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Write the Right Book

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As a book-writing coach I see one "issue" more than any other: authors and would-be authors who don't know what book to write. Either they write the wrong book (often) and have to start again -- often years later -- or they have so many ideas that five years after starting they still haven't decided on a topic. Truth be told, both behaviors are forms of writer's block.

So how do you know what book to write? I tell my authors to do a pre-book audit -- and it always works:

1. Identify the Vision for the Book. Let's say you're writing a book to help parents navigate the ways computers affect their children and you have an idea-a-minute. You likely have two or three books going on and yes, you have double or triple vision. Instead, begin by asking yourself the following and give one answer for each: a) What will this book do for your life, your work (or business), your lifestyle?; b) How will this book affect your readers? What will their lives be like before and after reading it?; and c) Imagine how your book will affect the larger world -- it will. In the earlier example, you may end up focusing solely on the Internet and protecting children, rather than all computer issues. If you can't state your vision in one sentence, it's not a workable vision.

2. Identify Your Core Readers. Many authors are confused about their audience. One day you're writing for people suffering from heart attacks; the next day your audience is lovesick singles. Once you've completed 1 above, picture a dartboard. The bull's eye is your core reader. That's the person you imagine when you're writing your title, your outline, your bio and every word in-between. Write with this core audience in mind and your book will be conversational (versus self-conscious), compelling (versus boring), and accessible (versus scattered) -- and it will have a lot more impact.

3. Clarify the Tone and the Features. Features include experiential exercises, callouts or sidebars or quotes in the margins, or perhaps graphs or an index as well as any artwork. Tone is the "voice" of the book. A children's book "speaks" in one "voice"; a parenting tome in another; one for those lovesick singles (of all ages) in another. It is best is to use your own natural writing voice as it comes out on the page with that core audience in mind. If you're not sure, find someone(s) who loves to read and reads books similar to yours and ask him/her to have a go at a few sample pages. Do this section only after completing 2 above.

4. Determine the Theme. If you're writing a memoir, you'll need to figure out what goes in and what stays out by identifying the core theme of the book -- i.e., learning to love food (for a chef). If a scene or vignette does not support the theme, it's out, no matter how funny or brilliant.

5. Determine the Scope. For how-to books in particular, you'll need to clarify both a) what level of information your readers want and need (for instance, how technical to get); and b) how much to give them in one book. Give your readers enough information to make a difference in their lives, but not so much that they are overwhelmed. Save the overflow for a second book, an article and/or an information product. And make sure you meet your readers where they are. For a book on philanthropy, for instance, your readers may not be ready to devote 10 hours a week to volunteering so start with a few hours a month. Feeling like a failure isn't a page-turner.

6. Structure Your Book. Starting to write before you have a structure is the number-one book-writing mistake. One-hundred percent of the time, the result is too much material and then, having to start over again, sometimes after years of work. So what is structure? For some, it's an outline; for others, it's a box of color-coded index cards in book-order with content, features/ideas on each one. Some authors I work with swear by mind-maps (diagrams representing ideas, tasks, words, etc. arranged around a central theme) to organize their books. Whatever you do, do it before you start to write. Yes, it will change as you go along but without a foundation there is nothing to evolve from.

Done with your pre-book audit? Now, it's time to start writing! Are you finding it challenging to find the time to actually write? Author and Huffington Post blogger Roseann Bane offers a simple suggestion for making time to get your book written.

What are your biggest book writing challenges? Share them here to get advice.