Today’s agenda: Learning ways to make our writing more marketable, a necessary skill for writers to learn if they are to successfully sell their writing. After all, if we want to be published writers, or authors, we have to be able to sell our writing. That means what we write must be marketable. Makes sense, no? Sounds simple, but it isn’t.
To help us learn this all important lesson, Write Nonfiction in November welcomes guest blogger Philippa Burgess, an entertainment professional with Creative Convergence in Los Angeles. She specializes in developing and marketing literary content across Hollywood and the publishing and publicity industries. Out of all her experience, she’s culled three guideposts to help us hone our prose into marketable manuscripts.
Marketable Prose Informs, Inspires and Challenges Readers
By Philippa Burgess
Entertainment Professional and Consultant
Partner, Creative Convergence Inc.
I commend you on your participation in Write Non-Fiction in November. I know you’ve already received a ton of invaluable expert tips, and I have no doubt there will be more to come. I’d like to offer three of my own signature guideposts in order to help you develop your content so that it is inherently more marketable: to inform, to inspire, to challenge.
1. To Inform
What type of non-fiction are you writing?
Broadly speaking there are two types of non-fiction. You may want to consider which one you are writing because that will help you think about what types of media you can use to best share your story.
Type 1 – Narrative Non-Fiction – This tells a true story about your or someone else’s experience using a clear narrative structure. This type of story can be told in any particular literary genre, such as romance, comedy, thriller or adventure, but all the facts, characters and timeline are true and corroborated by primary and/or secondary sources. There are a lot of opportunities to publish these types of stories and they can take the form of articles, memoirs, biographies, and other types of non-fiction narrative books. They also may be pitched or adapted for television and feature films.
Type 2 – General or Prescriptive – This offers information that is either a newsworthy account of facts or a how-to approach that provides the audience with a way to save time, money and/or energy to achieve a desired result. Another popular style is to offer an opposing view to conventional wisdom. In either case, you are coming to the conversation with a certain amount knowledge that gives you credibility based on a combination of experience, education, and research.
2. To Inspire
How can your story generate the greatest impact?
For maximum impact you want to make sure your content is authentic and compelling. I offer you a simple but effective “Your Signature Story” formula that you can use to hit your mark with any story or message.
Picture a triangle and each side answers a different question: Who are You? + What is Your Mission + Who is Your Audience? In the middle of that triangle is the answer that comprises an authentic and powerful story or message.
Who are you? What experience or expertise do you have? What human and emotional truths can you share? All notably authors (either fiction or non-fiction) have a clearly defined voice and point-of-view about the world. Take for example John Grisham, JK Rowling and Sebastian Junger, who all brought part of their own story to their writing. Grisham was a Southern lawyer (writing about Southern lawyers), Rowling lost her parents (remember, Harry is an orphan), and Junger writes about dangerous jobs (he’d had his own workplace accident while cutting trees and was a war correspondent for many years).
What is your mission? Whether it is to inspire, inform or entertain, you’ll do best with a clearly defined agenda when you enter the marketplace. Grisham spins tight thrillers that take us inside the justice system and into world of high powered business professionals; Rowling shares a philosophy of life and entertains with spellbinding magic and lore; Junger tackles what it is like to take serious risks with your life and in your work, because he believes humans have a greater capacity for physical risk than we normally acknowledge.
Who is your audience? It is important to know the audience your story or message is meant to touch. Think about what other books they might read, what TV shows and movies they watch, what magazine they buy, and what internet sites they surf. Surely, you might say that your story is ideal for everyone, but it helps if you have a primary demographic in mind when you start. This helps you in three ways: 1. You focus your voice. 2. You can explore the marketplace and see how else it has been served and where there is a gap for you to fill. 3. You’ll know exactly where to find your audience when you are ready to get yourself and your stories in front of them.
What is your signature story or message? Your particular story or message should serve each side of the triangle. It’s a good way to start for whatever type of writing endeavor you are initiating or a tool you can use as you approach rewriting your material.
3. To Challenge
But really, who cares?
I trust you’ve been informed and inspired, and now it is time to challenge you. You’ve got a great story to tell. You know what type of non-fiction story you are writing. You’ve done well to ask those hard questions about you, your mission, and your audience and crafted a story or a message that supports it. But then someone turns to you, as I have done to many writers, and asked the most challenging question of all, “Who cares?”
I am not trying to insult anyone in asking this hard question; it is a “tough-love” challenge. Many writers have stared at me in wonderment (or great disdain) at that moment. The key here is that the story may be about anything and just because you wrote it, you think I should care. The truth of the matter is that, as a reader, I want to know (I mean really know) that there is something in it for me. I want to know that I will uncover some secret knowledge that will make my life better or be moved by our human condition and get in touch with my own emotions. I want to be empowered either with information or with a renewed confidence in my own strength and abilities.
The answer then, when you are posed with the question, “Who Cares?” needs to be a resounding, “You.” The person you are pitching your idea to at that moment should be able to find something of value in it for them. And if they are really not your audience, because they don’t happen to fit the demographic you’ve defined, then jump right in and enthusiastically answer with great detail who you know cares and why.
With my three tips – to inform, inspire and challenge – in mind, I’m going to use myself as an example, so we can look at them in action. I’ll do this by asking myself the same questions and answering them. Here goes:
What type of nonfiction do I write?
I write prescriptive non-fiction on marketing for writers.
What kind of impact do I want?
(Formula is You + Your Mission + Your Message = Your Signature Story)
I am an entertainment professional, and my mission is to inform, inspire and challenge writers to achieve greater success. My audience is writers, authors, experts and content creators who are interested in working across media channels.
I trust those writing Non-Fiction in November or those who want greater success in accessing and leveraging the power of Hollywood, publishing and publicity can benefit from my experience, guidance and message and that of my company.
I encourage you to continue on your road to Writing Non-Fiction in November. My thanks to Nina for inviting me to share on this blog. You are invited to learn more about our professional services at Creative Convergence Inc. and our teleseminar courses, resources and free member site for writers, authors, experts, and content creators. All of this is all part of Your Signature Story: From Content Creator to Media Brand.
About Philippa Burgess
Philippa Burgess is a partner at Creative Convergence an entertainment company in Los Angeles that specializes in literary development and marketing across media. The company has recently sold client projects to Warner Brothers, Paramount, Lifetime, and ABC Family. Recent TV production credits include “52 Fights” for ABC/Touchstone and “Men’s Guide the the Women’s Bathroom” for CBS/Paramount. Among their non-fiction film projects were “Thieves of Baghdad,” “Queensized” and “52 Fights.”
Philippa oversees the consulting division of the company. The department provides a collaborative creative and business development process for a dynamic list of consulting clients that include emerging non-fiction writers, experts, authors, and content creators who want to establish a media brand. She teaches at conferences around the country and facilitates the popular “Your Signature Story: From Content Creator to Media Brand” and “Million Dollar Screenwriting & Content Career” teleseminar courses.