How to Write and Launch a Book in 2023 (Without Feeling Afraid)

Writing a book seems scary. And this fear triggers 4 major mistakes. How to write and launch a book in 2023 (without feeling afraid)?

The 4 most common mistakes:

  1. Writing alone
  2. Forcing a structure
  3. Unique knowledge points
  4. Focusing on the Big Numbers
Let’s break them down:

1) Writing Alone

The first thing I’ll tell you: Most people think writing a book is an individual endeavor. It’s not. The reality? When you talk to the most successful authors, they all start by talking about other people.
  • How they worked with a group.
  • How they collaborated
  • How they had a ton of help
And this is what I always tell people: Writing is NOT something you do alone. You do the typing yourself, yes. But you DON’T write a book as an individual. No… It’s a collaborative effort.

2) Forcing a Structure.

This is a big one for most people. They think they need: • a table of contents • perfect structure • rigid outlines All this stuff, before they ever start. But I would flip that around. Analogy:
“You start this process with a compass, not a map”
And when I had the chance to interview Daniel Pink (who also happens to be my neighbor), he shared something interesting: He starts with 2 things: 1. A notepad 2. A list of questions And then he thinks about who he can talk to about those questions. As I said earlier… Books are not to be written alone!

3. Unique Knowledge Points

This is for my non-fiction writers. I studied 150+ best sellers and found this: Stories account for 80% of their written content. NOT unique knowledge points. So if you want to write an exceptional book: - Identify - Teach - Tell All through storytelling It’s the proven formula for success.

4. Focusing on Big # ’s

People often worry:
“Is my book going to sell 1,000,000 copies?”
And that’s not the best mindset. Here’s why: Books are sold via word of mouth. You want to find your first 200 fans and friends, and have them help spread the word. It happens in phases. And that’s a good thing ( I promise ).

The 4 major mistakes authors make:

1. Writing Alone 2. Forcing a structure 3. Unique Knowledge Points 4. Focusing on Big Numbers   So let's break this cycle and utilize a community-driven approach for your next book project.

5 Tips to Find Your Writing Focus

Writing can be a painstaking process. And after launching 2,000+ authors and books of my own...

5 tips to find your writing focus:

With steadfast focus, you're unstoppable.

Steal my 5 tips:

1. The beautiful art of freewriting 2. Always write in small chunks 3. Find yourself a writing rival 4. Find stress-free activities 5. Discover a community Eggcellent, let's crack the shell. Shall we?

1) The Beautiful Art of Freewriting.

Set a timer for 10 minutes and write whatever comes to mind. Transfer all your: - Musings - Emotions - Negativity Onto the paper, or through the keyboard.

2) Always Write in Small Chunks.

This is a PSA for my modern authors... You don't have to: - Write 10,000 words at once - Put off your obligations - Pull all-nighters Try to write in smaller chunks, but do it more frequently.

3) Find Yourself a Writing Rival.

You guys have heard me say this before: "Writing is NOT something you do alone." Find a fellow author, then: - Challenge each other - Set some nice goals - Utilize rewards

4) Find Stress-Free Activities.

You have SO many options: - Walk - Do yoga - Lift weights - Listen to music Find something to relax your mind.

5) Discover a Community.

With a group of like-minded individuals, you increase the likelihood of (actually) sitting down to write. Not only that but: - Accomplishing your goals - Improving your craft - Fulfilling dreams That's what we're after, isn't it? Folks, this chapter has come to a close. What's your secret to find your writing focus?

Worldbuilding in Fiction: How to Construct a Robust Timeline

You’ve always wanted to write a book. The next epic fiction book that will propel you into the ranks of legendary authors! You have your brilliant idea, the encouragement from friends and family, your artful ideas for a cover, and the belief in your ability to rock the literary world! You sit down at your computer, fingertips hovering over the keys as you think about your knock-their-socks-off first line . . . and then it hits you — you don’t know where to start, and need to do some actual, practical planning!

Why You Should Start Planning

I know the feeling. Whether you are a “pantser” or a “planner,” creating works of fiction requires doing some homework! There are books about how to outline plots like a pro (I have a whole shelf dedicated to these) and there are more books about character development, and even more dedicated to expert world building. Now, I love world building (and nobody was more surprised by that than me) and I hope you do too, but the painful truth I came to discover is this: without having a good understanding of the world and times your story takes place in, you are going to end up with a disjointed, less-than-epic tale with plot points that fail to connect with others in your story. Sadly, this is the reason many readers start to lose interest, and (gasp!) stop reading.

