Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Writing your book; how many assumptions are you making?

Working with writers is endlessly fascinating. 

And challenging.  And frustrating.  And...

I guess you get the picture.  It's different every time which I love and even if there are similar topics to books, the unique perspective the author has, creates that difference.

But... there are some common threads when I work with them.  And it's to do with assumptions they make.

About themselves as writers.
About their prospective readers.
And most important about the connection between the two.

Assunptions about themselves as writers
  1. They can't write a book because it's different from anything else they've done.
  2. They have nothing to say because it's all been done before.
  3. They don't have the time.
All of these are practical issues not literary ones.Once we've worked through them and I've offered them some suggestions to consider that usually sorts them out.

Assumptions about their prospective readers
  1. That because it's written, the readers will oblige by buying, reading, recommending.
  2. That readers have the time to sit down and read at length.
  3. That readers don't know what's what.
Again these are practical issues; assumptions held because they either do relate or don't relate their own behaviour to that of prospective readers.

The first is the old better mouse trap situation.  Nobody has to be interested in our books.  We have to find compelling reasons for them to be interested.

If they don't have the time to write the book, why do they believe the reader has the time to read it.  The argument might run that it takes less time to read than to write, but that makes the fatal assumption that everyone reads at the same rate, with the same discipline and enjoyment as we do.

Pay attention to how you present your information

Imagine there is someone who could really use the advice your book offers.  But they don't like reading and they don't have the money to spend on one to one consulting.

Are you going to create a book that excludes someone who might change their life for the better having read your book?  It's not a case of dumbing down material.  It's a case of presenting it in a form that's easily digestible and simple to apply.  If you want to write an academic book that only 20 people in the world that's fine. 

That doesn't apply to most of us so we have to pay attention to not only the information we present, but how we present the information.

Assumptions about the connection between writers and readers
  1. That there is none.
  2. That what the writer wants to do is more important than what the reader needs.
  3. That there's only a one way connection.
I've met writers who don't care about their readers.  Period.

They want to tell their story and that's it.  Like it or lump it, the reader gets what they get. That's an okay place to be if you don't want any connection and the thought of readers make you feel slightly soiled.

Yes readers are irritating because they react in ways different from what you want or imagine.  But developing as a writer, especially if you write non-fiction means taking account of what's happening in the world beyond your computer.

Which involves being connected in some way to readers.  And which leads to the two, not one way connection.  Listening to what readers tell you about how your book met their needs or didn't, can give you feedback many companies would shell out large sums in market research to discover.

Recently I met a reader of my first book, Writers Little Book with Big Ideas.  What she took most from the book was to simply get on and write.  Now that might seem a straightforward statement but you wouldn't believe the number of people I meet who suffer from that very challenge.

Of putting pen to paper or fingers on keyboard and doing it.

You see much as we think we know what our readers need, how they'll react to our writing and what they gain from it, we don't.

Not really.  Because readers always surprise you by finding things in your books that you had no idea were in there, or intended to be in there.

So the fewer assumptions you have in your head about your readers, your ability as a writer  before you start to write the better. 

Not knowing is a good place to start and you'll write a more rewarding book for you and your readers working from there.

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