Specificity and the Market Place

6 Mar

The man I’ve hired to coach me through the process of getting a book published distinguishes authors and writers as such: authors write for readers whereas writers write for themselves. This is a very important distinction because many of us write but ultimately if we’re writing for a public audience we need to know who our readers are, what they want and why they are going to invest their time and money on our product. We have to address these concerns or no agent or publisher is going to take us seriously when s/he asks, “How is your book any different than what is already out there and how do you know it is going to sell?”

This blatant business aspect of publishing initially bummed me out and poked a hole in my idealistic notions about becoming an author and about being an “artiste”. And yet the more I am asked to fine tune my material by addressing these concerns I see that they are vital. One can still offer something deeply authentic, original and from the heart while keeping the reader’s perceived needs in mind. In fact, without knowing the book’s key message and target audience, it will be hard to deliver on the goods no matter how “brilliant” one’s prose or “deep” one’s thoughts.

Steve Jobs used to say that Apple would never sell out and cater to the public’s mediocre demands but instead Apple would create unique products that Apple employees were most passionate about developing. Yet Steve Jobs still understood that ultimately he was catering to a market place. He knew exactly what the public wanted. He just knew it before the public did. He thought a tremendous amount about the user and the user’s needs while still maintaining the integrity of his passions and interests. His artistic sensibility and non-conformist visions coupled with a genuine understanding of the market resulted in business and creative genius.

Not only does an author need to know his or her audience, an author needs a certain specificity of focus. One of the biggest mistakes many of us make is that we pick topics way too broad and try to write three different books in one. For instance, I remember that when I wrote my masters thesis my initial proposal was not met with the same enthusiasm I held. “With a topic that broad, you’ll never finish,” my chair told me. To my great disappointment she started pruning my ambitious topic down to a manageable scope. I realize now that she did me a huge favor.

Okay. I’m starting to get it. Sometimes we have to hunker down, concentrate and get ultra specific. And when we do, we get closer to meeting everybody’s needs.

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