July 16, 2019

What Is Your Author Focus? 6 Key Questions

1Authors Mission, Purpose, ReadersMarketing Profs posted “5 Questions Consultants Need to Ask Prospective Clients” by Michael Teitelbaum. I have asked a variation of these (or at least some) when beginning my coaching work with an author or completing a book proposal review. (One of the distinctions of My Literary Coach is that I speak by phone with authors, as part of my services.)

Here are my adaptations of Teitelbaum’s questions, along with comments.

1. What is your mission as an author?  Many authors after a pause will say something about fame and fortune. why they do what they do.  I don’t challenge such a response, but I do hesitate to allow for some further reflection. Some of the best answers then emerge: “I write to explore how affirmation can change people.” Or, “I write to see how justice can be achieved, but without violence.” As Michael points out, “Only after a clear mission is stated can a sound marketing and communications strategy be formulated.”

2. Who are your ideal readers? Many times I hear from authors that they are writing for everybody or that everyone over, say, age 21 are in their target readership. Here being specific is the key.”Where do they live or work, what is their education level, profession, job title, income and gender?”

3. What are the needs of these readers? Focus on emotional needs instead of rational needs.Rational needs are often functional–I need to learn some skills in order to be successful in school or at a job–whereas emotional needs focus on the deeper motivations–here is my vision of success … “The bottom line is, for every emotional need, there is a message that resonates most effectively to encourage people to take action.”

4. Which shelf does your current book belong, which other authors are already there, and what makes your approach different? Two problems often emerge when authors answer these questions. On the one hand, some authors have no idea which shelf and who else is there. These authors, of course, could radically change how a genre functions, such as Stephen King’s Carrie did for horror in the 1980s or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series did for young adult fiction in the 2000s. On the other hand, more than a few authors know precisely which shelf and who because they are writing a “me too” book: “It’s just like Harry Potter, but only a bit different.” This leads directly into the next question.

5. What are the unique ways your writing or approach will satisfy your readers’ needs? Some publishing editors and marketers will refer to your answer as your reader’s unique selling proposition (USP). You want to delete the “just like” answer and focus on the direct connection between your readers’ emotional needs and your project.

6. How will we know if we’re successful? If an author seeks fame, then how does an interview on, say, Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show or the author’s local news program count? If fan fiction begins to circulate on the web, then how does that count? If an author needs “steady income,” then how much each royalty period?

The best approach is to draft a reply to each question, let it rest, and refine your responses. Then, review it less frequently as you have a clear sense of who you are as a writer and where you are seeking to land.

Image credit: filmfoto / 123RF Stock Photo

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