The Biggest Question About Your Book

Authors are like small businesses. They have a finance department, a marketing department and an editorial wing. Then there’s the travel, human resources, IT and facilities management departments, all managed by one person, the author.

While writing quality and author platforms are discussed at every writer’s conference, those aren’t the only factors contributing to the success or less-than-success of a new book.

While it may appear author platform is everything, it isn’t. In fact, the author’s platform can only take them so far. And at the risk of being called a literary heretic, the impact of good writing is limited as well. Successful books are not “only about the writing.”

Books are turned down by agents and publishers every day for lack of platform and for quality of writing, but many books are rejected by their inability to answer one simple question.

“Why is this needed?” (or the more commonly used, “So what?”)

The answer to this question is the literal pass/fail test for every book. And part of a passing grade for a book is not difficult to understand.

And it’s not just in publishing where identifying the benefit to the user is important. If you pay attention to most advertising, you will see how professional marketers emphasize user benefit to advance their cause.  A product isn’t “low cost,” it “saves you money.” The “low cost” is a feature, but “saves you money” is the benefit.

Every successful business is customer-benefit focused, first and foremost.

Often, authors have a hard time identifying the true reader-benefit of their book and need an outside perspective to find it. And if they still can’t locate an easily-defined benefit, then it might indicate a larger problem…there might not be one.

It isn’t a good thing if there’s no easily identified reason for a reader to buy a book.

In fact, as an aside, difficulty developing a platform might indicate followers or readers might not see a benefit to following.

How this applies to various types of books are as follows:

Personal life stories can devolve into books which are “all about the author,” with nothing for the reader’s benefit, unless you are uber-famous and then we want to know the kind of bicycle you rode when you were nine years old.

Information books or opinion books can also be cold, disconnected tomes of detail from the author’s education and experience.

Literary musings can end up being an author simply “showing off” their immense writing prowess.

Even Christian-themed books can elicit a “So what?” response from reviewers if there is no clear application to the reader.

Why do these types of projects get the thumbs-down from agents and publishers?

Because it reveals the author has a greater need to be known, heard and understood, than benefit the reader.  Successful books of all types give something of value to the reader. In general, one or more of the following:



Enflame the imagination



Insight into something important to the reader

Promise of something good

Every type of book must have one or more of these benefits for the reader and if there isn’t, or the benefit is confusing or obtuse, it won’t be a successful.

Keep working on your platform and your writing quality, but first, think of the platform followers and your eventual book readers. If you don’t give them a compelling reason to follow you or something which will improve their life, you might need to go back to the drawing board or ask someone to help you identify something.

Books are meant to be read and for this to happen, you need a reader. Think of them throughout the writing process, giving them something of value in exchange for their money and time.


Leave a Comment

Of Making Many Books There Is No End

This past week Bowker, the company that issues ISBN numbers for published books, released their annual statistics. They broke out the numbers for self-published books and revealed a stunning statistic. (If you want the history and explanation of the ISBN, read my scintillating post on the topic here. Each country …

Read More

Caution: Loose Platform Planks

I love learning about authors on the internet. And as a literary agent, I enjoy the internet and find connections there that would be otherwise difficult to find and maintain. But as professionals, we must be cautious about what we share on any level. One reason is that we all …

Read More

Eternal Words

Every time I read or hear a report of a prominent person’s life complicated by something they tweeted, posted or recorded a decade earlier, I hope the stories are a cautionary tale for anyone desiring to be a media communicator or public figure. We used to be able to put …

Read More

Expert Training

With so many types of media available to citizens of the 21st century, anyone can appear to be an expert in anything. Access to the internet makes everyone smart. Or at least appear to be smart. Fifteen years ago I searched online for the acronym LOL because I wasn’t cool …

Read More

The Ultimate Sound Bite

Can you boil the essence of your novel or non-fiction book idea into twenty-five words or less?

This is one of the keys to creating a marketing hook that makes your idea sellable in today’s crowded market.

You have less than a minute to make that hook work.

It is also called creating the “elevator pitch” or the “Hollywood pitch.” The goal is get the marketing department to exclaim, “We can sell that without any problem!” And ultimately to get a consumer to say, “I want that” or “I need that” or “I know someone who should have that.”

Read More

How an Agent Reads

I’m seldom at a loss for words (though often at a loss for something of value to say), but the question took me aback for a moment. I was on an agents-and-editors panel at a writers’ conference within a few months of becoming an agent. I’d done this sort of …

Read More

Good and Bad Advice on The Writing Life

After graduation from college, I got an entry level job at a radio station, programmed with call-in talk shows. I carried out the trash, conducted regular “Frosty-runs” to Wendy’s for the news director, painted the sales office, screened callers for the shows during off-hours, took transmitter readings, got coffee for …

Read More

Don’t Put Everything in Your Book

One reason platform-building is a such a problem for some authors is the feeling they must place everything important in their book, leaving little or nothing left to say for platform purposes. This puts an author in an awkward position where they either deviate from their core book-message for their …

Read More