Updated: Aug 31, 2021
In Part 1, I talked about the essential step of uncovering your ‘why’ as you set out to write your book.
Now we move onto the second step, which starts with the question
What is your book about?
When it was posed to me, it was ‘what is your business about?’
At the time, I didn’t think it'd be difficult to answer. I thought it’d be obvious and easy.
It was Autumn 2020, and I was on a bonus hot seat call with Sigrun because I’d just joined her business coaching programme to help me start my coaching business online. I’d made a big, scary decision to invest a lump sum - scary because during the Summer, I’d moved into a new house which I’d just built, and in the few months prior I’d lost all my offline work to Covid. So money was tight, and instead of finishing the fit out of my house, I’d decided to invest what I had left, into a programme.
I’d never had a coach before and I knew nothing about building an online business. But I had determination and resolution...and a nifty little office space especially designed for me in my new house.
It’s just off the end of the open plan kitchen-living area, and while you can see there’s a space, you have to go round the back of a curved fireplace to see what it is. It feels like you’re going round a bend in a garden path: there’s a lovely sense of curiosity to it.
It opens wider as you go in and there’s a special spot for my chair next to the window for reading, and an interior window into the living space so I know what my teenage kids are upto in the kitchen ;) So it’s fun, quirky and functional and I was delighted to get it ready for starting my new business.
I repurposed bits of furniture using my daughter’s desk from her old bedroom and some IKEA wardrobe shelves as book shelves...my old PC was still working and I already had a website, which I planned to re-purpose as well.
So here I was now, on a zoom call in my up-cycled office with my new coach and fellow members, feeling surprisingly thrilled for committing to the programme when I expected to feel anxious with an overwhelming sense of oh-my-god-what-have-I-done? And the realisation that I felt brilliant and not very, very upset heightened my excitement even more, and I was holding a celebratory G&T in a fishbowl glass with a triumphant grin on my face to prove it.
Then I heard my name and I was on the hot seat.
‘What is your business about?’
‘It’s about writing...creative writing,’ I said.
‘Is it books?’
‘Well it can be, if that’s what writers want.’
I took a sip of my drink. The gin was ice cold and delicious.
She fired another question.
‘What you’re selling has to be clear. What is the outcome?’
‘Um. Books?’ I offered.
‘What kind of books?’
‘Well, any book. I can meet any writer wherever they are in the process and help them move forward.’
I was still grinning, still feeling pleased with myself and enjoying my drink.
‘You can’t do both.’
‘You can’t do both.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You can’t do fiction and non fiction, it’s a different kind of marketing. You have to choose.’
My grin collapsed and I put down my drink.
‘It’s too complicated and your messaging must be clear, and you need to know your ideal client. So you have to choose.’
The gin was slinking through me and I started to feel dizzy. My face flushed in the zoom reflection. I suddenly felt self conscious: I hadn’t expected to be put on the spot like this or have to make any more big decisions today. I’d just invested all the money I had left and I felt a bit defensive: did I really have to choose? I didn’t want to.
Sigrun read my mind. ‘You don’t have to choose right now, you can wait a couple of months but you will have to choose.’
I could feel the resistance setting into my gin-fizzed brain, and then I forced myself - as the Irish say - to cop on (translation: get a grip).
I’d leaped into this programme to start and scale an online business I didn’t know how to do on my own. I’d invested the last of my money to get advice from this amazing boss lady who’d built a multiple 7 figure business in less than six years, so I’d be stupid not to take it.
I didn’t need to wait. If she was telling me I’d have to make the decision in two months ' time, I might as well make it now.
‘Well, I love non fiction, I read it a lot and I write it, and I suppose there’s probably more money in non fiction?’
‘I think you’re right.’
That did it.
‘Ok. Well, non fiction then.’
‘Great! Well done, Anna!’
I felt like a six year old getting a gold star. I grinned again and went redder but it felt good to make a decision. I felt like I’d moved forward, and yet...
And yet there was a part of me that felt sad and left behind. Now I couldn’t coach fiction and I loved the creative process...
But I had just moved forwards.
Later, I reflected on the experience.
What my business was about, couldn’t be general. It couldn’t just be coaching all writers doing any kind of writing. It had to be more specific than that with clear messaging to be successful.
Because when you get specific, you become identifiable, and then people will see themselves in what you’re offering and they will connect with you.
