Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Answer The Obvious Questions

At every stage of the book purchasing process, readers come with some basic questions. Are you answering them? If you have a book proposal or a book manuscript, you are attempting to catch the attention of a literary agent or an editor. Or when the book has been contracted and you are finalizing the text to turn in your manuscript, have you answered the obvious questions of the reader?

Often as writers, we are focused on crafting an excellent story or an excellent nonfiction book. At some point in the process, we need to return to the reader and make sure we've answered the obvious. Steve Weinberg raised this issue in his recent Soapbox column, "Another Eisenhower Biography?" in Publishers Weekly. I know Steve because we are members of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Steve was reviewing a forthcoming biography on President Dwight Eisenhower from Michael Korda. In this 800–page book, Korda praises another biographer of Eisenhower but doesn't tell the reader why he is adding to the literature on the former President.

Weinberg explains the reason for his question, "I'm also assuming the role of consumer advocate. I think of my mother, an avid, 83-year-old reader who is unlikely to consume more than one biography of Abe or Marilyn or John or Jesus, given her philosophy of so little time, so many more books to devour. My mother wants to know why the new one is ostensibly the best choice for her."

Ultimately the reader wants to make the best possible choice for their limited reading time--and it's up to the writer to make sure the convincing answers are somewhere in the text of the book.

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1 Comment:

At 4:46 AM, Blogger Timothy Fish Left a note...

Weinberg's objection can be applied to many things. There are a lot of people who are busy writing. It takes on many different forms from blogs to magazines to books, but there are many writers who do not or can not answer the question of why they are covering a subject that has already been covered. When I wrote Church Website Design: A step by step approach, that was a major concern for me. There are many books out there that explain how to design a website. There are many of these books that explain how to develop code behind a website. There are even some books that cover the topic of technology in the church. Many of these books are very good, but the fact that there are so many was part of the reason why I decided that readers needed one more. Someone who is developing a church website for the first time is going to be overwhelmed by the amount of information that is available. The information provides many options and some people will not know which ones to choose. I wrote my book with the idea that it could serve as a guide through the sea of options, then after the reader had done it once he would be able to go back and decide for himself what he prefers.

It is not so obvious with fiction. There are a limited number of plots, 7, 20, or some other number, but it is very likely that a reader is going to look at a novel and recognize the plot from several other books or movies. The plot for Searching for Mom, for example, is similar to The Parent Trap and Mary Christmas or even Annie, but as I sit here writing this I am reminded of how much different it is. I think part of the reason by we keep telling the same stories over and over in different ways is because a fresh look at the same story can connect with the reader where an older story cannot. The Cinderella story has been told thousands of different ways, but a writer who brings the story in line with the reader's view of the world can present it in a fresh, new way that connects much better than the older versions.


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