What do you really want to write?

We get many queries about topics that truly interest us, and that we feel would stand a good chance in the marketplace because the information is needed and it would be useful to many people. Yet when we read the material, we are disappointed.


Because the content goes in an entirely different direction than the author’s description.

Rather than focusing on helping the reader by providing worthwhile information directly applicable to the readers’ lives, their stated purpose, the writer instead wants to tell their life story. They’ve convinced themselves that others would be interested.

Usually, they are not.

Unless there is something truly unusual about their life experience, and the writer has written in a compelling voice, in addition to having come kind of connection that will assure strong book sales, publishers won’t be interested.

As an example:

You’re suffering from some kind of illness, let’s say it’s breast cancer. You think others would want to learn about what it’s like to go through that illness. You’ve never published anything, but you kept a daily journal which you consulted to write up a manuscript about what happened to you as you went through traditional treatment. You tell us how many million women go through exactly the same thing every year, so they’d be interested in hearing from someone who’s done it.

Unless you offer something of personal benefit to the reader, like an explanation of new treatments and resources to help readers along their own path, your story likely won’t be picked up by publishers.

What you are really doing is filling your inner need to give an outlet for all the emotions you perhaps suppressed through your treatment.  This has been done before, by people who are famous or well-published, who have a ready audience of interested readers.

A writer we know got a publishing contract for a nonfiction book. When it came time to deliver the manuscript, however, her editor was dismayed to find that instead of sticking to her topic, she delivered a book of stories about her late husband.

Writing as therapy can be valuable. But it usually isn’t publishable.

If you find yourself drifting off-subject, recognize it and go ahead and do it to get it out of your system. Just understand that you probably won’t be able to sell that material. And if your therapeutic writing is effective, you probably won’t want to.

Before you get all ruffled by this advice, remember that we are speaking in generalities, based on lots of experience in this industry. There are always rare publishing exceptions—your work may be one of them!

Copyright 2007 by Barbara Doyen. All rights reserved.

Suggested reading:

Why Alice Sebold had to write stop writing her bestselling novel, The Lovely Bones and write her nonfiction memoir first.

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