I’m going to share a reality of nonfiction books, which for some writers will feel really great, and for others, plant a certain kind of terror.
[New to the series? Begin at the top!]
The strength of a nonfiction book depends on two things: how well it speaks to the topic and who you are as the purveyor of the ideas.
It’s the topic that hooks a reader, but when people buy your business book and then stay engaged and turning pages, share the book with others, and return to it again and again, they’re not buying a topic. They’re buying you.
By now, you are far along in the book you’re writing for your business. Your premise is solid, the outline drum-tight, and you’re getting quotes and anecdotes from excellent sources. You’ve started telling people about the book and no longer stumble over the elevator pitch. Your daydreams include visions of you sitting behind a table at a big bookstore signing copies of the book.
Yet while the book is designed to deliver your insights, actionable suggestions, and provision of clarity on a specific issue that only you in your infinite wisdom and authority can bring to the marketplace, it’s you, in all your personable glory who will be dispensing that wisdom, and that self you bring to the page is critical to the book’s success.
Why Am I So Important?
In 2017, 15.12 million self-help books were published in the U.S. alone. One could surmise from those numbers times every year since the printing press was invented that pretty well everything that could be said on any subject has been said.
But anyone who understands anything about
a) human nature
knows that while that may be true, what will continue to drive the market, cause writers to write books on subjects that already take up whole shelves, and get readers to buy them, is that each of those books is written by a unique individual bearing a specific personality, and that readers respond to each one differently.
For the same reason we meet some people and are content to walk away, yet with others, we can’t wait to see them again, the same is true for authors.
It’s not hyperbole to suggest that sitting down to read a book is sitting down to enter into a relationship–and an intimate one.
Readers gravitate to writers who speak to their topic with the particular combination of warmth, candor, and authority. How you bring yourself to the page is what sets your book apart from all the other thousands of books in the marketplace even if you’re addressing an issue or topic that’s been addressed thousands of times before.
Why Am I So Important?
Unlike in novels where the characters are the driving force and guiding principle, in whom readers emotionally invest, when it comes to nonfiction (whether memoir or business book), it’s a one-writer show, a closed loop conversation between the author and reader. You become the friend and confident the reader trusts.
The reason people read nonfiction books like the one you’re writing is people trust- and enjoy giving that trust- to people who put themselves in a position to provide help to a specific problem while being genuine on the page while doing it.
As an exercise, take a moment to consider the business books you’ve read and from which you’ve derived inspiration and insight.
My guess is rather than think about the titles, you recalled the author’s name, or at least thought about the author in conjunction with the title.
Brené Brown, Amy Porterfeld, Neil Patel, Jen Sincero, that guy who says f*ck a lot and has now spurned a whole trend of business books all with partially blocked-out dirty words in the titles- these people have become household names not because what they’re saying is revolutionary (though all of them have valuable things to say); it’s that they’re saying valuable things in ways specific to them.
These authors have figured out the secret of being both authoritative and genuine, which allows them to make a real-feeling connection with their reader. When you read one of these books, you feel like you know these authors, and that they care about you.
Luckily There’s a Distinction Between the Real You and the On-Page You
If the thought of being completely real with your readers doesn’t sound attractive, don’t worry.
While some people are comfortable sharing intimate personal things about their lives on social media and in their books, that’s their choice. But it’s not necessary to share those details in order to be able to engage authentically and with an openness of spirit on the page.
Your warts, family, secrets, childhood- these are your personal real estate to do with as you like. If you want to talk about your recent toe fungus because you feel it will engender trust and a deeper bond between you and your audience, go to town!
However, if you would prefer to keep your private and public separate, you can simply share experiences, insights, and items of your life that don’t infringe on your privacy yet are still great for teachable moments or illustrating how you have learned, overcome, or dealt with issues.
Agents and publishers know that the reading public love the more candor the better so they will encourage writers to connect with their audiences as “themselves” outside of their books, but you can trust that you get to decide what that looks like and on what terms you will share your self with your reading public.
“You have choices about what the public sees. Not a fake mask to hide behind, your persona is a filtered subset of the great array of attributes, quirks, and appetites that make up the person you are, along with the characteristics of the creative work you produce.” ~ writer Anne Carley
Oversharing isn’t what creates intimacy. Intimacy comes from an openness of spirit and a voice that’s warm and accessible.
Who you are on the page is your persona, and that persona is an extension of your business in human form.
What Is a Persona, and How Do I Create It?
A persona is a refined distilled version of you: the “you” created out of attributes you have settled on as those representative of your business. (Or in this case, you as the face and brains of the operation). Will Wilkinson calls it, “a form of performance.”
The good news is you’ve been crafting and perfecting your persona all along. As a business owner, you already present yourself a specific way to the public. The adjectives you’d use to describe your business are very likely the same adjectives you’d use to describe your own persona. It’s this figure who is the narrator of your book.
“It’s taking that gregarious, unique person we all have somewhere in us, and shoving her on stage,” says Jess Jess Lourey, author of sixteen books, including Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth Through the Healing Power of Fiction.
The Hard Work of Being Yourself
Ironically, sounding natural, warm, authoritative and above all, real on the page requires a lot of work.
A) Because that persona is not you in all your complexities but you finely crafted and refined, , how you bring “you” to the page must be purposeful, equal parts artifice and accuracy.
B) Not everyone feels as comfortable in writing as they do in speaking, so coming into your persona can take some doing. Tip: the more you write as your persona, the more your persona will find its self.
Once you get into the habit of embodying this “you only better!” self through writing, you’ll find you can inhabit that persona more easily both in personhood and on the page.
Next Blog: How to Work with Your Persona
In my next blog, I’ll guide you through a writing exercise and some basic affirmations to help you relax, breathe into your writing, and trust that who you are- and how you bring yourself to your book as a persona- is going to ensure your book succeeds.