It’s exactly the same for you and your book: your reader has to know immediately if it speaks to them.
But, as with my experience of deciding whether to focus on fiction or non fiction coaching, it’s hard to make yourself become more specific. We resist it because we have this notion that we’re cutting ourselves off from possibility and leaving people out when we want to include them.
And yet the result is the opposite: the more specific we get, the clearer we become, and the more people we include.
If this sounds strange, consider it from the consumer angle - and we’re all consumers - and you’ll see straightaway in your day to day life that you always choose something specific.
Take your shopping list for example. Are there certain items or brands you buy for your store cupboard or fridge every week? These are specific. How do you take your tea or your coffee? Also specific, right?
Consider what you wear. I have a coral pink shirt on as I write this, and black leggings and blue socks with flowers on (which don’t match but I’m at my makeshift desk in my nifty lil office and no one else can see them) and there’s nothing general about any of that.
Sigrun gave a great example as well: if you want to get your teeth whitened would you go to the dentist who does everything, or the dentist who specialises in teeth whitening?
We live our lives in specifics. And your book should be the same. So you need to know the answer to the question
What is your book about?
You need to be able to talk about it in a way that is clear and succinct, as if you were introducing it to someone. For example, if you can say, ‘it’s a how-to business book based on my life in business and how I’ve achieved X,Y and Z,’ then you’re onto something. Here, someone can easily understand and identify with what you’re offering and know if it’s something they want to invest their time in.
What it can’t be, is something that takes ten minutes to explain and if it does, you probably don’t know the answer clearly enough yet and need to give it more thought.
But the question, what is your book about, doesn’t stop here. There’s another layer we have to get at because you also need to know what it is you really want to say.
What you want to say is what you stand for. It's what you want your readers to walk away with and keep with them long after they’ve closed your book.
The answer you’re looking for is short and aspirational and it encapsulates a higher purpose. It’s your message, your meaning, your stake in the ground.
We’re at an interesting period in time right now. I was watching the Channel 4 News the other night (I’d watch it just for Jon Snow’s tie and matching socks, tbh) and a reporter was interviewing a woman who worked for Style magazine. She was explaining how the profile of their cover personalities had changed in the last year in response to the public’s desire for less celebrity lifestyle and more meaning and purpose. So now they were profiling activists because their readers wanted to see and read about women who were aspirational and trying to make the world a better place.
And the same goes for your book: now more than ever, what you stand for is important. And your readers will want to know what that is.
It doesn’t matter if you want to write crime or romance or a how-to business book: every genre has its value. What matters is that you’re putting your stake in the ground and letting people know what you believe in. So whether it’s in escapism or romance or aspiration or inspiration, you should know what it is and get comfortable putting it out there.
So what is your book really about? What do you want to say?
For example, is it about how determination overcomes adversity?
How gender equality will create a better world?
How love conquers fear, or the brave never quit?
In my coaching, I ask writers to think about it as if they’re at a party talking to a stranger, and they tell this person they’re writing a book. The likely response is, ‘What kind of book is it? What’s it about?’ And the writer says, ‘It’s about how....’
This is the key phrase: ‘it’s about how,’ and it’s followed by your message which should be no longer than 3-7 words and you should be thinking expansively and BIG. It’s okay to be a bit cliche for now. So if your answer is, ‘it’s about how good triumphs over evil,’ you’re on the right track. And then you'll be able to carry on the imaginary party conversation by using the sentences you came up with earlier to describe what your book is about. Here's an example. You: I'm writing a book. Stranger: Wow, that's so cool. What's it about? You: It's about how gender equality will create a better world. Stranger: That sounds interesting! You: Yes, I'm loving it! it’s a how-to business book based on my life in business and how I’ve achieved X,Y and Z,’ See how it works?
As for my business, it’s about how women can raise their voice for impact.
That’s what I stand for and I’m proud to do it.
And even though I niched down into non fiction, I still attract fiction writers just because my messaging is clearer: in the end, I haven’t had to give anything up.
So don’t be afraid to get specific. Take the time now to know what your book is really about and define your message.
And then you’ll be proud to make a stand and write your book.
See you next week for Part 3.
PS. Prefer to read Parts 1, 2 & 3 in one easy-to-read FREE e-book version? Download now!