Creating a Timeline

Having a story that consistently holds together is something that most writers innately understand should happen, but the practical application to making that happen aren’t always so clear. One way that you can anchor your story is through the creation of timelines. This creates consistency through your story as your characters refer to previous points in time such as wars, famines, acts of Deity, or the crowning of a king. Start by developing an “in-story” timeline from the start of your book, right through to the end, or even throughout a longer series that may span years. The biggest question to start with is easy: What is the duration of your story? Weeks? Years? Decades? Starting off with an outline of both major and minor plot points, as well as the span of time between each of them, is how we start developing the timeline. As you develop the history of your fictional world, plot those points on your timeline as well. One of the best examples I know of for the necessity of a well constructed timeline is Stuart Turton’s book The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. He was asked how he managed to keep all the timelines, puzzle pieces, and character perspectives straight, and he said, “A wall of Post-it notes, Excel spreadsheets, and a lot of muttering!” He went on to say that every time he changed one little thing, it felt like the whole story fell apart because his plot was so interconnected, yet, thanks to his carefully developed timelines and notes, he created this brilliant story.

Know Thy World

I could ramble on for hours (and much to the chagrin of my kids, I have) about developing a fantasy world, but we’re going to assume for the purposes of this timeline discussion that you have already done some work in creating a world to place your characters, or have selected a region or time period of planet Earth (or the planet of your choice!) to use as the backdrop for your story. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What kind of world are your characters in? Medieval? Pre-civilization? Post-apocalypse? Futuristic?
  • Does the region/world have seasons? How many? What length is each season?
  • Are there notable festivals or holidays in each kingdom? How does your world/country celebrate? Do some regions celebrate the same holidays? Do they have different ones? How are their festivals different?
  • How does the history of this area affect the current day? How have their holidays and festivals developed because of this history?
While these answers may not directly impact the events of your book, they could add flavor and color to your setting, or even provide a source of conflict for your characters, for example, a snowstorm during their travels which traps characters together, getting lost in a festival while running for their life, or foreign visitors making a social faux pas because they don’t understand the rituals and history of their current setting. This also helps you keep track of what season your story takes place in, so you can avoid the embarrassing "new writer error” of putting your characters in a sweltering summer day in the middle of December in the snowy north. Oops!

Pacing, Tension, & Cause and Effect

There are other things to consider when developing your Master Timeline such as pacing and tension. Do you have an action scene that you want to amp up to nail-biting tension? Do you want to blindside your readers with an event out of the blue? Varying the intensity and speed of events and pacing your story to introduce conflicts, suspense, twists, and tension at the right moments will help keep readers engaged. Another concept that sometimes gets left in the dust is “cause and effect.” What events in your history occurred to forever change the world? Did a war wipe out a nation years ago? Did your characters take an action that will have long-lasting effects? Ensuring that each event in your timeline has a clear cause-and-effect relationship with preceding and subsequent events and the world around them helps you develop a logical and cohesive flow of events and build realism throughout your story. One last thing to also consider are your character arcs. What are the individual timelines of your main characters? Villains? What are your characters doing when they are “off-screen>" Taking the time to identify key moments and personal character developments for each of your characters to weave them into the overall timeline fleshes out your characters and story, and can even stimulate creativity when you see times where characters might intersect in an unexpected way.

How to Keep Track of the Passage of Time

When developing the history of the world you have created, or at least in tracking Earth’s history that is relevant to your story, there are many ways to make notes. Excel or Google Sheets I like to use an Excel or Google spreadsheet when I plot out character specific histories and plan their character arcs. Here’s how: Column 1 is for the year, Column 2 is for the global events that occur (i.e. famine, war, natural disasters), and then I assign a column for each character so I can keep track of where they were and what they were doing in that year, or specific dates. This can help flesh out a character’s backstory, as well as note points where characters may have crossed paths. This isn’t always necessary if your book is a short span of time, or their personal history doesn’t factor greatly into your story, but for locations with deep history, immortal characters, or complicated story lines, this can be helpful. This gives each character more of a sense of purpose, rather than waving your hands to say, “They were around somewhere doing something.” Google Docs For more in-depth exploration of your world’s history, you can build your timeline with more extensive writing. You can include character specific events (I like to color-coded text for each character). This can provide a larger, more detailed picture of that time. Google Docs also allows the inclusion of images, which you can use as a reference. This is also accessible on multiple devices, so when you have that brilliant idea at 3 a.m. or when you are in the middle of a boring meeting, you can plug it into the document right away! Day Planner While writing my novel, my own personal trick to keep track of the in-story timeline is to use a day planner from my local office supply store. I can write each event in the proper day as it occurs, and since my series spans several years, I can keep track of how many years pass, as well as anniversaries of events. This can help you mark the changing of seasons, the hosting of certain festivals and holiday traditions, and reflect these in your story’s setting. This helps give your reader the sense of moving forward in the story while moving forward through time, and can provide unique settings in which your characters can grow. Sticky Notes I won’t lie, there was a year of my writing life where my entire bedroom wall was covered in sticky notes. I was stuck on the plot points and needed a new way of looking at things, so I wrote down every plot point I could think of on the little yellow sticky notes and started arranging them on my wall. I quickly began to see that many of my plot points just couldn’t fit into the overall timeline, and I had to rethink my direction and my timeline. While my kids just shook their heads at the yellow note-covered wall, it was a tool that worked! I was surprised to discover alternative plot points to get my characters from one place to another once I could see the Big Picture.


