By Alex Schnitzler, Editorial Director
A client was ready to write his second nonfiction book. He self-published his first, but he had bigger dreams and signed with our agency to prepare a proposal package to send to publishing houses. The proposal draft he sent our agency lacked clear focus, but he had the beginnings of a strong platform, so we signed him. I wanted more of an edge to his overview. I wanted to read something distinctive that provoked thought and curiosity and uniquely asserted the force of his beliefs. None of that existed in his draft.
When you have a strong concept, but your content is thin, you need to rethink your material before Hollywood (or New York) comes knocking.
What’s your book about? What makes it unique?
I suggested to our client that he approach his content development with several questions in mind.
Email to Client: The revision you sent me still needs a lot of thought, depth and consideration. Speed is not the issue, at this point. Quality is. If your ideas were original, then this might be easier to construct. Your content, however, is not remarkably striking. You’re covering territory that many writers have addressed, written about, spoken about, published about, and televised. That’s not to say you shouldn’t attempt to write this book. You can accomplish amazing originality in your structure and delivery. So, you must find a way to approach your content development from a unique perspective. You can begin by asking yourself some hard questions. Most important: What’s your book about? Who cares about your topic? Why are you the person to write it?
Who’s going to read it? And why?
Defining your audience in your pitch is crucial. I’ve read countless proposals where the author fails to indicate any audience or sadly writes:
This book is for everybody.
What does that mean exactly? You mean all three hundred million people in the United States? Are you planning to target, Europe, Latin America, Asia… the world? Who are you writing for specifically?
In a nonfiction book proposal pitch, this is a serious issue. Many hopeful writers ignore its importance. Perhaps it stems from a naïve belief that everyone will want to read the book, or that the writer hopes everyone will read it, but it’s just not the case, and it’s not a prudent approach.
- Books rarely target a macro audience. Content, in general, even on the web, is increasingly targeting niche markets.
Here’s another reason why.
- Defining your readership will help you focus your topic.
Often, authors have a great topic (as in the example above) but little clarity on how to shape and deliver their content. Even though defining your audience may feel restrictive, it’s actually quite liberating. Once you have a focus, you can move more confidently into the construction of your material.
Most important: Don’t define your audience in your head.
Write it down.
Find statistics, facts, trends. Get your ear on the ground. Use your imagination.
Agents, editors and publishers want to know your demographic target, not simply from a marketing perspective (although this is also important), but from an editorial position. If you demonstrate audience savvy, then you will develop your content, tone, pitch, and style accordingly. Even better if you can prove people are already paying attention to your content – hiring you to speak, buying your audio or ebook product, following you on your blog or even Facebook.
Why are you the person to write it?
Demonstrating authority on your topic will win you readers. In your pitch, your overview, or any other venue where you sell your idea, you must illustrate your command of the content. But, more essential, you must ask yourself: why? Why are you the person to deliver this material?
Consider this possibility: Many people find reading uncomfortable.
Every reading event begins as an agreement, an unspoken contract between writer and reader. Your content unfolds, slowly, leading the audience on a process of discovery. The nature of this agreement places the writer in control and the reader in a position of weakness.
Readers don’t know you. If that is the case, they might not trust you. They’re approaching your material for the first time. They need assurance.
If you fail to immediately take charge of your content, demonstrate authority, concentrate on voice, your readers grow insecure—either they’re stupid, or you’re incredibly inept. Since your audience rarely chooses door number one, your idea ends up in the trash.
So, illustrate your authority with invention.
- Take Charge of your Content
- Combine Biography with Intent
- Use Relevant Anecdotes
And… most important
These questions provide the foundation for any content development. Without much effort, you can sit down and shape your idea by sketching out a few answers. Whether you’re looking to write a book, develop a blog, or build your platform, your efforts will cement your approach and effectively build bridges to your future fan base.