Writing Like You Want to Be Read

One of the hardest things for many writers to grapple with, in my experience, is to shift their mindset from thinking of their book as a creation that expresses their artistic vision to thinking of it as a product that people will want to buy.

Novels: From Creation to Product

For fiction writers, this shift needs to occur after the first good, solid draft, the draft where all the plot points are in place and the characterization worked out — at that point, the writer needs to quit thinking so much of his artistic vision and to think more about the potential reader: what will readers need to get the experience the writer intends? Having a good editor will help an author hone their work so that it provides all the little incentives that a reader needs to keep reading: prose that flows smoothly, free of awkwardness of expression; realistic but well-crafted dialogue; adequate and carefully chosen description, etc. All of these decisions need to balance two questions: “What do I want the reader to experience? What’s the best way to produce that experience?”

But the writer must also start thinking about how to find those readers once the book is finished: crafting compelling book descriptions, querying agents, pitching the book to publishers, etc., and generally thinking of a product that needs to be marketed and sold. In other words, the writer needs to start developing a marketing mindset, thinking of the book as a product that must be sold.

Nonfiction Book Proposal

Writers of nonfiction books need to start thinking about their book as a product much earlier in the process, because many nonfiction books find publishers on the strength of a book proposal alone — even before the book has been written. The book proposal is similar in form and intent to a business plan: the writer must describe what they intend to produce and convince the publisher (or perhaps just an agent) that it will be a marketable product. In other words, the author must “sell” the publisher on the idea of the book, before it’s even written.

It’s impossible to writer a compelling book proposal without the necessary shift from the writing to the marketing mindset. This article by Brian Klems describes the essential elements of a good book proposal, with emphasis on how to make sure you are selling your idea, rather than simply suggesting it. And you do have to “sell” — you must sell yourself as the ideal author for the book you are proposing, sell book as something that a sizeable number of readers will need or want, and sell the publisher on the idea that your book can help them turn a profit.

The USP

If you are writing, or thinking about writing, a nonfiction book for publication, here’s a shortcut to developing this marketing mindset. The Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that will make a publisher want to publish your book can be summed up in three basic questions:

  • Why you? (What experience, background, and skills make you uniquely equipped not only to write the book, but to help promote it once it’s written?)
  • Why this book? (Who needs to read this book? How will your book provide benefits not available from other books already in print?)
  • Why now? (What makes this book timely? How does this book fill a gap in a publisher’s lineup, or in the market more generally?)

Writing a book proposal before you even start writing your book can be an excellent way to start thinking about your target readers, and the benefits you want your book to provide. Even if you intend to self-publish, a book proposal will help you get into a marketing mindset, so that when your book is ready for the world, you can be confident that there will be readers waiting to read it.

Taking a book from creative concept to marketable product is a complex task, and involves a lot more than simply sitting down to create in words. While it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the demands of marketing (which many writers fear will suck all the fun out of writing), would-be authors need to keep in mind that the whole point of writing for publication is to produce something that readers will want to read. And, unless you intend to self-publish, it also means producing something that publishers will want to publish.

If you’d like some help with this complex task, find a good writer’s group. The Dallas/Fort Worth Catholic Writers Group welcomes writers no matter where they are in the process — struggling with a concept? Working to produce a good draft? Polishing, refining, revising? Or querying, publishing, marketing? We meet once a month, on the first Tuesday (details here) and welcome all comers. Our next meeting is Tuesday, September 5. If you have a piece you would like to have critiqued, bring several copies to share.

If you want to make sure you never miss a meeting, contact Nancy Ward  to get on the email list. You can also sign up to receive all blog posts by email. Just fill in the form in the right-hand sidebar.

This post originally appeared on the DFW Catholic Writers Group blog.
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