No one told me before I started writing how unpleasant some parts of writing could be. For example, some people really, really hate editing—or more correctly, they hate being edited. Having someone challenge what makes sense to them, to reorganize and offer copious notes and suggested rewrites (which happens more than you’d think) is too much. Just leave it at a simple spelling and grammar check and they’re fine thank you very much.
Others hate the marketing side of writing. Most writers are not natural marketers, and to try to drum up interest for their work… no.
Others still prefer the idea of writing much more than actually writing itself, and if a book could just magically appear, they’d be over the moon.
None of these are the thing I dislike most or find difficult. I like the work of writing because it forces me to think. I actually really like the editorial process because I learn a ton from the changes editors make. I tend to, like many authors, neglect the marketing part of my books, but that’s only because of time, rather than a lack of interest.
No, for me, the hardest part of writing is the book proposal.
What makes a book proposal
I didn’t know what a book proposal was until I actually had to write one.[1. A great tool to guide you through the process in more detail is Michael Hyatt’s Writing a Winning Non-Fiction Book Proposal.] And with my first one, I more or less fumbled my way through it (thankfully, my publisher was very forgiving). As I did, I learned from friends who had worked in publishing what a good proposal needs to answer:
- What is the book about?
- Who is your audience?
- Why are you the person to write it?
Those are, in essence, the three key questions you must answer (though there are a lot of details within each to consider). And hopefully you can see why they’re so difficult. Within each one, there are a number of other questions to answer:
When you think about what the book is about, it’s not just trying to figure out its premise, but its promise—what will people walk away with when they buy and read it? How will it change their lives? When you consider who you’re writing to, it’s not only a matter of trying to figure out your target audience, but determining who you’re competing against.
And when you sit down to think about why you should write the book, you have to honestly look at yourself, your platform and your background to make sure you should actually be the one writing it. You might have a great idea, but if the topic is too broad, people may not understand why you’re the one to write it. An editor put it to me this way: The wider your influence, the broader you can write. But when you have a limited platform, you need to focus.
What makes you right to write?
It’s that last part that’s probably the worst. I can come up with good ideas. I can figure out the benefit to a reader. I can identify the competition… but then I realize: I’m not the best person to write it. And every time it happens, it kills me.
So how do you know you’re the right person to write the book you think is a great idea? Here are tw0 considerations:
What have you lived? I probably shouldn’t write a book on the challenges of pastoral ministry. Why? Because I’m not a pastor. I’m not an expert on that, any more than I’m an expert on women’s ministry or personal finance management.
But I had no problem writing a biblical theology of poverty. This isn’t because of my education (not sure my graphic design diploma helped much there), but because of my experience working for an international child development ministry. That gave me the credibility I needed to get a valuable message out. Similarly, there are another two books I’m proposing that make sense for me to write because they’re built around my life experiences—not presenting me as the hero, but taking my own mistakes (in some cases) or flaws and foibles to share something hopefully life-giving to those who read (assuming of course they get picked up).
As many authors have said, if you haven’t lived it, you probably shouldn’t write it. If you’re writing is hypothetical, it will be distant. But if it’s something you’ve lived, you might have something a little more meaningful to say.
What do you naturally gravitate to? If you’re someone who loves to write on a specific topic—like, say, gospel-zeal in children’s ministry—that should tell you something. What you naturally gravitate to in your writing, and what you get the most excited about when you think about writing, should probably be an indicator of the kind of book you ought to write. Don’t discount your interests, whatever else you do. If you’re not excited about what you’re writing, no one else will be, either.