As you write your story and develop your Master Timeline, take the time to revise and refine it as you go along, as events and plot points can change. Revisit your timeline helps to ensure consistency, eliminate plot holes, and make adjustments as needed, as a great timeline evolves alongside your story. Consistency is key while making sure your story fits together, and helps to bring the world to life, not just your characters. Referring to historical events, being aware of what season (spring, summer, etc.) your story is in, and including appropriate holidays and festivals in your setting can breathe life and vitality into your story in an organic way. There is a vast world outside of your characters that affects and molds them, and using the passage of time is a great way to create depth and variety while affecting your character and events. A well constructed timeline might seem like doing extra work when you would rather be writing, but its a remarkable tool that you will be glad to have when you need it.
Rachel Mensch is a writing coach and developmental editor with Manuscripts LLC and author of the dramatic fantasy fiction series including A Single Spark and The Twisting Flame, with the third instalment of the series, The Crimson Blaze, to be released in 2023 under the pen name Tayvia Pierce. As a single mom of two teens, and between her editing and corporate writing work, she proves that even the busiest of people can still write a book (even if it takes a little longer!). You can check out her website at for more information about her and her books.
3 Proven Strategies to Help You Make Time to Write

3 Proven Strategies to Help You Make Time to Write

If you want to write a book this summer, you'll need 4-6 hours of weekly, dedicated time. I’ve tested three strategies to help new authors make time. Let's acknowledge that finishing a book is challenging. The New York Times found that less than 2% of people who start a book ever finish it... so it's actually VERY challenging. 81% of authors in our Manuscripts author community finish a first draft manuscript in 4-6 months. And the typical author invests four to six hours per week into their manuscript during that time. The authors themselves write their books. They don't use ghostwriters, let ChatGPT write the entire thing, or something else. And this process has produced more than 220 national book award winners and finalists since 2020. There's no crazy writing shortcut or hack (I've definitely tried to find one). Instead, it's based on the power of accountability & constraints. I teach three strategies to help anyone finish a solid, first-draft manuscript with 4-6 hours of dedicated time over four months, leveraging accountability & constraints. If you'd like to write, just remember NOT to do it alone. Join our Modern Author Accelerator program this summer and let everyone read your story.

1. Acknowledge Your Fears & Doubts.

Don't set out to write a book. Set out to write a first draft manuscript. And before you set out, list your concerns -- uniqueness, will anyone read it, imposter syndrome, structures, etc. Then share those with someone who has gone through the process of writing a book -- another author, an editor, a coach, or a close friend. Verbalizing your concerns, fears, and doubts is hugely beneficial to create the foundation to finish your draft. 2. Make Yourself Accountable to Your Calendar. You'll need to make time for your book -- but you have to do one step further than that. Add that time to your calendar and tell those in your life about that time. I write Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. It's on my calendar, and I tell my wife, work colleagues, and friends. If it's not scheduled and you're not committed to it... it usually won't happen. 3. Create Pacts with Others. Pacts are a powerful accountability technique built on loose agreements with people who matter to us. I've found them to be critical. Share your action plans with a group of 4-6 individuals: your spouse, your roommate, your business partner, your editors/coaches, and your writing group. It's not "I'm writing a book," but it's "I'm writing M, W, and F from 8-10 am for the next four months. I'd love for you to check on how it's going." For me, summers have been amazing writing periods -- it's when I wrote Pennymores, and I'll be using it for my new book. The secret of using a summer period for writing a book is remembering that constraints and accountability are key: talking about your fears, making time, and creating accountability through pacts with those close to you. Remember, just because it's challenging doesn't mean you can't do it!

How Compassionate Rigor Changes Our Work Ethic

"I'm not ready yet." These are two words you need to be ready for anything new. Compassionate Rigor. Our fears lie to us: "I don't have the time." "I don't have the right idea." "I don't have the money to do that." You don't need to be "ready." You need Compassionate Rigor: "I will set milestones, checkpoints, and reviews, not goals." "I will set aside money every week to invest in myself." "I will join others to share our journeys." "I will set aside make the time." Stop beating yourself up for what you don't have. Young author with compassionate rigor Compassionate rigor is a commitment to yourself, to milestones, to objectives, to learnings, and to time... -- Rigor in your commitment, your investment, and seeking accountability. -- Compassion in your timelines, deadlines, iterations, coaching, and support. You not going to be ready... you'll get ready by doing things with compassionate rigor. Demand this in yourself and with everyone you involve in your journey.

