Therapy questions for prospective nonfiction authors

I help authors. They’re all over the map. Some are experiencing the earliest glimmerings of author ambitions, while others have written hundreds of pages (possibly in a productive way, possibly not).

By the time they get to me, I become their therapist. It’s my job to figure out their problems and recommend the best course of action for where they, personally, are in their authoring journey.

Like any good therapist, I ask questions that are intended to make you think carefully about where you are and what your next steps should be.

Here’s a list of those questions — and what the answers mean.

Why do you want to be an author?

This is the most important question (and the first substantive question in my author survey).

If your answer is “I don’t know,” stop imagining yourself as an author. Figure out what’s really driving you, first.

If your answer is “Sell a lot of books and make money from that,” feel free to keep dreaming, but know that your dream is misguided — unless you’re famous enough that your name alone will sell books.

The most common answers to this question are “Share what I know” and “Boost my reputation.” These are fine ambitions. Knowing what’s important to you will help you plan your next steps.

What’s your idea?

If you haven’t a clue, then you’d better figure out an idea, because that’s the foundation of writing anything.

If you can answer this question in a sentence or two, you’ve cleared a huge hurdle.

If you have several possible ideas, try them out on your friends and in speeches. You’ll see what resonates.

If, like many prospective authors, you have the beginnings of an idea but it’s too small, too vague, hard to name, and hard to put into words, you need some idea development. A developed idea is easy to describe, differentiated from others, and has far-reaching consequences. It’s a lot of work to get an idea to the point where you can describe it easily.

A powerful idea will naturally lead to a title, which is another essential element you need to move forward.

What’s the best way for me to publish?

Some authors write the book first, then figure out how to publish it. That’s a lot of work, some of which will be wasted when you finally settle on your publishing model. Better to decide on a model first.

The three main publishing models are traditional, hybrid, and self-publishing. Traditional pays best but is hard to break into and slow; hybrid is expensive but enables a lot of control; self-publishing is quick but has less impact.

Your choice will help you figure out the timing of your publication. And if you’re pursuing a traditional publisher, you’ll need to get started on a proposal.

Who’s your target market?

You need a target audience in mind to write anything. The market definition also helps you sell the book to publishers.

It’s much better to focus on segment (say “marketers in the retail industry”) than to be too general (“people who lack confidence”). You need a good, solid niche, and you need to name it.

What’s your source of stories, facts, and content?

You need fuel to write your book. Where’s the content coming from? “Out of my head” isn’t very realistic; your brain alone isn’t fascinating enough to keep a reader’s attention.

You might get nuggets for your book from surveys, interviews, your experience with clients, or interactions on social media; the number of possible sources is limitless. But you’re going to need some nuggets, and you’d better figure out where they are coming from before you start writing.

How will you market and promote your book?

Yup. You need to worry about this even before you begin writing, especially if you’re pursuing a traditional publishing deal — because the marketing section in your proposal is crucially important to selling the book.

Is your company behind you?

If you’re freelance or run your own organization, this isn’t so much of a problem. But if your company believes that it owns everything you create, or won’t allow you to publicize your book, you’re going to have a problem.

How will you make time to work on the book?

This is one of the biggest problems authors have. There’s will be no book if it’s always far down on your list of priorities. You need to build a routine that allows you time to write and do research.

This is by no means a complete list. But as your author therapist, I’d like you to think about these questions. I can see our time is up; let’s continue this discussion in our next session.

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