In 1931 S. R. Ranganathan proposed the Five Laws of Library Science. The theory behind the laws was to help define the principles of any library system. Today I would like to look at the first four of these laws and see how we can apply them to you as a writer.
Books Are for Use
I like to ask students if a book has any ministry value if it isn’t read. Of course, it doesn’t. And a book can’t be read unless it is purchased. A library book was purchased. A book given away by an organization or an individual was first purchased. Someone had to make a decision to buy that book. Thus, the ministry of a book begins at the point of sale. Thus the writer has to think of how their words can be compelling enough to begin the transaction at the point of sale. What makes your idea saleable?
Books are usually purchased for information, inspiration, or entertainment. This list covers most instances for the use of a book. If it doesn’t, then it becomes mere decoration on the shelves (see Better Homes and Gardens).
Every Person His or Her Book
All tastes and sizes. Only the Bible is a “one size fits all” book. For example, one person may love romantic suspense. Another may think that genre is frivolous. I once spoke to a reader who was judging a fiction contest. They admitted having little patience for the romance books in the contest but loved the ones that were classified as literary fiction. Recently, I read a review of a highly acclaimed novel that trashed it as overwritten and boring. You might love a book and recommend it to a friend who did not share your enthusiasm.
Some like to collect cookbooks. Some like YA. Some like to collect books on theology. (“Guilty,” Steve said.) Some prefer history, or archaeology, or sewing, or business, or investing, or biographies, or tidying up.
As a writer, it is important to realize you cannot write for everyone. It simply isn’t possible. But that brings us to the next point.
Every Book Its Reader
Your book will have a reader. Even if it is only your mom (!!!). The desire, of course, is to have a vast audience for your words. But it may be your book will only affect a few.
Last year I talked with a lady who had self-published and was depressed because her book had not sold. She thought getting an agent would be the magic it needed. (Nope!) But during the conversation, she did say that her teenage niece became a Christian after reading the book. I sat in stunned silence for a moment. I said, “Let me ask you a question. If you knew, ten years ago, that writing this book and saving the money needed to get it published would result in the eternal salvation of your baby niece, would you have willingly spent the time and the money?” She replied, “Of course, I would have.” I countered, “Ma’am, you already did. Your book wasn’t a failure; it has been an incredible success.”
Every book has a reader: the reader intended for your words. Never forget that.
Save the Time of the Reader
For the librarian, this law speaks to accessibility to information. It should be easy to find and stay organized.
For the writer, I think it has other implications. Ask yourself if you really need to add the 20-page excursus on the research methods you used to define this one point. Or make it even simpler: “Do you need that sentence? Does it move the book forward, or are you just blathering?”
The adage “Write tight” fits this law quite well.
The Fifth Law
For the librarian, the fifth law is “The library is a growing organism.” I suppose we could work a writing metaphor into that.
Your body of work is ever expanding, as it should be. It has been said that “a work of art is never finished, but only abandoned” (attributed to Paul Valéry). And there is truth to that. For a writer it means finishing or abandoning your project and starting a new one. A mistake can be made by pursuing only one writing idea for decades, only to find that its only reader is you.
Grow as a writer. Take classes at a conference. Listen to courses at The Christian Writers Institute. Read this blog. Listen to podcasts. Read a new book on writing each year. There is always room to grow.