Book Writing with an Audience in Mind

I’ve toyed with turning this blog into a book for a while now, but I haven’t made as much progress as I would like, so I’m working with my buddy Kate the coach again to get myself back on track. Over the next few entries I’ll be sorting through the various ideas I have been batting around with Kate to make sure I put together a good product in a reasonable amount of time. And “good,” of course, shouldn’t just be my in opinion but in the opinion of you, my audience.

Why should I write?

In between frequent visits to The Weather Channel, I’ve been reading various articles on the nonfiction book process. There is the content to be considered, as well as the submission and publication process. Today I’ll be talking about content.

One book I’ve been reading on this subject is by an author whose works I otherwise despise, Tucker Max. However, he offers up some constructive challenges to prod the prospective author to think about before writing. Surprisingly, I’ve been hung up on a simple question: not “What should I write?” but “Why should I write?” Following that question comes “Who will care about this book? And why?”

Here were the other questions Max offered up:

  • What result must the book produce to make it a success for you [the author]?
  • What audience must you reach for the book to achieve these results?
  • What do you have to say that is interesting and valuable to that audience?

Max continues:

For example, if you have some skill or knowledge that is very valuable to people, the best way to build a consultancy and sell that knowledge is by writing a book that shows what you know

“Who has to know about my book in order for it to get the results I want?”

If you want to drive business to your consulting firm, then your audience is potential clients. If you want to develop a speaking career, then your audience is composed of the people who book the events where you want to speak.
[Emphasis mine]

Who is my audience?

So I’ve been having this conversation with myself:

  • Do I want to sell book versions of the ongoing public service I offer my blog audience now? Or…
  • Am I trying to bring in technical writing customers based on my current skills/business?

The choice I make determines which audience I write for.

My blog is teaching the business of technical writing. My target audience comprises students and young professionals 18-34 with an interest in a career in technical communication. The goal of this blog from the beginning (wow, six years ago now) was and remains to offer my target audience insights and advice for how to operate in the working world, which is a lot different from the stuff they teach you in college.

My business, however, is developing content that advances the business goals of engineering-minded organizations. Those clients comprise Gen Xers or older who are CEOs, project managers, or other people working in larger, established businesses seeking to reach industry or government customers. They need a professional technical writing contractor capable of handling proposals, public outreach, or instructional design products, mostly though not always focused on aerospace or general engineering subjects.

Here’s the challenge: while I appreciate my blog readers, they are not paying my bills, unless I get the bright idea to start charging for appearance fees at classrooms or conferences. Do I want a speaking gig? I do have some customers who read this blog, but most of the time this blog is not targeted to their interests, nor would a book showcasing my expertise in the business of technical writing necessarily garner new clients in the space business.

What’s interesting is that when I spent a couple weeks demonstrating my ability to explain how the space industry works, the readership for those entries was (and remains) low compared to the rest of blog. And while the majority of my fan mail concerns getting a job at NASA, those readers are not a majority of this blog’s audience.

So here’s the reality: if I want to publish a book, the primary, built-in audience I have comprises the 1,000+ individuals who visit this blog on a monthly basis. The question then becomes: if I want to write a book with a chance of reaching an interested audience, as Tucker Max asks, what’s going to be my definition of success? I suppose I might sell books to my readers–that’d be 1,000 copies. What do I do beyond that? Do I declare victory and go home, or should there be some longer-term, greater goal that a book for this audience could serve? That’s still a mystery.

Writing for my audience

Even if I don’t know precisely what I expect to get out of writing a book, I at least understand the purpose of this blog, which hasn’t changed: I am writing to explain the realities of the working world to young professionals so they can succeed rather than suffer through the same struggles I did. Simple enough?

I don’t want to just slap together a bunch of postings you’ve already seen and call it a book. I want to make certain that you are getting some value for your money. Last week I put out a message on Twitter (below) requesting your input on what sort of career-minded advice you feel you need. The unspoken subtext  here, of course, is that I’m still working out what sort of advice you would be willing to buy a book to know.

(That question is still out there, if any of you would like to answer. Your input would be appreciated, in Twitter or here on this blog.)

Bottom line

If you’re going to write a nonfiction book–say, of the self-improvement variety or any other topic–you need to keep your audience in mind and deliver a product that adds value to their lives. You should have your own ideas, of course, but it helps to understand your audience’s needs. Now that I know (more or less) who my primary reading audience is, the next question becomes–what do they (you) need?

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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