Here's the good part: We launch authors, not books.

If being 'not ready' has held you back from writing your book... let's schedule a call and talk through how to leverage the power of Compassionate Rigor this summer with our next author community. You'll learn:
  • How to develop the book into workshops, keynotes, coaching, and more
  • How to use category design to make your book unique and create word of mouth
  • Why we don't write books, but build books
  • How to leverage the power of fans to market your book



See how the power of weekly coaching and a community of peer authors can help you develop and announce your book in the next 6 months -- all through the power of Compassionate Rigor.

Making Time to Write: 4 Steps For Busy Professionals to Create Books that Elevate Their Voices

"When do you find time to write?" You don't find time... you *make* time.

4 steps I teach busy professionals to make time to create books that elevate their voices

The people who most need and want to write a book tend to be the people who have the busiest schedules -- executive coaches, business owners, consultants, and C-suite executives. They know a book will be powerful -- most have tried in the past -- but often it's time that gets in the way.
  1. Trying a book in the past and it not working isn't signal you're not motivated. Trust me, if that were the case I'd be the poster child. It's usually a signal that you don't have a system.
  2. Writing a book is *not* like what you see in the movies. You don't go off to a cabin and spend six months at a typewriter... eventually emerging as a shell of yourself but with a manuscript. You don't write a book, you build a book. And that's the key mindset.
  3. You don't find time to write a book. You make it. Funny enough, we ran a test in our community about people who were going to use a "summer off" to write... that group who had more downtime were *less* likely to finish their manuscript on schedule. It's not about having oodles of free time. It's about having dedicated time.
  4. Making time requires two things: (a) your calendar; and (b) accountability to others. For most authors, I recommend 4-6 hours a week of calendared time... but the key is to share that calendaring with others. Could be your spouse, your business partner, your editor, or a writing friend. Has to be on your calendar and shared.
It's simple, and that's why it works.
"I'm proof that your 4 steps work. After 15 months, a retired “bean counter” is a proud published author of a 5-star book, called Checkmate!? - Greg Davis, Author of "CHECKMATE"
  Most authors struggle not because they don't have a great book idea or the motivation... they struggle without a process and system to make time. Do that, and I've seen 2,000+ people succeed in their books. It's the only way I've been able to do it too... Modern Author Accelerator Testimonial I'm starting my next book this summer as a part of the Modern Author Accelerator powered by Manuscripts. Why now? My summers are some of my busiest times -- I teach two MBA courses, I have a new cohort of authors, and I have four workshops/mini-courses -- plus I've got three hilarious girls to run around with to camps and summer fun. But I'm going to finish a draft manuscript and announce this new book in November. How? I am making time: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 8:15 to 10:00 am ET are my writing time. Some days I miss, but most days I hold myself accountable (plus, I have shared this plan with my editor, my wife, and my fellow authors). That's part of the #NeverWriteAlone philosophy. And that's how I'll write a mediocre first draft that becomes an amazing book. If you're looking for a little summer accountability, shoot me a note, and love to have you join our summer group -- we're all announcing our books this November and then the fun begins. Ready to make time for something important?

Apply for Summer Modern Author Accelerator Program

Modern Author Strategies to get Booked for More speaking Gigs

From a Book to the Stage: Four Strategies Authors Can Leverage to Get Booked for More Speaking Gigs

If you want to get paid to speak, you need social proof. I’ve tested four strategies. 

Why Does Public Speaking Matter (Especially Today)?

We consume a lot of content today.  Some content is for entertainment, but much of what people consume is to help us learn, improve, or grow.   If you want to cut through that noise, you need to capture attention. And one of the best ways to capture attention is to stand in front of an audience and speak directly to them You may have the greatest shot in those few moments to truly stand out. If you're a coach, consultant, business owner, or thought leader, you need attention for more clients, customers, and business opportunities.  Personally, speaking has created some of my warmest relationships and can be quite profitable.  I've spoken in some amazing places -- the White House, UN, Google, Microsoft, GE, baseball stadiums, etc. -- and some funky places like bars, basement offices, and high schools.  Quite a few have been on Zoom too... which can be great too.  At the end of the day, regardless of the venue, it's a business strategy, and I look at it as marketing.  It's led to clients, customers, and more paid speaking. It’s high-value attention.   But it's hard to break into the game... people often ask me about speaker bureaus or consultants.  Frankly, to break in... you'll have to do it yourself (then maybe those can help).  You need a social proof strategy.

