5.10.2016

Avoid Obeisance

A writer who wants to write a nonfiction book usually has read dozens of other books in the same field. If the author wishes to divulge his hard-earned knowledge of leadership, for instance, he need go no farther than the airport bookstore to find the newest masterful strategy. Towering above the latest and greatest are core books, such as Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that are cited in one business book after another.

When gathering research to back up the points you want to make, you may find, not surprisingly, that such leading lights already have expressed their ideas so compellingly that you feel you can’t do better. That’s one reason they’re so famous. So you discuss Covey’s brilliance for a while, and then James Collins and Patrick Lencioni and, well, I like John C. Maxwell’s ideas too . . .

Since the last extended writing that many neophyte nonfiction authors have done consisted of papers written for school, the manuscript can start to resemble a multiple-book report. You want to inform the reader that you know your stuff, and at the same time acknowledge these authors’ landmark contributions. You know you ain’t done nothing yet.

Awash in humility, you may forget what a reader expects of you as a first qualification. You must be an expert. Otherwise, why should I bother reading your book? If all I’m reading is stuff that another author has already written, that tells me I should pick up that other author’s book. You love her so much, so I will too. And what happens? Your book is put down. It may never be picked up again, because that other book is so good, the reader forgets about yours. You were sort of a sycophant anyway.

How do you become the latest expert on the scene? You make sure those great books serve only as handmaidens in your book. They are trotted out to buttress your points. Yes, you know the material, but you lay out your own points first. You establish your matrix, and those books are slotted in as needed. After all, a number of topics in a field like leadership are common across a range of books. So you treat them as time-tested points—while you advance your fresh arguments.

Exercise: Establishing dominance can be done through paragraph construction. Your material should lead off, determining the topic and thematic point you want to make. Then their material is inserted to back up what you said. Nowhere is this more true than in the first chapter. If you’re being crowded out of your own book, the reader may feel that you have nothing new to contribute.

“To the person with a firm purpose all men and things are servants.”
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Copyright @ 2016, John Paine


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