06 Jan 30. When You’re Writing to No One
Whatever story you have to tell or knowledge you want to share in a book, there’s someone waiting for it. But who?
Who is that person scrolling through Amazon and searching for what your book has to offer?
In this episode, I discuss how you can make sure you write an engaging–not boring!–book by keeping that reader in mind.
Mentioned on This Episode
With Winning in Mind, by Lannie Basham – An Olympic gold medalist shares his proven system for making continual improvement in any area of life.
A lot of writers, artists, and intellectuals will tell you they don’t watch a lot of TV.
I’m not that person.
My husband and I watch a fair amount of television, and most of it is exceptional storytelling or interesting documentaries that pulls us in.
My husband works in television and film so we also watch shows his friends and colleagues work on.
And lastly, I watch some escapist fare that I just like to watch for pure entertainment or when I need a laugh.
So I’m a TV watcher, which brings me to this week’s topic.
On a recent episode of the TV show Greenleaf, several of the characters referred to a character named “Winkie” several times. A whole storyline formed around Winkie and how he would react to some bad news.
One character even spoke directly to Winkie during the episode.
However, as the episode ended, my husband noted that Winkie never appeared on camera.
If you’re not a regular watcher of Greenleaf, you would be left wonder who the heck Winkie is.
Instead, you’d be wondering who is this Winkie?
When the characters spoke to Winkie , they were speaking to the ether. They were speaking to no one.
And that’s where I see a lot of authors go wrong with their books.
They’re never clear about who they’re talking to.
Or they try to speak to everyone.
Either way, the writing comes across as if they’re writing to no one.
In episode, I talked about how you can identify your one perfect reader.
But it’s not enough to identify that one perfect reader. You have to write directly to him or her.
When I studied literary fiction, we lived by a rule that you write for the 5 smartest people you know.
That makes sense if you’re writing a literary novel. Some caveats of course, but let’s go with it.
If you’re writing young adult fiction you can’t just write to adolescents. Who are these adolescents?
Are they into video games? Are they activists? Are they interested in history? Or science fiction or both?
When it comes to writing non-fiction, writing to your one perfect reader, writing to your audience matters.
I recently read a book about leadership, and I couldn’t figure out who it was for.
The author started off well enough in her introduction. She invited executives and future executives to learn from her book.
She was very specific in addressing them. So great. Off to a good start.
But as soon as she got into the content, she started speaking in generic terms.
Her content was for executives, but then she tried to address entrepreneurs.
She used generic terms, and she never addressed the reader directly again.
Although she did use the pronoun “I” when she shared a rare story from her experience, she never directly addressed the reader again. She never wrote to “you” or from the perspective of “we.”
Even when she had to use awkward sentence constructions to avoid using the personal pronouns, she bent over backwards to do it.
None of what this author wrote landed on anyone in particular. Her book read like she had cut and pasted phrases from the worst corporate brochures.
The audience she wants to reach might be executives, but they’re still people.
It’s a how-to book, so her readers want information they can understand and use.
I also got the feeling—and I could be wrong—but it came across as if she were writing in the least interesting way to try to sound smarter or more academic.
But there’s a reason they don’t sell textbooks in bookstores.
No matter how much great information they have, almost no one wants to read them. They’re boring.
It’s fine to require your readers to think deeply and make connections, but you don’t have to be boring to do that. Talking about big ideas or challenging their beliefs will do that and keep your readers engaged at the same time.
The bottom line: I had no clue who that author was really writing to because the author didn’t tailor her message toward anybody in particular.
She fell into the trap of trying to write for everyone but with books one size never fits all.
Even the Bible has more than a dozen translations in an attempt to reach different audiences.
Her book was a total turn off to me. It was boring, so I didn’t finish it.
If you want your book to connect with your readers, you have to talk to them like real people.
Do the work I suggested in episode 3 to create a profile of your one perfect reader.
And understand that there are 100s of 1000s of people like her or him.
Understand that people who are sort of like your one perfect reader but also quite different in some ways will also connect with your book.
But write to the one.
Don’t be afraid to use “you” or “we” in your how-to book or even in book where you share your philosophies without giving lots of instruction.
If you’re writing narrative non-fiction, like a memoir or the story of another person or an event, you may never have to use “you” or “we” because you’re not giving direction, you’re telling a story. But that story still needs to have the details that will appeal to your specific reader.
Think about the books you enjoy reading.
When I read “With Winning in Mind,” a book written by an Olympic gold medalist in shooting, I couldn’t put it down.
The author works with executives, but he doesn’t write like a boring brochure.
Instead, he talks directly to his readers. “You can do XYZ,” he says, and then he tells you how.
His writing is accessible but still authoritative because he knows what he’s talking about and he has the results to prove it.
I’m quite sure he didn’t have me, or someone like me in most ways, in mind when he wrote his book.
But it still resonated with me. I bought the book. I read the book. I recommended it to other people, and I’m telling you about it now. “With Winning in Mind,” by Lanny Basham is an excellent read if you’re interested in peak performance.
Once you know who your one perfect reader is, don’t forget about him or her while you write.
Write as if you were writing to her.
Not necessarily as if you’re talking to her because your written voice is probably a bit more polished and precise than your conversational voice, but I can promise you that you’ll producer a better book by being conversational than you ever will by trying to be as neutral as possible, trying to appeal to everybody or trying to sound “smart.”
As you’re writing your book, or as you’re revising your work, think about your one perfect reader.
Prop a picture of her in a chair or on a table and look at her.
Read your writing to her as if she’s right there in the room with you.
Be honest. Is she waiting to hear what comes next? Or is she falling asleep?
If you’re tripping over your words, or if you lose the thread of your own writing because it’s just plain boring and you find yourself droning on, don’t panic.
You can fix this.
Rewrite with your one perfect reader in mind.
Your book will be so much better for it.
You can probably tell I’m pretty passionate about this topic. But that’s because I hate to see someone bury their gifts, knowledge, and wisdom under bloated writing. Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be you.
That’s it for this week, my friends. If you got something that made a difference for you out of this episode, I invite you to subscribe to the podcast and leave a great review. Reviews really are the lifeblood of podcasts. They make it much easier for new listeners to find us.
Thanks for listening to Nothing but the Words. I’m you Author Coach, Candice L Davis, and I’ll see you next time.