As the author, it’s easy to imagine that “everyone” is a potential reader for your book. Just like, as a parent, it’s easy to imagine that “everyone” would fall in love with your child if they ever met. But, alas, neither is true, and if you want your book to sell, you must define your target audience as specifically and clearly as possible.
By Robin Colucci The days of the “tell all” memoir are over. No one wants to read about how you were abused as a child, struggled with depression and drug addiction, got married too young, got divorced too old, and ultimately found God…unless you happen to be a celebrity. The public’s appetite for celebrity self-revelation appears still to be insatiable.
The main problem with the “tell all” is that it’s all been told. Since the 1970′s, we’ve read about the suicidal tendencies, terminal illnesses, miracle recoveries, and the redemptions of hundreds of story tellers. It’s still possible to be an unknown and get your memoir published, but it had better have a broader context than you.
If you look at the best selling memoirs, most are authored by celebrities and politicians. The ones that aren’t are written by ordinary people who made it into the news through extraordinary events, a great fairly recent example is Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger who safely landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson river after losing the plane’s engines to a collision with a flock of birds.
The rest are gems. Compelling, entertaining real-life stories that read like fiction written by people who were not household names before their books came out, and many still aren’t, but they are outstanding story tellers, and their stories give us more than just their experience. They provide access to realities most of us will never know, or a broader view of the world we think we know.
Agents are so sick of hearing how every up-and-coming writer’s memoir is the next Eat Pray Love that I’m not even going to use it is an example. (And yes, that means you shouldn’t mention it either when you pitch to agents).
Books I believe exemplify this include: Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, by Susan Jane Gilman, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, by Neil White, and The Other Wes Moore, by Wes Moore. Each of these books shares the author’s journey, but within the context of a larger story, a story with an impact that ripples outward, beyond one writer, and touches each of us in a profound, inescapable way.
I’d like to read your comments. What do you think characterizes great memoir?
To write a book that stands up to time, you'll want to take a little more time to write it.
By Robin Colucci
I’ve learned that to author a book is a whole lot more than spewing out ideas on to a page and slapping a cover on it. The path to authorship is a transformational one. You cannot author a salable book and be the same person when it’s published that you were when you started writing. The very act of writing it changes you.
Most people aren’t aware of this, so they feel blind-sided when their natural resistance to the change appears. Many panic and stop. Others settle for the ‘spew and slap’ model of writing and put out a book that makes them sound like everyone else. But if you go into it knowing that the process of authoring your book will alter who you are for good, you could see it as an exciting proposition.
It’s no accident that the title ‘author’ generates a sense of authority. Authors who make more money, have more clients, and get attention and accolades do not have those results just because they compiled a stack of papers with a bunch of words and their name on it, but because of the shift that occurred inside as they wrote it. To author a book that sells, you must own and accept that you are an authority. Bring forth your insight. Take your seat at the table. Stand in your power.
I know all of these ideas sound great, but probably feel about as comfortable as sliding into a wet wool suit—at first. But once you surrender to the idea that you are stepping up, you are willing to accept your mission, you are here to serve, and you are going to become an author no matter what, you can begin to feel at home inside of the discomfort and embrace it.
As a book development and writing coach, I’ve helped hundreds of people make that transformation, and I'm about to make it myself. I just sent the last revision of the final proofs for my book, How to Write a Book that Sells You, to my publisher today.
I didn't write it in a weekend. I didn't even write it in 90 days. But it has substance, and I'm proud of it.
When writing non-fiction, don't skip or delay these 4 important steps to help you position your book for greater success. Do these before you write, or at least early in the process.
- Share the content—The notion that withholding information until the ‘big day’ when you publish will help make a bigger splash is dead wrong. Look at New York Times bestsellers Julie & Julia, The Four Hour Workweek, and Sh*t My Dad Says, the ideas in these books were blogged or tweeted well before they were bound and published. Sharing your content helps. Don’t hold back. You have nothing to gain by being the world’s best-kept secret. When people ask me, “When should I start promoting my book?” I always answer, “As soon as you commit to the idea.” Promote immediately.
- Develop the Book Idea into a Book Concept—an idea is a spark--a moment of inspiration and excitement. To develop an idea into a concept means you've got clarity about why you are writing the book, who it's for, and what makes it special. If you know these things going in, you will end up with a stronger, more relevant book.
- Choose a Sound Structure that Suits Your Style and Material— Pick one genre and rock it. Books that blend structures and styles are painful to read and hard to distinguish, thus impossible for buyers to find and enjoy. For example, if you write a memoir/how-to, people who enjoy reading memoir will be turned off by the "how-to" interruptions in the narrative, and people who want a "how-to" will be frustrated by all the backstory and wish you would get to the point. While a 'how-to' author should include some brief examples of their own personal experiences to back up their steps, this is not the same as writing an entire memoir as a chosen genre and then inserting little "how-to" steps throughout.
