What is the Crucial Question on the Bottom Layer of Your Book Idea?

by Barb Roose

As a literary agent, this is one of the main questions I hope an author answers when he or she pitches a nonfiction project to me. Felt-needs topics like parenting, marriage, racial injustice, anxiety, trauma, or wellness are broad topics, like a giant chocolate cake from Costco. Have you ever seen Costco’s signature round chocolate cake? It’s a towering, three-layer confection that is so chocolaty you may feel like you’re squirting Hershey’s syrup straight into your mouth. It’s that good!

Crafting your book’s unique selling proposition (USP) or hook is a lot like that Costco cake. The top layer is your personal story, and the middle layer is the topic. However, the creation of a marketable and salable book idea depends on whether or not the writer has fully answered the question on the bottom layer: When it comes to this topic, what pain point, unanswered question, or unsatisfied goal is keeping your reader up at night searching for answers? This is the layer often missing from book pitches or proposals.

However, without this layer, the writer’s book topic will be too general and not unique enough to grab an agent or editor’s attention. After all, if it doesn’t grab an agent or editor’s attention, it will be even harder to grab a potential reader’s attention because there are dozens of books on the shelf or screen to choose from.

When you can answer that bottom-layer question, it raises the interest factor of your book. Just as there are chocolate cakes available all over town, there is something extra decadent and impressive about the Costco cake that prompts me to pick it over a more easily accessible choice. The same applies to books.

A few years ago, I heard a well-known author say to the audience, “There are books that people will buy someday, but your goal is to write a book that someone says, ‘I must buy this today.’” Identifying the answer to that bottom layer puts you on the path to creating a hook/USP that pops when a literary agent opens his or her overflowing email inbox.

Let’s test this out for your current work-in-progress. Fill in the blanks according to the prompts below. If you aren’t sure, then tap into your network of writing friends, like the Oregon Christian Writers’ community, to figure this out.

    Top Layer = Your Personal Story ____________________________________________

    Middle Layer = Felt-Needs Topic ____________________________________________

    Bottom Layer = Pain Point/Unanswered Question/Unsatisfied Goal ____________________________________________

There are a multitude of great books on popular felt-needs topics, and there is room for more great books as well. Today’s writing tip is a reminder to you that it’s important for you to look beyond your motivation for writing your book and think about the specific pain point, unsatisfied need, or aspirational desire of your target reader. Once you know the answer to that bottom layer, you’ll have a book hook that is well on its way to offering real value to your audience as well as attracting the attention of a literary agent or publishing editor.

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Books & Such Literary Agent Barb Roose loves partnering with aspiring and established authors to achieve their publishing career goals. As an author with award-winning sales and executive leadership experience, Barb embraces the challenges and opportunities that agenting in Christian publishing offers. She represents both Christian adult fiction and Christian nonfiction and welcomes queries that meet agency submission guidelines.

Barb will teach two workshops, “Platform 101” and “Greenlight Your Way to a Literary Agent,” at the upcoming OCW Cascade Christian Writers Conference June 23–26.