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 yours on the shelves. What are they doing and how? How are those books structured? How long are their chapters? What’s the narrative feel like? How much research has gone into the work? What kind of language does the narrative employ? How is the book speaking directly to its audience? How are these authors propelling readers to turn pages? 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 knowledge is the subject of their greatest books. 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 others, so you’re able to see, emulate, analyze and express something other than yourself on the page.
3. A new, big, bold idea.
Readers and acquisitions editors aren’t looking for more of the same stuff that’s out there. They're compelled by a new, big, bold idea that shifts the mainstream mind from one way of thinking to another. They want an idea that’s going to transform our vision from one way of seeing to another, move our hearts from one way of feeling to another. Look closely at your nonfiction book idea or at your 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 new, big, bold idea or story that shifts the mainstream mind and heart? One way is to 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 your finger on the pulse of the nation. You’ll start to understand what new, big, bold idea, what mainstream-mind-shifting story, what compelling tale or character will hit a national, perhaps 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 write the book 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 compelled 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 compel you to stay the long, challenging course of writing it. That’s the book you’ll work and fight tenaciously to see on the shelves.
6. Know your audience and write for them, work for them.
Know for whom you’re writing and work hard to compel them to turn the pages. Who makes up the audience for those well-selling books you wish you had 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 their attention? Another facet of knowing yourself and others is knowing your audience and writing not just for yourself but also 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. Then consciously write for, work for, the audience of those well-selling books you wish you had written.