Over the past few months, I’ve been writing a lot about the publishing side of creating a book, about platforms and marketing and costs, etc. All of which are important … but not as important as writing the actual book. So let’s spend some time talking about that, shall we?
The people who come to me for book coaching are usually entrepreneurs who have a lot of knowledge about a particular subject, which they want to share in the form of a book. But knowing a lot about a subject doesn’t always mean it’s easy to write a book about it. Some authors assume knowledge that their readers don’t have; other overwhelm their readers with far more information than they need. And in their eagerness to share what they know, a lot of authors lose track of creating a coherent story, one that is enjoyable to read as well as educational.
Your book is a journey. Your reader begins in one place and ends up somewhere new and better. We don’t want to wander around hoping we finish up someplace nice; we know from the beginning where we’re headed. And along the way there are experiences, which all relate to that particular journey (you wouldn’t go to the Grand Canyon and spend all your time lounging by a hotel swimming pool and ordering in Chinese food—we hope).
This post is the first in a series that will show you how to map out your book journey. We’ll go over all that stuff that you may or may not remember from 9th grade English—three-act structure, antagonists, theme, outlining, etc. In other words, how to write a book.
You may associate elements like this with fiction, but trust me: a firm grasp of them makes for a better reading experience for your readers—and an easier, faster writing experience for you. And hey, if you’re a fiction writer, you might find something useful here, too. By the end, you’ll have a structure you can use for your own business book—one that both educates and entertains.
We’ll start with character arc
Wait, I can hear you saying, You just said this was for nonfiction writers. I’m writing a book on how Facebook ads can build a better business. There aren’t any “characters.”
Bear with me. Your reader, in this case, is your “character.” You’re taking her on a journey in which she should be able to see herself as the hero. I don’t care how mundane or technical your subject matter is; if you can show your reader how she will grow as a person, you will write a better book (and as a bonus, you’ll find that book easier to write).
Over the course of your book, you’ll lay out a path that will make your reader a better person. Many elements will go into creating that path, but it always starts with the person who will be walking it. There are four elements that I’d like you to pin down before you do anything else:
Outer starting point
This is a tangible lack or flaw in the reader’s life—bad skin, not enough money, a messy house, a lousy job, a poorly performing set of Facebook ads. It can be as simple as not knowing how to bake a cake or as serious as a life-threatening disease, but it must be something that affects her in the material realm.
Inner starting point
This is your reader’s emotional state as a result of the lack or flaw in her life. Perhaps she’s self-conscious or depressed or frightened or feels like a failure. This inner state can range from mild frustration to overwhelming despair, but it must be a state that causes some kind of pain and therefore calls for change.
In all probability, your book will teach your reader a skill—how to use Facebook ads successfully, lose weight, make more money, write a stronger resume, declutter their closets, etc. What is the direct result of learning this skill? It could be more sales, more attention, a more rewarding job, more time to spend with their children, or even a longer, healthier life. Again, this benefit can range from subtle to life-altering, but it’s outer directed; it affects the reader on a material level.
Possibly, as in the case of some memoirs or collections like the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, your book is intended to inspire, rather than teach a specific skill. In that case, consider what action you’re inspiring them to take—maybe take more risks or become more vulnerable.
Even more important, though, is that the outer benefit drives some kind of personal growth. What emotional state has your reader reached by the end of the book? Perhaps she has attained confidence, connection with loved ones, freedom from fear or more control over her own destiny. Ultimately, this is the state that your reader seeks—and that your book will deliver.
What journey will you take your reader on? Here’s a quick, fill-in-the blank exercise for you to get you started: Outer starting point: _____________________ Inner starting point: _____________________ Outer benefit: _____________________ Inner benefit: ____________________
Nail down exactly how you want your reader to benefit from your book and you’ll be in good shape for the next installment of this series: Theme.