• Writing Tips

    Research for Fiction?

    Even though fiction is made up it might still be factual in terms of the places the story takes place in and perhaps the way certain characters behave. Often the experiences of the characters are based on the experiences of real people who have been in similar situations.

    Highgate Village
    Highgate Vllage

    I read Joanna Trollope’s book: The Soldiers Wife and I know the author spent quite a bit of time with soldiers and their wives so that she understood the intricacies of their lives before she wrote the book. As a result it is a very interesting insight into the challenges these people face as well as being a good story.

    Before I started writing Forever Lucky, I went to Highgate Village in London (where it is set) and walked around taking in the ambience of the place, lunching at one of the cafes and taking endless photographs. This provided rich material for me and actually made the writing easier in terms of developing the story around my key idea. As a writer you can mix some facts that you like with your characters and storylines.

    The view from Waterlow Park
    The view from Waterlow Park

    I chose Highgate because I had lived there for a short time as a student but that was a long time ago (yes, very long) so I wanted to update my memories with how it is today as the novel is set in present day. Also, I am so much more observant now as I wander around. As a student I was pretty blinkered!

    When I first started writing I thought that having to do research would make the whole process too time consuming. I do admire those that write historical novels; you need a really good knowledge of your chosen period (how did different classes behave then etc..) before you can even make a start!

    Anyway I’m happy writing contemporary novels hand picking the factual details that serve my story well whilst developing characters that are completely made up. Ha!

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  • Writing Tips

    How do you research ideas for your non-fiction book?

    Okay, so you want to write a non-ficton book and you know you need to do some research first, but how do you go about it?

    First of all look at what genre you are going to write in

    You may already know which genre you want to write in, but it is worth having a look at how Amazon categorise books.Amazon Categories for Books

    This table on the right shows all the different genres on Amazon at the time of writing, and how many books are in each one so you can see how popular your field is:

    In some ways this shows you how accepted your type of book might be. However, it also shows which genres are highly competitive, i.e. already have very many books written on the subject.

    Whatever you do, it is better to write for a niche market than trying to write a book which will have mass-market appeal.

    There are many books written on diet and fitness, for example, and another book on this subject would meet with a lot of competition and you would struggle to make it work.  However, if you wrote a book, which was aimed at women over 50 wanting to improve their fitness, you would have a greater chance of success, because your book will resonate with that particular target audience.

    There are three important things to consider when choosing your subject:

    1. What do you feel passionate about? What do you have a strong desire to write about?
    2. What do you have a broad knowledge of?
    3. What will there will be a demand for?


    Choosing your subject

    • Firstly, think about what you know most about.
    • What are your strengths?
    • What qualifications do you have?
    • What do people tend to ask you for advice on?

    Also, think about what your friends and relatives know about; the expertise that one of them has, that you could draw on for your book. For example, you might want to write a book on the health of women over 50 and you may know someone who is an expert on the menopause.  Your friend could contribute their expertise to your book as the menopause might be one aspect you wanted to cover of the health of women over 50. You can then credit, your friend in the book so that you are highlighting their expertise and therefore helping them to promote what they do.

    Okay, so you’ve got your idea now you want to know if there’s a demand for it

    Google has a Keywords tool which will tell you what keywords (around your subject) people are searching for and how many searches there are each month for a particular keyword or phrase. It will also tell you how competitive that keyword is.

    To use the tool you need to open a Google Adwords account which is easy to do especially if you already have a login for Google e.g. Gmail. It doesn’t cost anything to open an account and use the tool. Only if you start setting up Adwords campaigns would you pay anything and you don’t have to do that.

    When you are in your Google Adwords account go to the Tools tab and then select:

    Search for new keyword and adgroup ideas

    Type your keywords in the ‘Your product or service box

    You can leave the rest of the boxes blank. If you wish, you can change the locations you are targeting from the whole world to UK only or you can leave it worldwide if that’s appropriate

    Click on ‘Get Ideas’

    When the results come up choose the Keywords ideas tab at the top and click on:

    Average Monthly Searches

    This will sort the keywords from those with the most number of searches per month down to those with the least.


    When I type in:  How to write and get published

    The highest number of searches is for:

    Keyword / phrase Avg. monthly searches Competition

    how to write a book
    49,500 Medium

    creative writing
    33,100 Medium

    how to write a novel
    18,100 Low

    So, if I were to write a book entitled, how to write a novel, the number of searches would be lower, but the competition is low, and so I am more likely to come at the top of the searchHow many readers will your book have?
    result. This demonstrates how being more specific can pay off.

    Finally, to really know how much competition there is for your subject go to Amazon and type your title/keywords into the search box (having selected Books) and see what comes up.

    If there are lots of books on your subject, see if you can come up with a unique angle or work out a niche group for which you tailor the subject and aim it at your smaller selected audience.

    Now you should have a great idea for your book, a title and enough excitement to start writing! Let me know how you get on. Email: words@gillbuchanan.co.uk

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