It’s Not What You Say, But What the Audience Will Hear

One of the biggest fallacies about public speaking is you just need to have a great speech.  I spoke to one of the individuals responsible for booking talent for TED and TEDx talks, and what he told me surprised me:
“We want ideas that spread, not just inspiring stories.  We’re not in the business of promoting anecdotes.”
You need social proof:
  • Social proof of your idea isn’t just an inspiring anecdote
  • Social proof that your idea can move an audience
  • Social proof that your idea is new and forward-looking
  • And you can be strategic in creating it and leveraging it.
Modern Author Accelerator Program

Social Proof is Not One thing; It’s Multiple Things That Build on One Another

Social proof isn’t a single thing – it’s not your published book, it’s not your TEDx talk, it’s not your article, and it’s not one testimonial.  Social proof is the story you tell (or show) about why an audience would be moved by what you have to say, share, and teach. How you tell (and show) that story is the key to getting you booked for more speaking opportunities.   These four things- usually in combination- prove you're worth booking.

Here are the four strategies I've seen work:

  1. Thought Leadership. This is the most important -- do you have an 'unconventional' insight backed up by evidence (your research, interviews, data)?  Things that demonstrate thought leadership are a book or upcoming book, a research-driven article in a publication like HBR or Forbes, a TEDx talk, or a badass interview (usually on a stage). Without this nailed, it's an uphill battle.
  1. Testimonials and reviews.  This isn't about the 'fame' of the person but the relevancy to the audience. More variety you can customize the better.
  1. Social Media Engagement. Do you think your posts create conversations?  Will your talk spark similar conversations IRL?
  1. Past speaking engagements. I put this last because people overrate a 'speaker reel'... it helps (of course). Yes, it helps, but today having 1-3 with some podcast interviews, YouTube videos, etc., can be more powerful.

Design Your Strategy to Improve Each Dimension of Social Proof.

It’s a journey – not a destination I look at my own growth as a speaker over the past few years and realize some of today’s opportunities wouldn’t have been possible two or three years ago.   Could you design a strategy for your social proof?  Most of today's best thought leader speakers create social proof by being
  • (a) unconventional (but evidence-backed);
  • (b) relevant;
  • (c) engaging; and
  • (d) compelling. 
  Remember... you're not competing with established thought leaders for speaking slots... your goal is to position yourself as the next thought leader. How? One of my favorite ways to strategize on this is to figure out how to be a "poor man's" _____.    Sure, you're not Brene Brown, Simon Sinek, or David Goggins (yet)... but use 1-4 above to help showcase where you could offer something those more prominent names don't.  Consider creating a grid and scoring some of the names you aspire to be like – then score yourself (but be kind).  What are the areas you can improve in… as you get more evidence and proof points, update your score. Review yourself as a speaker on those four dimensions -- and update as you grow. 

What Inspires You to Write?

Stories are everywhere. Inspiration for writing stories is everywhere, too, and not just in the obvious places. So are tools and techniques that can inspire but can also access those same creative-making brain cells so crucial to writing and storytelling. Here are some fun examples.

Movies & TV Shows

This one is pretty obvious, right? We’ve all seen a ridiculous amount of stories in these mediums. I’m afraid to think of how many hours I have absorbed over my life already. The good thing is that we are all familiar with the basics of storytelling structure. So much so that even those who are not specifically studying the art of storytelling are pretty fluent in its components. We recognize and respond to them, knowingly. Which is great, as often learning the elements of what makes a great story is a matter of identifying and naming such traits instead of having to start from scratch. One big caveat for writers: movies and television shows only deal with two senses. Sight and sound. Writers have smell, touch, and taste that we can use, too. Movies have tried to integrate some of the other senses, but it’s been more of a gimmick, like using buzzers in the seats for The Tingler in the 60s. Hmm. Maybe someone can wire books to buzz when they hit a certain page? That would make reading a little more . . . interesting!


Many writers use music for inspiration while writing. This is common and makes sense. I know many who use motion picture scores to set the mood for their stories. Pretty cool. Writing a thriller, how about playing some of Bernhard Hermann’s Alfred Hitchcock scores? Turn on some classical for doing a period romance. Some writers use pop music with lyrics, as well, but many I know find it distracting when writing and stick to classical, instrumental, or soundtrack music. Another technique for those musically inclined has been to actually play an instrument before or during writing to make their own soundtracks for their stories. Pretty inspirational and a lot of fun. One big caveat: quoting song lyrics in writing is mostly a big no-no. Clearing lyrics can be difficult work. Finding out the right representative can be a challenge, and the fees most will demand are unaffordable to most aspiring and working writers.


