Not All Books Need to Be Well-Written to Sell

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If you're writing a nonfiction book, the first question you need to ask yourself is whether your book is more about ideas/information or art.

If your book is more about ideas/information, it means:

  • you need credibility or authority of some kind in your subject area to be taken seriously by publishers and other insiders
  • you need expertise and/or experience to understand the conversation/community you're entering into and how to present fresh and compelling ideas or information
  • you need an excellent understanding of your audience and their needs
  • your platform (or visibility) in a community will be essential to selling and promoting yourself and your book
  • you don't do the book first to become an expert; you're an expert or credible source first (with a platform) which justifies having a printed book
  • you write a book proposal because you need to present a business plan for why the market needs your book
  • your audience doesn't care as much about the quality of expression (artform) as the quality of ideas and information

If your book is more about art, it means:

  • you need skill at the craft to be taken seriously, which usually means years of practice
  • you may not need any expertise/experience of any kind if your writing evokes strong emotion, passion, or deep meaning
  • you often need to write the book first, and write it flawlessly, in order for it to sell (assuming you are not a celebrity or notorious or bizarre person who can garner media attention)
  • you might write a proposal, but when it comes to art and making meaning, storytelling is much more powerful than statistics and business plans (of course, remember that even a book about ideas/information needs a mythical story behind it or a way to help people find meaning to stand out from the crowd)

If your book is about ideas/information, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be as well written as possible. In fact, the most powerful books about ideas (by people like Malcolm Gladwell) are works of art.

But when you're pitching an agent or publisher, make sure you know whether your book is idea-driven or art-driven. It makes a difference in your perspective and slant.

When it's about the ideas or the information, you're a salesperson armed with information on the market and your authority. You can do the same with your art, but if the art doesn't match your sales hype, you're back to square one.

Photo credit: Sailing: "Footprints Real to Reel"