What It Takes to Write Copy That Kills: Part 2: Thinking

So you want to publish your first book.

Me too.

Yesterday I wrote about the first of the six-part formula I use in my writing. You can see that post here: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-kf, or you can blow right by and I’ll sum it up for you in five sentences.

You must OBSERVE. Your classroom is the world and you need to pay attention. Watch people. Talk to people. Practice your interview skills, and over time, you should be able to walk up to anyone on the street, interview them, and tell an interesting story.

I took a random photo of these two hostess workers (Jennifer, left, and Kanesha)during lunch today at Chili’s. I’ll bet you 5 bucks I could interview either of them for 15 minutes and come out with a fairly interesting story. Everyone has a story.

Today, we’ll focus on the second part of the formula: THINK.

If you’re going to successfully publish your book, there’s a lot everything to think about. So much, in fact, we can’t cover everything. I’ll focus on three things and give you references later to some writing sites that really do help me think.

Three things to think about:

1. What are you going to write?

2. How are you going to navigate the road to a finished manuscript?

3. How are you going to sell and promote your finished product?

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO WRITE?

It helps to write about the things you know about. Unfortunately, some of the things you know most about aren’t really interesting.

I can just imagine an agent receiving her 125th submission from a woman scorned by divorce, or a man who completed his first marathon. Those won’t fly.

If the woman had killed her husband and just gotten out of jail after 20 years and the facts later show she was abused and only protecting her son, now you have a book.

Or, if the man completed his marathon and had secretly secured 100 donors to give $100 for every mile he ran and the proceeds went to victims of the Colorado wildfires, you’ve got another good book.

You get the point.

Whatever topic you may choose, please read what I’m about to write and it will help you immensely. An agent once shared this with me, and it changed the way I attacked a book.

YOU MUST BUILD A BOOK AS IF IT WERE A LIVING, BREATHING ORGANISM.

It must have the following:

1. Bones

2. Flesh

3. Breath

By the way, this story is gleaned from the Book of Ezekiel. It’s the well-known biblical story of the valley of the dry bones.

BONES – Beneath our skin, muscles, nervous system and our organs, there is a skeleton. Your book must have a strong foundation. An academic premise, perhaps. A theory or belief that you will go on to prove. Obviously, this is mostly true for non-fiction writers. I’m very unimaginative and couldn’t touch the skills of the most moderately talented fiction writer. I admire fiction writers. I’m just not one. So for all you non-fiction folks, build a framework for your book. And make it strong.

FLESH – Now you must have something to hang on those bones, and it’s flesh. It’s the human element of your book. The story or stories. Think of it as soul or the relational aspect of your work. Flesh touches flesh. Readers want to be touched by your story in some way. Will there be that moment in your book where the reader nods her head and says quietly to herself, “Yes, I can relate to that.” If so, you’ve created some beautiful flesh.

BREATH – A tricky one here, but simply stated, it’s the takeaway. The lesson. Your reader must be compelled to do something (maybe differently) because of your work. You don’t have to change a reader’s life, but you are required to bring something to the table for them to take away.

HOW ARE YOU GOING TO NAVIGATE THE ROAD TO A FINISHED MANUSCRIPT?

You can use a GPS and a map, but there are uncharted roads. Twists and turns you’ll never expect. The road to the destination isn’t even on the map. You must expect that.

The only way to navigate is to take someone along who’s been there. You need an editor. Not at the end of the work, much preferably from the beginning.

I have an editor. I make submissions to him about every 5,000 words or so. I’m lucky because he’s good. He teaches, praises, scolds, encourages, berates and whatever else you want to throw in. His guidance has helped me navigate a road I’d never have made it down. He strongly suggests which road to take at the “Y.”

My editor, Brad Harris, (left) during our first meeting. Breakfast lasted 4 hours.

For a bit about my editor, Brad Harris,  you can take a look at another post on my secondary blog here: http://wp.me/p2wzTk-16

In his notes to me, Brad uses an imaginary character, Boris, to react to my work. Boris is overweight, impatient and narrow-minded. Sometimes, he gives an approving growl to my work. Other times, he gets up to go to the refrigerator and get a snack. He may or may not come back to the book. Occasionally, he becomes so bored he gets up for a shot of vodka and goes straight to bed, leaving my “wonderful” work on the foot stool.

If I can keep Boris in page-turning mode, I’ve done a decent job.

Personally, you may choose to hire on an editor at the end. Steady editing throughout the process, however, has helped prevent me from making mistakes I’d otherwise have made many times.

If you’re going to write a good book, you can’t do it alone. You need a really good hired hand.

HOW ARE YOU GOING TO SELL AND PROMOTE YOUR FINISHED BOOK?

There are hundreds of people more qualified than me to answer this question, especially since I’ve yet to sell a single copy.

I’ll try to give you the short and simple of how I view this.

You must first ask yourself this question.

Do you love writing, or do you just want to be a writer?

To sell book, the correct answer is the former.

You must LOVE to write.

I’m writing a book and I have not one, not two, but three blogs. Much of what I write is totally unrelated to book sales. Nobody wants to hear me pounding them day after day about how great my book’s gonna be. I just love to write.

So you must blog. And there will be many times you’ll do a “test and measure” of what you’re writing. Throw something out there from time to time and get reactions. I’m confounded more often than not when the stuff I think is killer falls flat on its face with a reading audience. It can really help guide the process.

You must be passionate about your topic. If you don’t believe in it with all your heart, you’re not buyin’ it and nobody else will either.

Find some speaking engagements. It can be a huge fear, I know, but it’s one you must face. Share your expertise with others, woo them, draw them in … and sell them books.

Buy into these things, and much of the rest will take care of itself.

The next post will be my 100th on this site and I’ll have a few special things to say about that, then we’ll return to the third part of the formula: PLAN.

As promised here are a few sites that really help me learn:

www.rachellegardner.com

www.booksandsuch.biz

www.behlerblog.com

 www.stevelaube.com read Tamela Hancock-Murray or Steve Laube

www.catherineryanhoward.com

www.cristianmihai.net

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