This might be an odd one, but hear me out. Cooking a dish or a meal has serious similarities to writing. You need to have a plan. If you don’t, you need to figure one out, either through experience (like burned casseroles) or through a template or a recipe. You’ve got to prep your ingredients. Sometimes making other side dishes, sauces, or seasonings. Then you have to put it in the oven and cook it just right. That same creative space that allows you to cook also bakes your creative ideas. Yum. “What’s for dinner?” “How about a little drama with a side of cliffhanger sauce?”

Books & Magazines

Naturally, reading plays a huge part in inspiring writers to want and need to write stories of their own. Stories ignite our imaginations, leading to new stories and new worlds to explore. Most writers were inspired to write by first being avid and well-read readers. Even seasoned writers look to others to be inspired. A beautifully written book with a captivating story can sure make another writer want to get their fingers in the game and strive to hit such a benchmark. Remember, there’s plenty of room at bookstores for new stories. Publishers always want new works, and with online marketplaces, shelf space isn’t limited like it once was. Although standing out among such a deluge is another topic entirely.

Fine Art, Drawing & Sculpting

Like music, fine art, drawing, and sculpting offer a different perspective on story. Going to a museum or gallery can ignite a firestorm of creativity. Some of the best works tell a story of their own and do so through a single moment in time. The old cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words is amplified tenfold. Imagine the wraparound stories of some of the greatest paintings and sculptures. Imagining these can be a great exercise. On the flip side? Drawing, painting, and sculpting again access a creative part of the brain that also can contain our writing thoughts. If you think of your mind like a muscle, it’s good to flex this area in other disciplines, as well, because they’re all ultimately connected. Creativity comes in many forms. I grew up with my mother’s family owning an auto body repair shop. There was a tremendous amount of art and craft happening to repair the damage, match paint colors, and make everything look like new again. And that’s just one example of how creativity can arrive in many forms and can inspire writers. What other disciplines do you love that can also be considered creative? Knitting? Design? Bead making? Woodworking? There are so many! Find and draw inspiration from the life around you. Your writing will be all the richer for it!
John Palisano’s nonfiction, short fiction, and poetry have appeared in countless literary anthologies and magazines such as Cemetery Dance, Fangoria, Weird Tales, Space & Time, McFarland Press, and many more. He is the author of the novel Nerves and Starlight Drive: Four Tales of Halloween, and has been quoted in Vanity Fair, the Los Angeles Times, and The Writer. He has received the Bram Stoker Award© and was recently President of the Horror Writers Association. Say ‘hi’ at:,,, and

Why Should Readers Read Your Book? Identifying Your Why for Stronger Nonfiction Books (Part 3)

Step One on this journey of writing a book is to figure out what you want to write about. Step Two is writing and editing the book. Step Three is sharing it with readers and the world. This article series is all about Step One, but it will also get you a long way toward finding your superfans and readers in Step Three. In part one and two, we covered what you’ll write about and why you’re credible to write it. If you’ve not read either, I recommend you read them first. In this part, we’ll tackle the key ingredient for selling your book — what’s in it for the readers. When you sit down to write a book, the one thing you must never forget is the reader. They are, after all, the end consumers of the product. You want them to not only read it, but love it, share it, highlight it, recommend it to others, and hear your intended message. So, how do you get them to do that? You answer the question of why readers should read your book. You answer their ‘why’ in what you discuss and how you discuss it. So, what does that look like?

Why Do Readers Pick up a Book?

Reading is subjective. What one reader likes, another could hate, be it your cover, your writing style, the formatting, or the stories you share within. You’ll never please all the readers all the time, and that’s okay, because there are plenty of readers out there. However, something you want to keep in the forefront of your mind is this: readers are selfish. People read books because of what it does for them, what they gain from content, not what writing it does for you. In fact, in a 2012 study by Pew Research entitled “Why People Like to Read,” 26% of respondents who had picked up a book said, “what they enjoyed the most was learning, gaining knowledge, and discovering information.” While it’s an old study, its findings are still valid today, especially for nonfiction books. If you fail to ask yourself what that reader will take away knowing, thinking, or having learned from reading your book, you’ll not only fail your readers but also yourself. Self-absorption is great when you’re brainstorming your book, but not so great when you’re actually writing it. Readers don’t care about you; they care about themselves and what they get from your book. After all, it’s their hard-earned money they’re spending. You have to keep that in mind when presenting your material or you could end up confusing, boring, or annoying them. Those three outcomes are the quickest way to alienate your reader.

