are years in the making, an amalgamation of your experiences, reading and research, and curiosity. Asking yourself these questions can help to draw out and refine your knowledge into a viable book topic.

Head over to our Write for ASCD page to get more writing tips and to learn more about writing an ASCD book or article. Stay tuned for next month when we’ll talk about how to take your newfound book topic and turn it into to a marketable hook.