Monday, July 2, 2012

Stop and Go, Switch Direction – Writer Needs vs. Reader Needs

I hate stopping a writing flow in the middle. It happens to writers a lot. I have stacks of half-written manuscripts, articles I never finished, and ideas that never even make it to the page. This is one disadvantage of self-publishing and freelancing. In a traditional writing job, you write what your client, publisher, or company wants and are paid for that work. The work is assigned to you ahead of time, along with an agreement for pay. When you self-publish and freelance, you write what you choose to write, typically what you love to write, and then hope to sell it later. You work on your own time, so it’s risky. Today’s topic follows along the lines of my post from October 2011, “The Real World.”

I have been working hard on my next book, which is teen fiction somewhere between funny and demented. Book sales for the previous two books are slow as are freelance gigs. I have to make a living, right? And I only have this one skill, writing. So I am toying with the idea of halting my fiction book temporarily and cranking out one or two non-fiction titles. I noticed a lot of non-fiction writers who write books based on their opinions or one experience that they feel makes them an expert. I think I have more to offer than that. People want to read books by truly qualified authors. I am qualified to write books about writing, not because I write this blog but because I have an education in writing and I have many years’ experience. My experience has not only been to write for people but also to teach them and to set up writing procedures and templates. I have style guides memorized (though I admit I do overlook a few rules when writing casually).

So I know I have the expertise. I have the qualifications. I need a niche. Lots of people write about writing. Why would my book stand out above theirs? I actually know the answer to that and it has to do with the readers’ needs.

Writers often write what they like to write. They write their opinions, their feelings, their experiences. It’s easy to write when you have that passion. The problem is that they don’t always write what the reader needs. Or they write what the reader wants but cannot produce the magical results that the reader expects. You can’t make someone else a great writer. You can’t make someone else a best-selling novelist. You can teach people grammar, but that topic is a little touchy since adults are aware that grammar is something they should have learned in grade school and are hesitant to relearn.

My aim is to teach potential writers exactly what they need to get through a task. In technical writing, for example, which is my primary area of expertise, there are various forms of technical documentation. It is very common for someone to be assigned the task of writing, say,  a Request for Proposal and have no idea what one looks like. It sounds like it would be a simple letter, but in fact, RFPs are typically 30+ pages long and are very detailed. If you miss a detail, your project could be disastrous and costly. This is just one example, but this is the sort of thing people need to know, how to do a specific task and what it looks like in the end. It’s all about need. What they need, not what I need, although it does feel good when you can help people out.

I do hate switching gears, even temporarily. But it’s a consequence of an occupation where you do what you want to, until you have to do what you have to do. It'll be a short break. I promise.

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