Busy Writers: Validate Your Story Premise to Confirm a Winning Strategy

An essential step in creating commercial fiction is to validate your story premise. It’s easier than you may think, and I’ll show you how.

Why Validate Your Story Premise?

After you’ve taken a look at How to Write a Premise for a Book, let’s get some additional inspiration from this quote attributed to the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu (“Master Sun”) from The Art of War:

“Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.”

For writers, the point is to understand your passion, readers, marketplace, and competitors. Specifically, identify the competition for the minds and pocketbooks of your target readers. Your newfound insights empower and guide you to write a story desired by your intended audience.

In battle terms, understand your competitors to outflank them.

What Is a Story Premise?

The premise is what your story is about.

Like a movie poster, the premise shows the essence of what the audience can expect. Readers prefer a high concept—a catchy one-line book description they immediately understand and want to read. Writers use the premise to guide the story’s development, and in one sentence, gain a strategic sense of the character, plot, theme, and outcome.

Here’s an illustration of the nine steps you can use to develop and validate your story premise.

Note: For an in depth look at the process, refer to the downloadable Story Premise Development Workbook that comes with the step-by-step worksheet.

Story Premise
Click to Enlarge

Validate Your Story Premise BEFORE You Write

To avoid spending time and energy writing a story no one wants to read, answer these four questions:

  1. Are you passionate about writing a full-length novel based on this premise?
  2. Will readers care enough about this premise to buy your novel?
  3. Can you find where people actually buy such stories?
  4. Will the competition allow your book to compete?

Before you write, determine if you should invest the time required to turn your story premise into a full-length novel.

Confirm Your Passion for this Premise

Start with an objective evaluation of your passion for this premise.

Emotions ebb and flow. However, writing 50,000 to over 100,000 words is a long-term project. Take a hard look at whether your passion for this premise will sustain your slog through the down times.

Please don’t underestimate the value of your passion, the motivating force to cross the finish line.

Develop an Understanding of Your Target Readers

Your prospective audience gained their story expectations over a lifetime of consuming TV, films, and books.

Those expectations may parallel your tastes. However, you won’t know for sure unless you devote the time to reading comments about stories similar to your premise on sites like imdb.com and Amazon.com. That effort requires an objective evaluation of your potential book based on audience feedback about similar stories.

Skipping this step risks developing a false sense of confidence based on this tired phrase: “build it and they will come.”

Identify If Readers Buy Books Like Your Premise

Writers are prone to falling in love with an idea and then overrating the value of turning it into what they consider a unique story premise.

Besides pitching a narrative, the story premise serves as a strategic guide for writers. Think of it as a map, allowing you to stay within the boundaries of your story premise while heading in the desired direction. However, it’s only a map, and you control whether to take a detour.

If you can’t identify where your target audience buys large quantities of books similar to your premise, research a new idea with more appeal.

Making a GO/NO GO decision regarding a story premise is like knowing when and when not to fight.

Understand Your Competitors to Outflank Them

Among the bestselling authors I’ve studied, there’s a strong consensus that writers are readers.

An overwhelming number of top writers master their chosen genres. That means they’ve read, adopted, and adapted the time-tested masterworks to come up with fresh approaches to telling great stories. The best storytellers win the war of commercial fiction, and you can adopt these practices too.

  • Understand how and why your competitors tell their stories the way they do.
  • Then choose to play, but tweak your story in fresh ways.
  • Take to heart target audience comments and tell stores that not only satisfy their expectations, but surprise and delight readers.

Practical Ways to Validate Your Story Premise

You control the objective assessment of your passion, audience, marketplace, and competitors.

Developing this understanding is complex, but doable. I use Publisher Rocket* to simplify that task.

Interested in Publisher Rocket? Please support posts like this one by using this link to learn more about the app.

However, the maker of the app, Dave Chesson, understands people may want to first try manually researching before buying his app. Dave gives detailed steps in this post on Book Idea Validation Mastery.

Publisher Rocket enabled me to analyze reader expectations, the Amazon marketplace, and my competitors. Given how much the app shortened my time** spent researching, I’ve never regretted buying the app.

Leave a Reply

Knowing your audience, marketplace, and competitors provides writers with guidelines and ideas. With that in mind:

How do you validate your story premise and what tools do you use?

*My results after using Publisher Rocket for a year? I became a raving fan and signed up as an affiliate. As noted in my affiliate disclaimer, I may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases, but you won’t pay a penny more.

**Are you a time millionaire? A million seconds is the equivalent of 11 and a half days. Do you have a million seconds (nearly two weeks) to waste on research that the right app could do in a fraction of that time? Whenever you consider investing money in your writing future, assess how you can save time with the right app.

11 responses to “Busy Writers: Validate Your Story Premise to Confirm a Winning Strategy”

  1. Jacqui Murray Avatar

    I was doing well on your list until I got to “Understand Your Competitors to Outflank Them” What did I do? Called my genre a niche and ignored the lack of competitors! Moved on…

    1. Grant at Tame Your Book! Avatar
      Grant at Tame Your Book!

      Too funny, Jacqui! With apologies to Shakespeare, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Given the amount of effort you put into your excellent posts, guest posts, reviews, comments, and much more, I suspect you’re working hard to successfully outflank the competition! 😉

    2. Vera Day Avatar


  2. Taran Avatar

    This is a great reminder. If my printer were working, I might stick it on a wall somewhere. 🙂

    1. Grant at Tame Your Book! Avatar
      Grant at Tame Your Book!

      Thanks, Taran. Glad you stopped by today.

  3. D. Wallace Peach Avatar

    I have Publisher Rocket, Grant, but need to take a whole week off from my daily routine to dive into it. Your endorsement is a good push. And I enjoyed your exploration of a story’s premise and what to consider before expending months of time on writing. Great graphic as always. 🙂

    1. Grant at Tame Your Book! Avatar
      Grant at Tame Your Book!

      Thanks, Diana! Dave Chesson’s videos about how to use Publisher Rocket are some of the best. I use it to see what’s hot, narrowing my search before stepping into the deep end of the research pool. Saves me a ton of time. I appreciate your comments and support!

      1. D. Wallace Peach Avatar

        I’m going to block out a week in July and focus. I paid for it, and haven’t touched it. UGH. Thanks for the nudge!

      2. Grant at Tame Your Book! Avatar
        Grant at Tame Your Book!

        I look forward to hearing about your discoveries!

      3. D. Wallace Peach Avatar

        Oh. You’re holding me to it, huh? Ha ha ha. Better go mark my calendar! Done!

  4. Vera Day Avatar

    I like to think I’ve validated a premise before writing, but I wonder if I sometimes fool myself (just so I can get on with the writing portion). But that’s where beta readers are so helpful, even in the early, outline stage.

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