Three questions we ask every book author

Hello, I’m Mark, and I’m the founder and editor-in-chief at Breakthrough Victory Enterprises. Every time I engage with a new author, I ask them this question: why did you write your book? I get a variety of answers, but when it comes to non-fiction, the most common is, “I want to help people.” Some authors want to help people heal, others want to help them be successful in some endeavor; but the common denominator is HELP. They want to help someone move from point A to point B. I get this answer from many fiction writers too.

It turns out that most writers, at least in my experience, are altruistic people who want to help others learn something or see something that they may not have learned or seen/understood before. The authors I’ve worked with see themselves not as mere storytellers but life guides and coaches, and they have a heartfelt desire to make a difference in the world; “to leave life a little better than I found it,” as one author told me.

Once I establish the author’s purpose for writing their book (their “why,” as it is known in modern parlance) , I ask a second question of them: if your audience can only take one thing away from this book, what do you hope it will be? I just finished editing a beautiful Christian testimony book by a South African woman, and the her answer to that question was: “I just want women to know that they are not alone and that there is no obstacle too big to conquer when God is in your corner.” That’s a very specific lesson that helped me, the editor, understand what’s called the “trajectory” of the story. That means the “direction the story goes and where it leads to”

Knowing the answers to the purpose and trajectory questions helps the editor aim the book in right direction to the desired conclusion from the very start of the book. This helps in the areas or foreshadowing, building suspense, and fitting each part of the puzzle into a sequence that logically leads the reader to very clear and concise conclusion that moves them to think or act in the way the author hopes for. That leads to the third question I ask authors.

The third question I ask is: What do you hope the reader does after reading your book? Some authors only want people to think. Others only want them to be entertained. But others want them to act or even change the way they think or do something. For instance, one author responded, “I want people to think before they say things that hurt others.” That’s a very specific hope on the part of the author and will influence the voice of the story greatly. The same can be said for another book, whose author said to me, “I hope people will stop supporting this political party.” The more assertive the hope, the more the story voice must reflect a persuasive tone rather than an expository one.

These are just a few examples of how authors answer the big three questions I ask them; but the important thing I want to impart here is that as an author, your answers to these questions are of extreme importance–at least to good editors. If your editor does not ask you these types of questions, chances are he or she is not passionate about understanding you and helping you achieve your goals. In that case, my recommendation is to find one who is.

If you haven’t thought about these questions and answers yet, I hope you will. Write down the three questions and answer them thoroughly so the editor has perfect clarity about your goals, the book’s trajectory, and your hope as the author.

Mark Johnston, storyteller and editor in chief

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