What’s your favorite book?
Even without seeing (or hearing) your answer, I already know something really important about that book: it speaks to your heart. Maybe it’s the novel you’ve read and re-read fifteen times, with the main character who just gets it. Maybe it’s the biography of your personal hero. Maybe it’s a spiritual book that has changed the way you think about yourself and your place in this world and set you on the path to becoming the best version of yourself. And maybe it’s something else altogether.
Whatever your answer, I can tell you one thing with certainty: you love this book because it says something to you.
That means the author had a sense of the things that matter to you. Perhaps the writing process was therapeutic and healing, perhaps the work includes a bit of memoir, but the book does not begin and end with the person writing it. It begins with the author, but it ends with you … the reader.
This is the secret of successful books. Authors reach out to me all the time with book ideas and proposals, often well-written, well-researched, thoroughly outlined, and carefully explained. But I still turn them down. Why? Because they don’t know who their readers are.
Now I want to challenge you, dear writers. Are you working on a new book or proposal? Try this exercise: set the manuscript aside for at least half an hour. Step away, maybe to a different room or a different spot in your office. Take a blank notebook and a pen and start describing your reader.
Who is she?
What are his dreams and aspirations?
Who are the people who matter most to her?
What’s the problem, worry, or hurt that keeps him awake at night?
Where does she spend most of her time?
How does he spend his money?
What else is she reading (or listening to or watching)?
Get to know that person.
Then go back to your manuscript and assess it from your reader’s point of view. Is it speaking to his needs? Will it touch her heart? Does it offer a clear answer to a felt need, or directly address some issue he or she faces every day? If the answer is YES, keep going. You’re on the right track (and I’d like to see your proposal when it’s ready).
If the answer is “Kind of …” or “Not really …” it might be time to pull back, reassess, and start over.
Who is your reader? Once you can answer that with clarity, everything else will start to fall into place.