Textbook writing under new conditions
I rested my shoulder and arm because I finally discovered an injury to the rotator cuff. I was afraid to see a doctor because of the risk of being in a medical facility. So I put off calling my doctor for three weeks. I know a little bit crazy, but also kind of careful, right?
I still hadn’t discovered the voice of Google Docs, so I occasionally typed an email with one hand and only supported the aspiring authors in my book-writing program, which was an education in itself.
Many of the students work in healthcare: a COO who leads an entire hospital and its many teams, a Canadian psychiatrist who is now leading a new specialty unit for her hospital, psychologists, a health care advisor, two patient attorneys, one of them a small non-profit organization while educating and caring for two “medical zebras”, ie children with complex diagnoses.
Usually, at this point, many participants celebrate the completion of a first draft or a first draft with a few holes. Others would be close. Some would revise their goals. This year, those struggling on the front line of health care return home exhausted every night. Others find that their book concepts change when they consider how this new normal affects their readers and topic.
For some entrepreneurs in the classroom, social distancing has wiped out their main source of income: personal training and advice. They are faced with the question of whether they should crouch and concentrate on writing their books, trust that their income will be replaced in time, or focus on replacing the lost income now and their writing hours shorten. Others are working harder than ever to support customers in the changing business landscape.
Diverse challenges when writing books
Not everyone wrote. Not everyone makes it to class. It is my job to find out how I can support them, how I can keep them connected to their books, how I can help them make progress in these challenging times and still give space to those who need them. For one person we can redesign the writing of the book as a lifeline and nourish their soul. Second, the book, which is already too thin in its front-line work, has to take a back seat, but we can still move it along with a few notes or record an up-to-date anecdote so that we can write it in more detail in the future.
My job is not that different from bringing up teenagers because I have no clear answers. I fumble around in the dark. Teaching becomes an experiment. My lesson plans are out the window and I’m trying to see what the group needs right now.
For a week, we focus on rethinking goals, schedules, and book concepts. We are considering how we can get back into the groove. The next week I scrap the planned marketing-oriented lesson, which is creative and entertaining, but seems deaf to the world we are in. Instead, we explore the secrets of good writing, revision, and topics that feel more essential to the books and their messages.
And of course the idea of a “group need” is an illusion in itself. Some authors have to find time and space to write. Some are rethinking aspects of their book concept or outline in the face of the pandemic. Some are ready for further instructions on how to find the voice. Some want to explore the publishing options and next steps. How do I respond to these different needs in each class without anyone feeling that their time has been wasted and their needs have not been met?
Respond to the needs of different readers
Similar to my teaching dilemma, when writing a non-fiction book – especially self-help, guidance or business – you have to make it clear who the readers are and what they need. If you throw your net too far. It is impossible to write the book that the diverse group needs and let them all see the book as appropriate for them. However, not all of your readers will be in exactly the same place with exactly the same requirements. You have to think about different groups of readers.
Is your book changing as the needs of your readers and the world may change at this point?
This is where it gets interesting where you can make decisions that will help your book find the ideal balance between a large, broad market and a niche market where you can get creative:
- Add sidebars for the scientific information some of your readers crave and others skip
- Including special sections or chapters for a specific audience
- Sending readers to a website or video that provide more depth for their particular situation
Let’s hear from you
What are you doing to keep your book alive?
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