Be a Writer – Part Two: Ideas and Audiences

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet,
then you must write it.”
Toni Morrison

There are all sorts of motivations for writing a book. Maybe you want to share your ideas with the world, because you think that they’d be helpful or inspiring to other people. Perhaps you love the thought of being a ‘published author’ and seeing your book on a shelf. Or maybe you spotted a gap in the books that were out there already and you had the idea that you might be the person to fill it. Perhaps it’s all three. Or none of the above. It would be hard to deny that there’s something eternally romantic about the thought of being an author – it’s a possibility that draws people in and can hold them tight for years. I think that, a bit like being a teacher, the power is in the idea that your words could have an impact on someone else’s life. Apparently, 90% of Americans want to write a book.

“Everybody has a book inside them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”
Christopher Hitchens

Getting too wrapped up in the romantic possibilities of writing a book can seriously dent your chances of actually writing one. And it can particularly spoil your chances of making a living as a writer (as opposed to creating one book that might or might not sell). It’s not enough just to want to ‘write a book’, you have to think about whether anyone will buy it. Writing can be an incredibly introspective occupation – you have to look inside yourself to get your ideas in the first place, and it can be all too easy to fall into yourself and forget to climb out. There is a very tricky balance to be achieved between the confidence you need to put your ideas in the public domain and the kind of pride that tends to come before a fall. Even if you don’t want to make a living as an author, the idea of writing a book is that lots of people will read and enjoy it, so you can’t just think about you and your ideas – you have to think about your audience as well.

“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”
Elmore Leonard

The writer must pay the ultimate respect to their audience, because they are the ones who are going to be buying and reading your book (you hope). So the first thing you need to do, before you even think about approaching a publisher, is to analyse the idea that you’ve got. Is it about you going ‘look at me and how clever and special I am’ or is it actually going to be helpful to people? (Or, if you’re writing fiction, are people going to love your story world and the characters in it?) Not every book that is successful is useful to its audience – polemics can be popular and anything with shock value is likely to sell – but both of these tend to be short term wins. In the end, if your book is genuinely helpful, it has a far higher chance of succeeding, because people like to read books with good ideas, and because good ideas generate positive word of mouth. (Word of mouth is a whole other subject and one that I’ll come onto later in the series.)

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
T.S. Eliot

The voice that you use is a crucial part of connecting with your audience and making people want to read your book. It is your voice, in the end, that ties your readers to your ideas. You can have the most brilliant ideas in the world, but if people don’t connect with your voice, not so many readers are likely to hear them. At the early stages, it’s worth considering the ‘style’ that you want to achieve in your book, because you will need to talk about this when you pitch your idea to a publisher. Don’t worry about it too much at this point, though, because you will find that your voice develops as you write your book anyway. And that’s basically it. Idea sorted. Audience kept firmly in mind. Now all you need to do is submit a proposal to a publisher or self publish it. Oh, and you also have to write the bloody thing. Never forget that.

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2 Responses to Be a Writer – Part Two: Ideas and Audiences

  1. Love the last line!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Be A Writer – Part Three: Publish or Be Damned | Freeing the Angel

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