For most authors, the best way to begin working on your book is by thinking about the result. In other words, who are you writing for, and what do you want them to get out of reading your book?
Let’s begin with who.
- If you’re writing a business book, your intended readers might be clients, potential clients, or colleagues. They may be people new to your industry or those who have passed the 20-year mark. Or perhaps they’re members of the general public, or government officials, or university professors.
- If you’re writing a lessons-learned book based on your experiences in business, government, the military, or some other milieu, are you hoping to pass on your wisdom to people who have just entered the field? To those preparing to enter? To the general public? To policymakers?
- If you’re writing a memoir or an autobiography, whose heart do you hope to touch? Whose funny bone do you want to tickle? Whose spine are you trying to tingle? You might aim at people who have already taken the same path as you, those who hope to follow in your footsteps (or those who fear they might), or maybe those who know nothing of your situation but would like to take a peek. Your story might be exclusively for your family and friends, or for the public at large. Or you may want to put your story into words as a journey of self-exploration.
After you’ve thought long and hard about who your intended readers are, ask yourself what you want them to get from your book. Is it:
- the pleasure of a good read?
- a lot of great information?
- to become inspired, angry, amused, or horrified?
- to rally around a particular cause?
- to spend time reflecting upon or improving their lives?
- to realize they absolutely must hire you to solve some specific problem?
Before touching your fingers to the keyboard, it’s imperative that you understand who your readers are and what you want them to get from reading your book.
Here are examples of the intended readers and goals some of my clients had in mind when we were writing their books:
- Readers: The author’s college-age children and his friends’ children
Goals: A highly successful businessman wanted to teach young adults how to lead their best lives, no matter what their stations in life might be or how much (or little) money they earned.
- Readers: Executive search committees
Goals: A businesswoman wanted to spell out her leadership philosophies. Her book would then be given to members of search committees as she prepared to make her next move up the corporate ladder.
- Readers: Students of history
Goals: The daughter of a noted general and diplomat wanted to memorialize her father’s life and offer insight into some of his controversial actions.
- Readers: The author’s buddies
Goals: A retired airline pilot wanted to share stories of growing up during the Great Depression and piloting planes for early commercial airline companies.
- Readers: The author’s patients
Goals: A physician wanted to explain the nuts and bolts of epileptic seizures to her patients so they would understand why certain treatments and lifestyle changes were necessary.
- Readers: Colleagues and policymakers
Goals: A physician wanted to explain the serious implications of misdiagnosing certain diseases and to motivate doctors to change the ways these patients are treated.
- Readers: Potential clients
Goals: A stockbroker wanted to demonstrate his expertise and insight concerning the stock market and motivate readers to hire him.
- Readers: Existing clients
Goals: The “face” of a successful business wanted to encourage people already purchasing her product to grow more attached to it by learning about her and how she built the business.
- Readers: Angry victims
Goals: A highly-accomplished woman from a country whose people suffered horribly under an oppressive government wanted to show it is possible to set anger aside and focus on moving ahead.
- Readers: Lovers of a good read
Goals: A man who had led a wild life wanted to give readers the enjoyment of “going along for the ride.”
In short, you must figure out who you are writing for and what you want them to get from reading your book before you write a single word. Only then will you know how to proceed.
Chicken or Egg?
Do you have to make these decisions in a certain order?
That is, must you start by defining your audience, then figuring out the purpose? Or can you decide what you want your readers to get from the book, then figure out who will respond to your story or message?
There’s no right answer. Some of my ghostwriting clients know exactly who they want to address, while others are much more focused on what they want to say. There are a lucky few who have a good idea of both the “who” and the “what.” And then, of course, there are some who aren’t sure of the answers to either.
Whichever way you want to do it, make clear decisions about who you are writing for and what you want them to get from reading your book. If you don’t, you can end up wandering aimlessly through the writing process and either producing a weak book or giving up on the project altogether.
IF YOU’D LIKE HELP WRITING YOUR MEMOIR…
Contact us! We’re Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor, professional ghostwriters and authors with a long list of satisfied clients and editors at major publishing houses.
Check out our Testimonials Page to read their comments.
Then call us at 818-917-5362, or use our contact form to send an email. We’d love to talk to you about your exciting book project!