When you started writing, you probably were interested only in writing for yourself. You were keeping a journal, writing a story for fun or jotting down your life story. Now that you want to share your writing—you are writing to be read—you need to start thinking of your audience.
This concept seems like a no-brainer. Of course, you are writing your short stories and articles to be read. Certainly, you are preparing your book for a particular audience. But is this your primary focus as you write and edit your book?
• Is your message clear?
• Are your sentences succinct and understandable?
• Does your storyline make sense?
• Are you addressing the concerns and desires of your audience?
I sometimes suggest to clients and students that they write so that someone from Mars can understand it.
If it is a how-to article or book, clarity is imperative. It’s not always easy to write instructions, for example. Keep in mind that just because you know what you’re talking about and your words make perfect sense to you, doesn’t necessarily mean that your audience will understand. That’s why I suggest that freelance writers and authors keep their audience in mind while they are writing and especially during the editing process. This is one excellent reason why it is important to have another set of eyes (preferably eyes that are well-trained in editing) to read your manuscript before publication. He or she will be able to point out any problem areas: muddy writing, confusing dialog, inconsistencies and so forth.
One manuscript I edited started out with a main character named Karen. About three-quarters of the way through, the name changed to Kelly. Ooops. And the author hadn’t even noticed. Well, she knew that she changed the name, but thought she had made all of the necessary changes. I’ve read published books where the author made changes in the name of the city or a dog, for example, and didn’t make all of the changes throughout.
Another author decided to eliminate almost all references in long sections of dialog to show who was speaking. Not only was there no indication of who was speaking, she didn’t even stay true to her characters styles of talking. As an editor, I was thoroughly confused. Just imagine how her readers would react to this.
Some of my nonfiction authors love to throw around pet titles/phrases and acronyms without explanation. Some authors assume that the reader is par with them in understanding the subject matter, so they attempt to communicate in innuendoes and hints. I tell these authors, this is no way to inform and teach your readers.
Probably where I see the largest measure of error in communication is in the book proposal and even the query letter. If an author is also a reader and is writing with the reader in mind, he or she will usually learn what it takes in order to capture the interest, attention and comprehension of a reader. Few authors, however, really understand what it takes to communicate with a publisher or an agent.
When you write your query letter or book proposal, imagine throughout that you are communicating directly to the publisher. Address his concerns, respond to his burning questions, give him every reason to be interested in your project. How? By getting into his head. What does he want to know? What does he care about?
I can tell you that most publishers do not care one iota that you, “New Writer,” have penned a children’s book or a historical novel or another how-to/self-help book for women. This is of no interest to him. He especially doesn’t care that your friends think this book is marvelous or even that it won an award from you local, Snakepit County library. No!
He cares only about his bottom line. He wants to know whether your book is a worthwhile, valid project and if it can make his company some money. This is the mindset you must address throughout the process of writing your book proposal. He doesn’t want fluff. He wants facts. He doesn’t want a weak overview, he wants a strong synopsis that makes a case for the validity and salability of this book. He doesn’t want your brother’s opinion of the book, he wants a strong market analysis that demonstrates how your book compares to others that have done well in the marketplace. He wants to know that you have a platform (a following, a way of attracting readers) and that you will aggressively promote this book
Don’t tell the publisher that you will be available to do book signings and so forth. Say that you will get out there and make promotion happen. Don’t let him see you as a meek author who just wants to sit in her cubbyhole and write. Create a picture in his mind of an energetic marketing-savvy author with lots of creative promotional ideas and the ability and willingness to follow through.
Do you see why I harp at my readers, clients and students to keep the reader in mind every step of the way no matter their audience? Think about it, when you write a personal letter, you have the recipient in mind the entire time. This is as it should be when you are writing a book (fiction or nonfiction) and when you are writing your book proposal. Envision your target audience (be it young adult readers, women, children or publishers) and write for that individual.
For more on how to write, publish and sell your book, including a section on self-editing, read my book, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book.