Tell Them Stories

While the reader is important when picking the topic of your book — after all, you want an audience with interest in it — keeping the reader in mind when you’re writing the book is crucial. And the key way to do that is to make sure you include stories. Human beings are hardwired to learn from, retain, and identify with stories. Stories:
  • Engage the listener at an emotional level, which helps retain attention and keeps information flowing into their brains;
  • Transport the reader, which increases the possibility for empathy and creates trust; and,
  • Change attitudes, beliefs, values, knowledge, and behavior.
When you craft your chapters, don’t forget the stories. These could be your stories or other people’s stories. These could be hypothetical stories or a composite of multiple stories created to illustrate your point. It only matters that you include them. And yes, this applies to theory- or research-heavy nonfiction as well. If you want to reach readers and have them retain your content, you have to tell them stories.

Give Them Takeaways

The other key thing you want to include in your book are the takeaways. This is the gumball that drops after the reader puts a quarter in the machine. Don’t be that author that lets the reader walk away empty-handed. For memoirs, readers will learn from your experiences, even if they never face something similar. They also can be empowered or inspired simply by reading your story and processing how you handled your life. Yes, they may be more entertained than educated, but they will still walk away with having learned something. For creative and standard nonfiction, how you present the material depends on how the lessons appear. The lessons could be woven into the chapter material and presented as answers to questions you have that you’re answering or that you think the reader may have. Other times, they could be questions you ask the reader to think about or specific tasks you ask them to undertake. In short, the takeaways could be explicitly or implicitly stated. It doesn’t matter if it’s one or the other, or a mix of the two. It only matters that you include them. Also, reiteration is your friend. Repeating the chapter’s lesson at the conclusion of the chapter and the book helps the reader retain the lessons much easier than if you just state it once. It’s even better if you’re able to weave lessons into the chapters in subtle ways and build upon them (but don’t keep hammering them home; it can be annoying for the reader). If you don’t tell the reader what they should get from your book, if you don’t give them the core thoughts you want them to walk away knowing when they’re done with your book, you’ve not created a book that will stick. If it doesn’t stick, the reader won’t recommend it, share it, talk about it, or think about it again. You want readers to remember your book, but more importantly, you want readers to be impacted by it. Including takeaways will do that for you.

Final Thoughts

There are many reasons someone will put down a book. It could be the tone, the perspective, the way you approach the topic, or that life got in the way and they didn’t pick up your book again. Some of this is subjective and personal to the reader and you can’t control it. What you can control is your why. If your goal is to put your story out there and you don’t care who reads it or if they get anything from it, great. Stop reading and go publish your story. However, most nonfiction writers want their readers to gain something from the telling — to learn something, to feel something, to be inspired, uplifted or to look deep within and explore their own thoughts and feelings. If you don’t know why your readers should read your book, if you fail to think of them when you craft your message, you’ll be less likely to hit that goal. If you don’t know what it is about the topic that inspires you to plonk away at a keyboard for weeks and months, you’ll be less likely to finish the book. And if you don’t give your readers a reward, some dopamine, or even a cookie for reading your book, the message you’ve spent months crafting will go unheard. Good nonfiction is relatable and is written for the reader, not the writer. Great nonfiction entertains, enthralls, creates discussion (internal or external), and is written with the reader in mind. It doesn’t take long to determine why this book, why you, and why someone should read it. Ask the why questions so that readers hear what you have to say and can feel it. Or do it so that your book won’t be one I decide to dissect on my editing table. I’m very good with my (metaphorical) scalpel.
Cassandra Stirling writes about nonfiction, memoir, and fiction writing tips, book reviews, and random deeper thoughts on writing. You can find all her writing at Her urban fantasy series, The Space Between, is available at all major retailers.

Why You? Identifying Your Why for Stronger Nonfiction Books (Part 2)

We all want to write a book people will read. For fiction authors, the goal is to entertain, enthrall, and occasionally educate. For nonfiction authors, the goal is (usually) to impart some wisdom, help a reader who may be in a similar situation, help the reader improve themselves, or educate. In Part 1 of this series, the big question to answer is: what is it about this topic that makes your perspective unique? Or in business speak, what is your unique selling proposition? If you haven’t read it, I recommend you go back and do so. In this part, I’ll cover the second question: why are you writing this book? Knowing what you’re bringing to the table will keep you motivated to not only write the book but also to sell it. Yes, you not only sell the topic when you market the book, but also yourself. Writing a book is scary. Not only is it a big undertaking requiring many hours of work, but you also have to put it out there for others to read. While writing a manuscript and giving it to an editor, beta reader, friend, or anonymous stranger to read, you’ll most likely face the big writing fear — impostor syndrome.

