Make a Difference With Your Writing

W. Terry Whalin offers NCWA the benefit of his experience.

Do you have Google Alerts turned on for your name? I do and sometimes it turns up interesting things that I would not see otherwise. For example, Bonita has reviewed Jump Start Your Publishing Dreams and Book Proposals That Sell. She wrote, “Book Proposals that Sell: 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success holds the distinction of being the most underlined, marked up book on my bookshelf. I devoured it from cover to cover the first time I opened it.”

It has been gratifying to received numerous comments from readers of my book through email and face to face meetings. I was thinking about the genesis of Book Proposals That Sell and what motivated me to write it. At the time, I was an acquisitions editor at a publishing house and reading stacks of author submissions. Many of these submissions were dismissed with a glance because they were not pitched or presented properly. Each week I was actively looking in the “slush pile” for excellence and it was rare when I found it. Yet I needed excellent book proposals to present each month to the publication board.

From my own felt need as an editor, I wrote Book Proposals That Sell–yet I was focused on the felt needs of the reader or would-be author. This would-be author wanted to get published but had no idea what the editor or agent needed from them for their project to be seriously considered. Far too often writers create books from their own passion and felt need instead of focusing on th felt needs of the audience and scratching that itch. If you meet the needs of the reader, then you have the potential to make a difference with your writing.

Whether you are writing a magazine article or a pitch letter to an editor or an advertising sales letter, it is always important to know your target audience and think about that reader and their felt needs. This week, one of my authors sent a short promotional flyer that he had created for his book. I applauded his initiative in working on such a document–yet the opening sentences apologized to the reader for interrupting their day. It did not grab the reader or scratch a felt need. This type of promotion was going to be a terrible waste of energy and money.

In my most diplomatic way, I suggested several alternative ways to position that promotional piece. Also this author failed to ask the reader for a response. In a short promotion, you always want to include a call to action where you ask the reader to do something and give them several alternatives. With a longer book proposal, you are asking for the editor or agent to consider your pitch then to let you know their response (a call to action).

How are you making a difference with your writing? Are you meeting felt needs for your target audience? Are you including a call to action to move your reader to a response?


This post first appeared October 21, 2010 on The Writing Life. Used by kind permission.

W. Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk. A former acquisitions editor and a former literary agent, Terry is a Vice President and Publisher at Intermedia Publishing Group. He has written more than 60 books for traditional publishers including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams and several of Terry’s books have sold over 100,000 copies.  He has authored an innovative training for writers, Write A Book Proposal. Terry is an active member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.


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