Do you know the hardest question for an author to answer?
“What is special and unique about my book?”
It’s not because you don’t know.
It’s because you aren’t connected deeply enough to your vision and purpose.
Or maybe you lost touch with the flash of inspiration that was once so clear you thought you’d never lose it!
It happens to all of us.
That’s why it’s essential to write your Book Manifesto, a brief but vital document that will anchor you throughout your writing process.
Creating a Book Manifesto is empowering
Writing a Book Manifesto will help you to:
- Deal with the demons of doubt
- Stay motivated to write
- Understand (and be able to easily explain) what’s special and unique about your book.
- Lay the foundation of your author brand
- Zero in on the book you are destined to write
Maxine’s story is a case in point.
Maxine is a Life Coach who helps people escape from jobs they hate, and find out what they really want to do. She writes on the side.
Not too long ago, the side began nudging her to center stage.
When she first called me, she was both excited and scared about exploring the idea that had by then become an urgent push: she wanted to write a book.
Her dream was to teach a method she’d developed for mid-life women struggling to make a major career transition. She hoped to use it to launch a national seminar series.
Her deepest fear was that her method wasn’t special enough to merit a book.
She also doubted her ability to write a book.
I asked her to tell me more about her idea and background.
During the eight years of her coaching practice—before coaching she had taught high-school Spanish for 13 years—she discovered that when her clients voiced out loud what they wanted as a daily practice, the barriers that stood in the way of their goal emerged one by one, and fell away.
I suggested the exercise of a Book Manifesto to go a little deeper.
Manifesto is the way to manifest.
The practice and power of crafting a manifesto is well-known, and has been made popular today by writers such as Jeff Goins. and Chris Guillebeau. I was inspired by both.
Find your true north with a Book Manifesto
The Book Manifesto is an odd duck since its primary purpose is not publication.
It’s a private declaration meant to focus and steer you, the writer.
Creating a Book Manifesto can be enormously useful and inspiring in the early phase of book development—whether you’re working with an unexplored idea, an outline or chapter, or a 200-page rough draft.
Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, a Book Manifesto can:
- Reveal your true subject
- Guide you to the kind of book you need to write
- Help you hone in on your audience—the people who will really care about your book
- Help you make decisions about what to include or ax
- Deliver critical insights on style, structure, character and plot development.
There is a popular fallacy that writers themselves tend to reinforce, especially fiction writers, that it’s none of their business why they write.
I had a prestigious writing teacher I greatly respected who loved to rail on about the foolishness of wasting time trying to understand “where your writing is coming from.”
My experience in writing my novel, and working with both fiction and non-fiction authors contradicts that advice entirely.
Connecting with your “source” story, understanding the deep roots of your values, beliefs, and experience gives you access to your ‘well of life,’ from which only you can speak.
It is what makes your message unique and powerful.
The Big Question: What is your why?
It was our second meeting and we were sitting in a quiet corner of my favorite coffee house in Santa Cruz, California. I turned on the voice recorder. I had explained that I was going to ask Maxine the question several times until she reached a place of completion.
“Why do you want to write this book?”
“I feel a strong need to share my method. I know it can help many women move through their fears and barriers, and make a real change”—she swept the air with her palm—“in months instead of years!”
I asked again.
She leaned in and said in a quiet voice. “You know, I don’t really have the time for it. I already have too many projects, the new garden, my grandson, my…”
I sipped my coffee and let a few moments pass.
“Why do you want to write this book?”
“If I have a book, I can reach more people and expand my business. I’d also like to spread my work in the association I belong to, and maybe get some recognition for it.”
She suddenly appeared uneasy and drank down her latte. She made a move toward her purse, as if she were getting ready to leave. “Do you think this process is really helpful?”
“Why do you want to write this book?”
Tears came to her eyes. “I think I need another latte.”
She stood up, sat back down—and told me the story.
Her mother was a strong personality who taught her that to succeed in life, she had to be beautiful. She spent a lot of time on clothes and makeup, and taught Maxine to do the same.
As a child, Maxine loved the attention and the fun of it. By the time she got to junior high, she was the most popular girl because of her fashionable clothes, and her skill with makeup and hair.
When Maxine was 12, her mother told her that she had arranged an operation to get Maxine’s nose “fixed.”
Maxine was horrified, but knew she couldn’t say no to her mother so she pretended it was not that important. It doesn’t really matter, she told herself repeatedly.
In the summer before college, she agreed to breast implants.
At 30, Maxine developed symptoms of silicone toxicity—it took her 10 years to recover, physically and psychologically. In therapy, she discovered the importance and validity of her own wants and needs.
A 3-Step Process
A Book Manifesto is an exploration to discover (and uncover) the passion, gift, and purpose at the root of your desire to write your book.
If you don’t have all three, as any acquisitions editor or literary agent will tell you, you don’t have a successful book. (If you’re self-publishing, the same requirements apply.)
- Passion: What is your deep(est) motivation in writing the book?
- Gift: What is the unique perspective or contribution at its core?
- Purpose: What is the problem you are solving (non-fiction); what is the human dilemma you are exploring (fiction)?
Let’s look at Maxine’s experience.
Once Maxine connected emotionally to her deepest motivation, several things occurred in rapid order.
- She recognized the authenticity of her subject and her authority to write about her method.
- Her doubts dissolved. She was seized by the imperative of writing her book, and she committed herself to it whole-heartedly.
- She realized that she needed to write the book for herself first and others second.
- She stopped giving in to the thief of creativity—comparing herself to other, “better” writers.
- She saw clearly who her audience was: women whose background included an overbearing but beloved parent they couldn’t say no to (which just happened to be nearly half of her clients!)
As a result of her new-found clarity and confidence, she decided to write a different kind of book—one that emphasized stories (her own and those of her clients) over methodology.
She took this new vision and wrote it out in a one-page manifesto using the guidelines I provided, and posted it above her desk, where she could be reminded everyday what her book was really about and why she was writing it.
Maxine is now in discussions with two literary agents interested in representing her.
Claim your worthiness and discover your “source” story
When you enter into the creation of your book, especially your first book, you step out of the familiar (and oh-so-comfortable) bounds of personality and identity—into a bigger and unknown world.
Your book demands vision if it is to be sustained. It needs to be informed by a deep purpose that drives the work from beginning to end. This can’t be simulated or copied—or added later into your marketing materials.
So before you begin, claim your worthiness and wisdom as a writer by connecting to your source story.
This deep connection to yourself and your work forms the basis for your author brand and platform that are critical to your success.
Don’t be afraid to explore your vulnerability and experience your deep fears.
The usual impulse is to avoid this territory. But you have something substantial to share, so go deep—it will make all the difference.
Are you aware of what drives you to write?
If you have a book on your mind, or you’ve already started, are you aware of your source story?
Take a moment to share your ‘why’ in the comments!