Writing a book: Before you start
December 11, 2011"A successful book is not made of what is in it, but of what is left out of it." ~ Mark Twain, in a letter to Henry H. Rogers, 26 - 28 April 1897
A book concept is the easiest part of writing a book, and the hardest. You may have many friends and acquaintances who tell you, “Oh you have had such an interesting life, you should write a book!” That is not a good reason.
Book editors will tell you that they will run miles - in the opposite direction - if you tell them you are writing the book because your grandchildren love your stories, or your wife is always telling you to write a book because you've had such remarkable experiences.
Can you spool together a great story that can hold a reader’s attention for 200 pages or so? That’s around 75,000 words. And if you are committed to about a year’s worth of writing, then a few months more of rewriting once your editor gets it, and if an agent has first accepted it…
Wait, don’t get discouraged, read on…
John Willig, a literary agent in New Jersey asks just two questions of those who submit a book proposal to him – who is the target audience and why would people want to spend $25 on your book?
A bad answer is the sort I got from a Maryland historian and financial expert who wanted to write a book on the global financial crisis. The first chapters he sent me were not suitable. The chapters were filled with long quotes from other writers and thinkers and he seemed to struggle to believe in his own voice. Who is your target audience I asked?
Everyone, he responded.
I queried: Everyone? People of all ages, all levels of education? Really? How many teenagers do you know who are interested in macro-economics? How many home executives or construction workers will settle down to analyze the Wall Street Journal in the evening?
As we whittled it down it became clear that his audience was a highly-educated reader probably aged between 35 and 60. I recommended he page through magazines and find a photograph of the person who looked like his male reader and one who looked like his female reader, then pin them up on the noticeboard and wrote for those two.
He wasn’t keen on that. Think of someone, I suggested, who you want to persuade. There is someone who has come into your head as I am saying this and that person is the one you should write for.
As it was two people popped into his head, his sister-in-law how as always asking him questions about finance, and a man who belonged to his bookclub and who he frequently had vigorous debates with. Write the book with those two in mind, I suggested, answer the questions and argue the debates you think they might pose.
If you can answer the questions John Willig poses, then you probably have a tale worth telling. If you struggle to find your voice, then try one of the two techniques I suggest.
* If you want to learn more about writing a book or a book proposal I do face-to-face writing coaching or online, contact me through these pages. And if you have written the book, I will aid you to publicize it and obtain speaking engagements.