Every product is an idea at some point. But most products go from idea to something tangible. Goods and services become concrete. You can drive your car, drink your coke, eat your hot dog, go to the doctor’s office, stay at a hotel. The quality of the item is tangible too, based on materials used or services offered. These materials and services are the execution and fruition of the idea.
But what is a book? Yes, it is tangible. It has pages and a cover. It appears on your kindle screen or iPad. But unlike other products, the quality of the book has almost nothing to do with the material used to produce it. The ingredients that make books great (or not great) are the ideas themselves. If the idea is great and the writing is great the book will be great no matter the package. That’s why literary classics can be enjoyed as leather bound hardbacks, cheap mass market paperbacks, or electronic files glowing on a screen.
What does this mean for a writer? It means you are an idea developer. It means the idea you are writing must be honed and polished to be a great product. Your idea must be thought through, dwelt with, left for a while, returned to, and wrestled into a shape that is good. Just as a great company (think Apple) invests time, effort, money, and creativity into its products and won’t release them until they’re just right, so you must do the same.
It also means you have a greater challenge than an inventor or engineer, or at least an entirely different kind. You have to make your idea work in the hearts and minds of a reader, not in an internal combustion engine or cell phone or toy chest. The only objective standard for an idea is the standard of truth. But while a great idea must be true, all true ideas are not great. For an idea to be great it must build on true and become clear, entertaining, convincing, convicting, gripping, personal, or any number of other traits that make it grab a reader.
It means that you are probably the worst judge of whether your idea works. You can’t run a test to determine its capabilities. You can’t taste it yourself to see if the flavors mix well. A book doesn’t come from outside you; it comes from you. Testing the quality of your ideas is self-evaluation, not product testing even though your idea is your product.
To assess an idea you need an abundance of counselors. Most people can give feedback one aspect or another. One might tell you your writing style doesn’t fit the idea (too abrasive, too conversational, etc.), another might point out a flaw in your reasoning, and a third might tell you another person already wrote on that idea and did it well (maybe even better than you, as hard as that is to imagine). A writer needs all these people and more. These people are the litmus tests, the test pilots, the taste-testers, and the market research of your idea. Of course you don’t need to ask them their opinions, rather you can simply can give them the opportunity to share. By presenting your ideas in conversation, in shorter forms, in bits and pieces you will be able to collect the necessary feedback.
If you want to publish you must follow these steps. If you want to bring your ideas “to market” you must take note. An idea that’s unexpressed has as much value as a the paper it wasn’t written on. Put your ideas through the rigor of development, testing, assessment, creation, and crafting. And maybe, just maybe, you can sell them. They are your product after all.