by Jenna Kalinsky.
Part 3b: All Writing Starts with Specificity
In all forms of writing, being specific is key. As writing guru Natalie Goldberg says in her The Rules of Writing Practice in Wild Mind, Why say “tree” when you can say “sycamore”?
In the case of a book that highlights or supports your business, you want to fine tune your message so it is unique to you and solves a particular problem- not just for any customer or client, but for a specific customer or client. That specificity is key.
But I want to help all my customers/clients!
To many people, it seems counter-intuitive to tighten to a slim purpose because you want to keep your options open in order to appeal to more people.
However, the corollary is true: the more specific you are, the more opportunity you have to go even deeper into that specificity, which is far more valuable for your client than an overarching “we help everyone with everything” purpose.
Also, practically speaking, a service book with a specific focus will do better in the marketplace. It is easier for publishers to market it; booksellers to shelve and sell it; it lends you authority in that area (leading to speaking engagements and interviews) and promotes the idea that you’re a specialist; and with less competition, it will sell well to a slimmer but ardent audience.
- You sell locally made children’s clothing. What do you know about yourself as a purveyor of such items, and about your customer, who is worried about the state of the environment such that they’ll spend a bit extra and investigate their children’s clothing manufacturers a bit more in order to do their part?
- You are an arborist: what do your clients who live in certain environments want? What are they afraid of? What can they do on their side to help the problem?
Let’s try it:
Resume writer (weak)
Resume writer for women re-entering the work force after maternity leave (strong)
What do your clients want? How can you help them?
Psychotherapist specializing in children with autism (medium)
Psychotherapist specializing in children with Asbergers who are integrated in the public school system and need specific tools and tactics for navigating the social aspects of the classroom.
Who is your audience- the child or the parents? What are their concerns? What do they want? How can you help them?
Being Specific as a General Practitioner
If you’re a psychotherapist-of-all-trades and see everyone who walks in the door, writing a book about one specific faction of your practice and offerings may feel like you’re not giving full shrift to your entire clientele, but in your case, you can consider meeting the needs of one area of your clientele now, and forthcoming books can speak to your other clients’ needs! (See what I did there?)
A Case Study of a Generalist
Let’s look at me for example: I am a writer and editor who writes and edits across the genres: fiction (short story, novel, children’s literature, screenplay); nonfiction (memoir, service book, journalism, book proposals, personal essay (ranging from narrative to highly lyric)); poetry (form, free-verse and prose); academic writing (dissertations and articles, grant applications, tenure applications, teaching award proposals); business documentation (manuals, memos, emails, proposals); marketing copy (website copy, blogs, speeches) and professional materials (resumes, cover letters, pitches).
What do my clients and students want? To be published. To be relevant. To exchange ideas and add to the conversation. To get a job or achieve new heights in their field or to sound like their thoughts are clean, articulate, smart, and polished. (That’s a wide list of wants).
I love, absolutely love, the diversity of my job and also delight in navigating the different expectations, frameworks, purposes and languages that go into the various writing forms. But if I were to write a book called How to Write and Edit Everything! it would sell about zero copies.
In trying to be applicable to everyone, it would come across as watery and weak in purpose. Plus it’d be 8,453 pages long and there frankly isn’t enough chocolate in the world for me to want to do that.
Writing and editing are also two totally different animals on different planets in different solar systems, so first, I’d pull out one of them, let’s say editing. Editing what? Let’s say fiction. How to Edit Fiction gets closer, but what if I went more specific and said How to Edit Literary Fiction, (getting warmer!), and if it were fine-tuned into How to Edit Literary Short Stories, bingo. Tight like a jar lid.
(Actually I could go even deeper because there are several stages to the editing process- from providing overarching feedback to copyediting the lines themselves, but for argument’s sake this would make a perfectly fine book).
University Essays = Refining the Perfect Subject of your Book
Going through this process is not unlike what you may have endured in university when you were writing rhetorical essays. Some people learn a paragraph should be an inverted ice-cream cone (begin with a hard-hitting point (whether you’re going persuasive, expository or comparative) which is your thesis statement, then open it up a bit to have three supporting statements or “oh, yeah, well then prove it,” sentences that would support your fightin’ words of the thesis, and then allow each graph that follows to bloom yet even more open with information that arrives from those supporting statements).
Good news! Those tortuous essays were not for nothing. The process of writing a service book for your business is a very similar process: you have a thesis statement (the overarching argument or statement) and then follow it up with supporting ideas that explain your position.
Further, you will give solutions and suggestions for how to do X, thereby healing your customers or clients’ pain and giving them actionable steps to follow to make their lives easier, more pleasant, or more successful.
Giving Away The Goods is Good
In the end, you haven’t gone through all the work and sweaty labour of starting a business not to become an authority in your particular field. Now is the time to share that knowledge and insight with your clients. Give them some tools, some practical advice. Let them in on your secrets.
There’s counter-intuitive thinking in this as well: don’t give away your milk for free, my grandma used to say. Yet the more milk you give away, the more people will want more of your particular milk, and the more they will trust your milk and know it’s the only milk they will give to their friends and children.
When they need to reach out for personal help beyond even the very specific personal help you provide in your book, it’s your milk they will want to drink.
And now, I’ve milked that metaphor to death, but you get the idea.
Real World Testing of your Refined Subject
With a refined purpose, go out into the world and road test it on your clients, your customers, and your friends. That real-world testing is invaluable. “I’m going to write a book,” you will say, (and whatever you do, don’t mumble, don’t laugh, and don’t make a silly face because you’re scared). Try it: say, “I’m going to write a book about X.”
If you haven’t quite gotten specific enough yet, you’ll get questions or a maybe a cocked head as they try to imagine a book on that subject. But keep at it; when you find your book’s specific purpose, I can 100% guarantee that you will begin to hear, “Wow, that’s incredible!”
And then you know you’re ready.
If you’d like to chat about your book before you’ve written a word, have some notes but don’t know what do to next, or are already deep in the writing and would appreciate some support or guidance with realizing the manuscript, we’re here to help.
Please be in touch any time for a free consultation. We help writers realize your writing goals- and get you a book to support your business!