3 Questions to Answer Before You Start Writing

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I love it when I come across a piece of writing advice that goes beyond the genre that the speaker writes. Some time ago, I was watching a webinar on writing memoir led by Paul Bradley Carr. It wasn’t enough, in his opinion, to reach the end of the manuscript. He wanted the listeners to be able to create something that would be marketable.

What can I say? I love speakers who give us advice we can use.

To have any hope to create a commercially viable memoir, ala Carr, you need to be able to answer these three questions.

  1. Do you have something specific to say? This can’t be a vague piece about parenting. It has to be specific. Maybe your experience was in parenting a gifted child or triplets. That’s specific.
  2. Will this topic resonate with others? 6 percent of all students are gifted. Approximately 1 in 10,000 pregnancies results in triplets.
  3. Can you help in some way? Will your piece inspire or solve a problem? You can’t just be relatable. You need to be useful.

As Carr discussed these questions, it hit me that this approach goes beyond memoir. Truly, it is essential to all nonfiction writers. It doesn’t do any good to write any nonfiction piece that is vague or unrelatable.

For the sake of discussion, you are all about cooking. You want to write books that teach young readers how to put a nutritious, delicious meal together. If you create a proposal for a book that is going to teach readers to make breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for all four seasons and for people with a wide range of dietary needs . . .

Let’s just say that the Joy of Cooking has already been written. You need to be more specific.

Maybe you want to create a book for kids who are vegan or lactose intolerant. Or this is all about misleading food (looks like a cake pop but it’s a meatball). You need to have a slant. But you also need to show that there is a market for your slant. Misleading food? That might be a tough sell but you could make an argument for pirate food if you can provide stats for Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Can you help? Kids are good with straight up fun but you want adults to spend their money. What skills are you teaching? How are you helping build up their young learner. Be specific.

Whether you are writing a query letter or a nonfiction proposal, answers to these three questions will help sell your work.


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