Last week I shared "The 4-Step Solution to Getting Your Non-Fiction Book Out of Your Head and Onto the Page." Over the next four weeks, we're going to dig into each of these steps in detail.
Last week, I had a working session with my book coach and mentor Jennie Nash, which turned out to be a humbling, albeit clarifying experience. The reason I had scheduled the time with Jennie was to get clarity on which book I should pitch first: my memoir, which I thought was ready to go, or a self-help book, which was still in the early stages of conception. Another writer colleague had suggested I try to pitch the self-help book first since memoir can be hard to sell if you don't have a track record or aren't a celebrity.
Jennie had asked for my query letter, a synopsis, and the first 25 pages of my memoir. I sent them off to her, proud of my work. Those pages had passed through the hands of several beta readers as well as a small critique group I'd been part of for six years. Jennie was tough, I knew, but surely she'd see the story I was telling.
Nope. At first, I was devastated. The problem?
"I don't think you actually know what your story is really about yet," she wrote in her summary letter. "The query and the synopsis both betray this fact, as do the pages I read. It's 'about' a lot of things, but I don't feel a clear spine or core to the story."
After I got over the initial shock that she wasn't as enamored with my pages as I had been, I had to laugh. Her comments were exactly the same thing I tell practically every one of my book coaching clients, especially clients writing memoir.
A memoir or really any book isn't about a collection of things that happen; it's an argument that says something about the world, about life, about human nature.
My memoir could be a story about: coming out, a spiritual journey, learning to trust myself, leaving a good enough marriage, or sexuality and desire. Or probably half a dozen other themes.
While all those themes do play a role in my memoir, my book still has to be about ONE MAIN THING.
Jennie was right, I realized. My point was still too fuzzy. I hadn't landed on the one main thing. It's not ready to be pitched; it's ready for another revision.
So what will I do next? How will I narrow my focus and choose the ONE thing this book is about?
I will ask myself (once again):
Not being crystal clear on your main point is the number one reason I see writers failing to finish their books, or failing to write books that have an impact.
It's hard to choose, to narrow your focus, but it's necessary. If you are writing prescriptive non-fiction—a book where the message, not the story, is front and center—these are the questions you need to be asking yourself:
When I coach writers, I use a tool that Jennie Nash developed, the "Blueprint for a Book." It helps writers build a firm foundation for their book right from the start, to narrow their focus and get clarity on their main point.
Guess what I'll be doing soon? I'll be pulling out that Blueprint for myself.
Want to learn about how the Blueprint can work for you?