- Create an Outline—Winging it is no way to write a book. In my experience as an editor, I've seen that authors who write without an outline leave out crucial information, yet repeat other tidbits ad nauseam. Especially for experts writing non-fiction, do an outline to plot the flow of information. It’s impossible to teach effectively or make a point when then material is disorganized.
I hope this helps you kick off the new year's writing efforts with ease.
When people come to me frustrated and confused, it's often because in their quest to write a book, they did things out of order. Put the ol' chariot before the dragon as we say in Fairyland. Here are 3 common errors of order for you to consider. If you are fretting over any of these and your book isn't yet written, stop it. Leave them alone and write the dang book.
- Write the Introduction—Maybe because it’s the first thing to read when you open a book, I don’t know, but for some reason, novices tend to want to go straight to writing the book's introduction. In the order of writing content, this step should be dead last. You cannot properly introduce a book until you know it, and you cannot know it until it’s written. Ever try to describe today someone you won't meet until tomorrow? That's a head scratcher.
- Choose a book title and sub-title—similar to the introduction, a book’s title is likely to need adjusting once the book is done. Don't expect to finalize a title until you can see the book for what it is. This is why the publishing industry uses the term “working title.” You choose a temporary title for the book while you are working on it, but don’t settle on one until it’s finished. And never, ever let it distract you from writing. If the book never gets written, you'll never need the title, even if it's a clever one.
- Decide on a publishing route—With so many publishing options these days, all you need to know now is that you will complete the project and publish. As you develop the book, you also will be growing your career, and your desires and needs may change between now and when the book is ready to publish. It’s fine to have an inkling of which direction you want to go, but you don’t need to make a final decision until the manuscript is done.
Next post..3 Write a Book Steps Most put off that Should Be First
People who want to write a book often ask me about book length. How long, or how short should it be? The current trend is toward shorter books to match the shrinking attention span of an audience overwhelmed by information. A publisher is not inclined to publish a 600 page “how-to” opus from a first-time, unknown author. A good length for a non-fiction “how to” book is 45,000 to 65,000 words, or 180 to 280 pages in print. For a memoir or novel, 50,000 to 90,000 words is the sweet spot.
If you find yourself feeling limited by these ranges, here are some ideas to help you keep it brief without compromising on content.
Build a career: You can (and should) write more than one book in your lifetime. Think of your authoring aims long-term. Agents and editors hope for an on-going relationship with an author, not a one night stand. You are more attractive when you have a list of three to five follow up books you could write to go with the one you are writing.
Don’t try to say it all in one book: One of the most common mistakes I see first-time authors make is trying to share everything they know in one book. Not only does this confuse the reader, a book chock-full of general information is harder to market than a clear, simple book written to a well-targeted niche.
Look for opportunities to beak up the information: If you find yourself throwing in new tidbits every time you open the manuscript, take a step back and see what your book actually covers. Are there multiple themes that could be broken down and explored in more depth in future books? Usually, the answer is “yes.”
Make every word count: Unfortunately, most writers say in 100 words what could be said in 20, thus books are often heavy on fluff and light on content. Have your manuscript edited by a wordsmith who has mastered brevity.
I get asked all the time, "How do I sell more books?" when the real question ought to be, "How do I write a book that sells?" Authors are frustrated, of course. With over four million new titles published in 2010 alone, competition for readers is beyond staggering, it's epic. Many authors complain that despite their promotion efforts and expenses, book sales remain anemic. Unfortunately, in most cases they come to me after the fact, after the book is published. When it's too late. I can see quickly what went wrong.
To write a book that sells, you must sell the book in the writing. What I mean by that is your book must stand out. It must communicate a clear, tangible benefit to a specific audience. You cannot write a book with some vague, willy-nilly benefit to "everyone" and expect to become a bestseller.
Your book needs a bestseller title, a vital component in getting people's interest and helping them understand what's in the book that they want. Example, a made-up title: Divine Awakening toward Enlightenment and an Empowered Life is loaded with sweeping terms that most of us don't fully understand and points to the vague benefit of an "empowered life," whatever the heck that means. A book like this, I predict, would be chock full of platitudes and meditations with no particular reader in mind and no concrete solutions.
These days, you cannot overestimate how busy people's lives are, nor can you begin to imagine the amount of information they are asked to consume every day. No one has time to read a book unless they know upfront what they are going to get out of it.
So, if you want to write a book that sells, to start know 1) who your audience is and why they would read your book. 2) what you promise to deliver 3) go about delivering it as clearly as you can.