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Even when you know the content going into your book, you can still question your ability to write it. Most writers, except for those unicorns out there, face impostor syndrome at some (okay, many) points in their careers. Impostor syndrome can be as small as “I don’t think my grammar is good,” to as large as “my writing sucks,” “I have nothing to say,” “no one will read it,” “who will listen to me,” etc. It also sneaks up on you just when you think you have it foiled and/or just had a big win. Individuals facing impostor syndrome feel “their achievements are undeserved and worry that they are likely to be exposed as a fraud,” according to a 2011 study by Jaruwan Sakulki and James Alexander entitled “The Imposter Phenomenon,” which is based on Dr. Pauline’s groundbreaking study in 1985 on the topic. Intellectual fraud is an obstacle many writers I have worked with have faced, even if they have spent their entire careers working in the field in which they are writing. I’ll say that again — they are successful at their topic and still feel like a fraud when they sit down to write about it. It’s a tricky beast and can paralyze you from finishing your book. While this article isn’t about how to overcome impostor syndrome, reminding yourself why you are an authority on this topic can help combat it. Remember your successes — that first chapter, finding the perfect piece of research, or nailing an interview — and use that as a springboard to keep you moving forward. I also recommend making sure you have a support system in place to remind you how much you’ve accomplished. This can be another writer, a family member, a friend, a mentor, or a combination thereof. The person(s) in this role can give you examples of what you’ve overcome, your successes, and your desire for the book you’re sitting down to write. Knowing why you feel qualified to write your book will go a long way to help you combat impostor syndrome. It will also give you a better idea as to how much external research you’ll need to do to make the book credible for your readers.

Authority & Credibility

If you ask any random human out there what makes one book credible over the other, they’ll always start with the author and their credentials for writing about the topic. Being a respected contributor in the field is one way to determine that, but you can also be credible if it’s your life story, your experiences, and/or you’ve done the research. When you get to this part of the question, what you want to ask yourself is: What is it about your experiences, life, way of thinking, or perception of the world or this topic that makes it necessary for you to write this book? What is it that makes your idea and the way you present it special? If you’ve read the first article in this series, I’m sure you’re wondering how that is different from the unique selling proposition of your topic. The difference is this: the answer to the first question is what you’re writing about; the answer to the second question (this one) is how you’re going to write it. It’s about your voice, your perspective, and what your experience brings to the content, rather than the uniqueness of the content itself. To add clarity, let’s look at a few examples. Writer A and writer B are both writing about the sex life of ants.
  • Writer A wants to discuss how the ants’ behavior impacts their society in the colony.
  • Writer B wants to discuss the biological implications of an ant’s sex life across the forest in which they live.
It’s the same topic, but not the same approach — the unique what of the book. Now, let’s break down the two writers and their credibility to write them — the why you part of the discussion.
  • Writer A is a sociologist, who has studied a variety of sociological topics, including those of insects.
  • Writer B is a biologist, who has studied the long-term impacts of the natural world.
Let’s add a nuance:
  • Writer A is a PhD student. They’ve published a few papers and are working on their dissertation. They’ve done the research and they’ve extrapolated the data, but have no real world experience outside of their university years.
  • Writer B has a Bachelor’s in Science. They’ve spent their careers working in research institutes and have helped out on numerous studies. They also have access to some of the top scientists in the field to interview and add to their research material in their book.
Are both credible? Yes. Your credibility to write about the topic doesn’t have to be a degree or years of study, even though you (and your impostor syndrome sidekick) may think you do. For those writers who don’t have experience in the field (either research or work experience), you can still be credible as long as you include people who are authorities in the book. This could be quotes from their work, books, or appearances, or you could also conduct interviews. In other words, you get your authority by the credible sources you include in the book. For memoir writers, you have the easiest response to this question, because you’ve lived the experience you’re writing about. You may still want to interview those who were in your life at that particular time, though, to make sure your memory of the moment is as accurate as possible. For creative nonfiction writers, you fall somewhere in the middle and it depends how creative you want to be. If you lean more heavily on the narrative side, follow the memoir writer’s advice. If you lean more on the nonfiction side, follow the nonfiction’s advice. It’s more about balance in your case, since you straddle the line. The most important thing to remember when tackling this question is why you feel you have what it takes to present the topic properly, no matter how you get there. As long as you have the goods, readers will see you as credible.

Final Thoughts

One of the key roles I play as a writing coach and development editor has nothing to do with the writing and everything to do with the writer. I’m there to cheer them on, nudge them when they’re not getting the work done, and remind them of how much they’ve accomplished so far. And it almost always includes their authority on the topic, which is why this question is just as important as what topic they’re writing about. Now that you know why this topic and why you, the next question is crucial. The most important part? It’s not about you at all, but it’s arguably the most important one of the bunch. Stay tuned for the last and final question in this series: Why should readers read your book? (aka what’s in it for them?). It’s a doozy.
Cassandra Stirling writes about nonfiction, memoir, and fiction writing tips, book reviews, and random deeper thoughts on writing. You can find all her writing at Her urban fantasy series, The Space Between, is available at all major retailers.