As with many kinds of journeys, when you set out to write a book, it’s best to plan before you start.
Even before the outline, you need to answer a couple of deep fundamental questions that will set your direction for the rest of the book.
If you answer these questions clearly, they will —
- Help you write a better book
- Make you more satisfied with the results from your book — and better able to adjust in the future
- Set the direction and course for your book marketing
Let’s look at these foundational questions in detail.
1. What Is Your Goal for Writing?
Your writing goal has two narrower applications:
- Your goal for your writing over your career or life
- Your goal for this book
Maybe you want to be famous (or sort of famous) or respected by your peers, clients, and the influential people in your field. Maybe you want to make a living by selling books or by building your business. Maybe your book supports a cause, or you believe you can change the world by telling your story.
Whatever that goal is, you need to be clear about it, or you will sabotage yourself all along the way and then beat yourself up when it doesn’t work out.
Next, within the context of that larger writing goal, what do you want this book to accomplish for you?
Some books set the stage for a series. Some are the author’s foundational statement or manifesto. Some books introduce a unique concept to the world. Some explain the author’s process to prospective clients. Sometimes they help pay off a pressing debt.
Your purpose, whatever you choose, brings its own set of strategies and tactics, some incorporated directly into the text, some directing how you’ll promote the book.
You can revise your goals along the way, but at least start with a rough idea that you can refine later.
2. Who Is Your Audience?
A book is a work of communication and, like all communication, has two parties — the speaker and the hearer — or the writer and the reader. You have the most to gain by the conversation (your goals, remember?), so you have more responsibility to be understood.
Knowing your audience enables you to write in the language of your reader. Not just Spanish, French, or Swahili. But using the words they use to think about their problem, the words they speak in their own community — cultural, demographic, or regional.
You also want to write to your reader’s educational level. Not just how far they went in school — although it’s partly that. You also want to speak to your audience’s knowledge of your field, from jargon to concepts. Are they beginners or advanced practitioners?
When it comes to marketing, your knowledge of your audience will tell you where to reach them — what social media, if any, and the kind of experience they’re seeking.
Start with general demographics and research online and off for deeper understanding.
3. What Transformation Does Your Book Offer?
Every book transforms the reader’s life — from a few hours of idle entertainment to life-changing wisdom. Your goal is to find the readers who are looking for that transformation.
Tell your readers the transformation you promise, stating it explicitly in the book description and on your website. Then reinforce it through the design of your book and website and all your marketing materials.
When your reader finds your clear statement of purpose that is in harmony with the design, there’s a sense of safety, integrity, of “coming home” to a writer to “understands me.”
You make possible a true meeting of minds with your reader.
Getting It Right from the Start
If you take the time to answer these questions as early as possible in writing your book, you’ll find that they give you a map and compass through the hundreds of decisions you’ll make as you write and promote your book:
- How to organize it
- What to include
- What to leave out
- Whether and how to illustrate it
- When to start promoting it
- What marketing strategies to use
- What mix of online and offline marketing makes the most sense
Knowing what you want to accomplish through your book will help you organize and write it to reach that goal. At the end of the process, you’ll be able to see how close you came to your goal and what you might do differently next time.
Answering these three simple (but sometimes difficult) questions will save you time, money, and energy throughout the life of your book.