1. Read, read, read!
Read, read, read the well-selling books you wish you had written! Read the books you dream of seeing sit next to your book on the shelves. What are those books doing so well and how are they doing it? How are those books structured? How long are their chapters? What’s the narrative feel like? How much research has the author done? What kind of language does the author use to speak to their audience? Who is that audience exactly? If you read the books you wish you had written with a cold writer’s eye, you’ll learn what your market and its audience want. You’ll learn what they need.
2. Know yourself—and others too.
Great storytellers do the hard work of knowing themselves well. Often, that deep self-knowledge is the subject of the finest books we have. But GREAT storytellers are also masters of listening, observing and tuning into others. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, pay close attention not only to your own psychological, emotional, physical, cultural, intellectual, political self but to others’ as well. Work to understand and empathize with other people, other experiences, other ways of thinking and being, and you’ll be able to see, emulate, analyze and express something other than yourself on the page.
3. A new, big, bold book idea.
Readers and acquisitions editors aren’t looking for more of the same stuff that’s out there. They want a new, big, bold book idea that shifts us all from one way of thinking to another. They want an idea that’s going to change our vision from one way of seeing to another, or move our hearts from one way of feeling to another. Look closely at your nonfiction book idea, at your memoir or novel’s premise. Is it derivative? Has it been done? What’s new, big and bold about your narrative? How is it changing our minds, our hearts?
4. Stay in tune with the news.
How do you find that big, bold idea that shifts our minds and hearts? Stay in tune with the news. Follow several news outlets with different political leanings and see what they’re covering—left, right and center. What events capture national or international attention? Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you’ll begin to see patterns emerge, spot trends on the rise, you’ll begin to feel the pulse of the nation. You’ll start to understand what big, bold idea, what mind-shifting story, or what gripping tale or character will hit a national or even an international, nerve.
5. Write the book that’ll change your life!
Write the book that’s not only going shift others’ ways of thinking or feeling, but the one that's going to change your life! What deep truth have you always wanted to tell? What dark mystery have you wanted to shed light on? What story or subject has always fascinated you? What book would alter you dramatically and for the better were you to have written and published it? That’s the kind of book that will keep you on the long, challenging road of writing and publishing.
6. Know your audience and write for them, work for them.
Know who you’re writing for and work hard to captivate them, force them to turn pages. Who's the audience for those well-selling books you wish you'd written? What do they want or need in a narrative? What do they want or need to know? What kind of stories and characters will hook and hold them? Know your audience and write for them, work for them. Do research, follow the news, find and write down your new, big bold idea—the one that’ll change your life to write a book about. Journal about it. Brainstorm. Take notes. Ponder. Then consciously write for, work for, the audience of those well-selling books you wish you had written. Go!