Writing a book and writing a book people will read are often two different things. Writing is a craft. It takes practice, and it takes skill, but it takes readers to make it worthwhile. One of the biggest mistakes I see authors make is writing as if they will never write another book. As a result, they cram in all the information they can along with every entertaining story they have. Now, an entertaining anecdote can be a gem in a setting of gold . . . if it moves your reader forward. If not, it becomes a stone that causes your reader to stumble and drop your book. The following five points help you consider your book from a reader’s perspective so you can write a book that will be read.
Know your audience.
Who is the primary audience that you want to reach with your message? Many manuscripts I read are written for Christians, but your target audience should be defined beyond that. Are they scholars, laypeople, parents, youth, pastors? What is their background? Do they already have a deep knowledge of Biblical themes? Are they coming from a charismatic viewpoint or traditional Christian background? The more you know about who you want to reach with your message, the better you will know how to appeal to them . . . and what will cause them to lay your book aside.
Begin with the end in mind.
What is the main thing that you want to leave with your readers? How do you want them to be different when they close your book? Once you determine that, every chapter should move your reader closer to that point. Clarifying your main takeaway is the best way to determine what is pertinent material to this book and what could be used elsewhere (in a later book, blog, or magazine article). The danger of superfluous material is that it can frustrate and overwhelm your readers to the point they give up trying to read your book at all. Keeping the end in mind as you write brings focus to your writing, which keeps your reader engaged.
Storyboard your ideas.
You can do this with notecards rather than an actual storyboard. Write a few sentences about the main point of each chapter (or the material that you have compiled) on notecards. Then, arrange the notecards in a way that will move the reader forward through each chapter toward the main takeaway of your book. This process should show you what material can be left out and what can be footnoted. While you may have a lot of stories and examples to add, if it doesn’t move the reader forward or clarify the point you are making, then it is fluff. Cut the fluff. Even a great story that you have a personal attachment to can have the “nails on the chalkboard” effect on your reader when they feel you have wasted their time.
Find your rhythm.
There is a balance somewhere between overwriting (rabbit-trailing) and overediting. While there may be a few people who like to linger over the text, this mostly applies to fiction. For non-fiction, most readers want to glean helpful information in a quick, engaging, easy-to-digest format. If your book is 300 pages long, they may not pick it up in the first place. Although most people have a problem with writing too much, the opposite can be true as well. Sometimes, writers overedit in a way that makes things feel disjointed. If you find a lot of material that should be cut, make sure you take the time to sew the remaining text back together in a way that is seamless to your reader.
Nothing is more disappointing to a reader than getting to the end of a book and feeling lost. It’s as if the writer has driven you forward through the whole book, providing great insight and inspiration along the way, but then suddenly dumps you out of the car, leaving you stranded by the side of the road. If you’ve written with the end in mind, this shouldn’t happen, but go through a mental checklist: Is your main point clear? Now what? Give your readers something to go on—maybe it’s just encouragement, maybe it’s deeper insight that will drive them closer to God—but somehow tie things up nicely so that they know how to apply the information. Leave them feeling inspired. An inspired reader is most likely to leave you a review, recommend it to friends, and even buy copies to pass along. That, my friends, will give you a book that even more people will read.
** Article by Terry Tamashiro Harris, editor/publisher for Harris House Publishing. Check out these great books people read. Think you have one too? See our query guidelines here. **