Conferences

What Does Your Reader Need?

I attend many writers’ conferences, as an author, speaker, and agent. As a result, I meet and become friends with many fine people and outstanding writers.

At a recent gathering, I enjoyed a spirited and stimulating conversation with an aspiring author who has a passion for reaching readers with the good news of Jesus Christ. I identify with that. But I’m not sure we ever got onto the same page, so to speak. As far as I can recall, some of the conversation went something like this:

SHE: People just need to know that Jesus is the answer.

ME: Absolutely.

SHE: I just wish they knew how much they need Jesus.

ME: Ah, I think you’ve hit on something there.

SHE: What’s that?

ME: It’s hard to write books that meet a need people don’t yet know they have.

SHE: What? What do you mean?

ME: You said, “I wish they knew how much they need Jesus.”

SHE: Right, exactly!

ME: But if they don’t already know how much they need Jesus, how are you going to persuade them to buy a book about how much they need Jesus?

SHE: I don’t follow.

ME: When people walk into a bookstore, they have some very real needs.

SHE: Yes, and first among them is a need for Jesus.

ME: Yes, okay, but they don’t know how much they need Jesus.

SHE: Exactly!

ME: So they’re not looking for books about how much they need Jesus.

SHE: They’re not?

ME: How can they? They don’t know how much they need Him.

SHE: But—

ME: So if they see your How Much You Need Jesus book on the shelf, why would they pick it up?

SHE: Because they need Jesus!

ME: But they don’t know that.

SHE: That’s why they need my book.

ME: I think we’re going around in circles.

SHE: You are. I’m not.

ME: Let’s try this. Picture your reader.

SHE: Okay.

ME: Female? Forty years old, maybe? Married? Two kids?

SHE: Sounds about right.

ME: She’s walking into a bookstore right now. But her car as she drove to the store was making a weird noise. But she and her husband are barely making ends meet as it is, so they can’t afford costly repairs…and she doesn’t want to say anything to make hubby angry. And he seems to be angry a lot these days. She’s pretty sure he’s going through some difficult things at work, and his new secretary—well, she doesn’t even want to think about that. She has enough to worry about, with her daughter’s cutting and the strange cigarettes she found in her son’s room the night before last. So she walks into the bookstore with all this on her mind, and she knows she needs—what?

SHE: Hope?

ME: Okay….

SHE: Encouragement?

ME: Could be.

SHE: Maybe marriage advice or parenting help. Maybe a break. Maybe an escape.

ME: Right. Those are her felt needs. Strongly felt needs. So do you think she’s more likely to pick up—and maybe even buy—a book about one of those needs, or something you know she needs but she doesn’t yet know?

SHE: But—

ME: So…what is it you need right now?

SHE: I need someone to buy my book!

ME: So, if I were to write a book about how you need to clearly and forcefully connect with your reader’s felt needs, I would most helpfully do it by showing you that that is the most likely path to selling your book—right?

SHE, nodding slowly: Ohhhhh.

 

We talked a little longer, but I’m still not sure we got anywhere. And I certainly could have communicated better. But it seems to be a hurdle many of us—perhaps especially writers who are also followers of Jesus—struggle to clear. We must write books that meet needs—not needs that only the author knows about, but needs that are felt by our readers before they even see our book. Or why would they pick it up, let alone buy it, and read it?

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