That’s a question, I ask all my clients. It tells me their intention and purpose. As an editor, that helps me ensure that their writing consistently aligns with their intended purpose or vision. And, the follow-up to the question is, “And, why should your readers care? What do you hope your readers will get out of it?”
It’s fascinating to hear the back story and inspiration behind the creative process. There are also a few reasons why an author should not write the book (or at least re-evaluate themselves).
“I thought it’d be interesting.” Period. How vague! Interesting to whom? Why would it
be interesting? What does that even mean? If you, as the author, don’t particularly care, then what makes you think that a reader would care? Or, an acquisitions editor or agent?
The reality is that a plethora of information exists out there, so your readers are consumers of information. That’s especially true in our digital age where information is easily accessible.
You are competing for your reader’s short attention. If it isn’t capturing your target reader’s interest, they will move on. That is not to discourage, but reveal the reality faced by authors.
Ask yourself, “Why does this story/topic/piece matter so much to me? And how would it benefit a reader?”
If you can’t answer that question with specific information, I’d assume that the book lacks substantial content—the exact opposite of interesting.
“My friends/family told me that this would make a great book.” This is another response that makes me cringe. This isn’t the right time or place for false humility or modesty. Honestly, I don’t care what your family or friends think. I want to know your vision, back story, and expertise on the subject.
It gives the impression that you are not confident about your writing.
If you don’t believe in your own writing or talent, then why would an editor feel confident about it?
It also makes me wonder how you’d respond to critique and feedback. After all, that’s my job.
Having an axe to grind or a response that sounds like a rant. When I was in my teens and early 20s, I thought my opinions slashed across my private journals were edgy and important in changing the world.
If I re-read those “edgy writings,” I feel like I’m reading my middle school diary. I had insights with potential that needed to be refined and supported by more information.
We all feel strongly about a topic or an issue. That can turn into excellent pieces of writing. However, approaching writing with an axe-to-grind attitude usually ends up with terrible, underdeveloped writing or self-indulgent, navel gazing. That is writing lacking substance; because, the raw emotion gets in the way and hijacks the content. Writing that reads like a navel-gazing rant makes it tough for readers to take the author seriously.
Even talented writers or intelligent people with excellent insights can fall into this trap if they don’t process their thoughts or experiences. This allows the raw writing or first draft to get tempered into an articulate piece that serves the author’s intended purpose.
Years ago, I came across a manuscript—a trade or general interest nonfiction book about reforming the police. This was written in response to the brutal police attacks and media stories of excessive use of violence. A timely topic with great potential.
For approximately 200 pages, the entire manuscript rambled on and on about the need to change the police culture and attitudes of policemen. Even when I finished reading the manuscript, I had no idea what the writer even meant by police culture. There were no news stories, interviews, or specific case studies to support his view. And, who is he (as the author) and what is his expertise or experience with the subject? How does he know the answer to this social problem? It read like the raw emotion of a nerd hating the jocks. It was tough to take him seriously.
My recommendations were: suggestions to organize his chapters and topics in a logical, coherent manner. Second, to establish credibility. Why should the readers trust him? What is his expertise? If he isn’t an expert on the topic, he could interview experts. Thirdly, he needed more substantial, specific evidence such as news stories, interviews, personal experiences, case studies, research, and specific examples. Without evidence, the writing is scanty, thus ineffective when addressing a controversial topic.
What are good reasons to write a book?
Personal or professional experience. You have experience in a certain area and think what you know will serve a purpose to your readers. Here are two examples.
“I taught high school for the last 30 years. As a retired teacher, these are the changes I’ve seen. Even though, I’m retired, education and how people learn have always been my passion. With that said, I have issues with the current state measure XXX and would like to inform people who have no experience in education, why this measure is a disastrous idea. I also want to encourage people who are not in Education such as parents, public policy makers, and others to understand realities of the classroom beyond bipartisan politics.”
“This novel is based on my experience in an abusive relationship during the 70s, and later interviews with a few therapists about the nature of domestic violence. I noticed that there are many popular misconceptions about the nature of domestic violence, such as stereotypical views of the victim and abuser. I want to create a unique character. I hope my story shows why it is hard for a survivor to just leave an abusive marriage. It’s character-driven and full of pop culture references from that time. I want my readers to get into the mind of the character and be better informed about the dynamics of abuse.”
A topic that needs to be written. You don’t see this topic being addressed and feel that it’s important.
“I love pirate stories and Pirates of the Carribean. I’ve noticed that in pirate movies, the white male characters are diverse in characterization, but female characters are lacking in diversity. The women are in stereotypical roles or the token female. So, I created a pirate play with a ship run by a woman pirate. I got the inspiration from an Irish woman pirate from the 16th century who had several men under her and she was notorious. It’s meant to be entertaining and give readers a laugh while breaking stereotypes about genders.”
There are other reasons you chose to write that book. Notice the 3 vital questions in all the authors’ purpose responses.
The first step is telling me why they care about writing this particular topic.
The second part is responding to why should their reader care.
Lastly, what would a reader get from reading the book?
Say, you just wrote a manuscript and you’re still not sure about your purpose or the direction your writing should take. My suggestion is to find a critique group or take a writing workshop. You can find them through writing organizations, meetup.com, or local libraries. I highly recommend Grub Street if you’re in the Boston area.
Getting peer feedback will help you revise your writing and be able to answer the 3 vital questions above. That needs to be done, so that you can make the most out of working with a freelance editor.