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It’s not your book – the one you’re writing or you’ve already written (although you probably think it’s your book).

You see, one of the main reasons authors write bad books is that their entire premise is wrong.

They think their book belongs to them (when it doesn’t).

They think their book is about them (when it isn’t).

Let me explain…

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What Is a Book, Really?

Books are not art (even books about art, are not art). Books are a means of communication. And not just any communication. You see, a great book isn’t designed as a monologue. A great book creates an intimate relationship and dialogue.

No matter what genre your book falls into, your book isn’t about YOU. If you’re writing a memoir, autobiography, poetry (or something else very personal) it’s still not about you. Even if you’re a celebrity writing a book about your life, and you have millions of fans that want to read about your life, your book isn’t about your life.

It’s about your READER.


Let me qualify that; it’s about your reader…

…if you want to impact lots of people and be commercially successful. That can be a subtle (but powerful) distinction. Now, let me give you two examples to help you understand this on a deeper level, and make it possible for you to apply this principle to your book.

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Example #1 – It’s Not Your Book

Nothing is potentially more “self-indulgent” or “about the author” than sad love poetry about a relationship gone sour. But Peter McWilliams didn’t think so. He’s one of my favorite love poets of all time, and he’s one of the most commercially successful poets of all time.

The reason?

Peter realized that the best way to get other “lovers” (his target market) to fully understand (and appreciate) his poetry was to write it in a way that would let them:

1. Understand it

2. Relate to it

3. Get as much out of reading it as he did writing it

That was Peter’s mindset from the very first page to the last.

How do I know?

First, because I had a long talk with him on the phone during my sophomore year in college when I was just starting to write my own love poetry (another story for another day). Second (and more important), because of nine little words on the first page of one of Peter’s books. It was the dedication that he wrote for all his readers. Even though Peter’s book was a collection of autobiographical poems, he said:

“These are your poems, I only wrote them down.”


Peter understood that, as much as they were his poems, they were also everyone else’s. The poems weren’t just about his struggles in love. They captured and communicated the common themes that we all experience in love.

Because Peter was conscious of this concept, he worked really hard to make sure that he was always writing in a way that would let his readers feel what he was feeling. He didn’t let himself be seduced by his ego (or too many fancy words).

Instead of trying too hard to make himself different, Peter tried to find common ground. That takes discipline and practice for new authors because they’re usually trying too hard to impress their readers… show them how special and unique they are. New authors are also preoccupied with simply trying to get their story out. That’s a great starting point, but then you have to go back and revise your book and make sure it’s appealing (not just accurate).

* * *

Example #2 – It’s Not Your Book

Here’s one more example (some details changed or omitted for confidentiality).

One of my current coaching clients is a publicist in NYC. She’s gotten press for more famous people than you can imagine. She’s also had relationships with some of them. And she’s a stand-up comedian. You can just imagine some of the dirt she’s going to dish in her memoir. Stories to make you blush…


When we were developing the book, I wanted to make sure we didn’t “lead” with celebrity gossip and/or sexual escapades. That would have only provided “entertainment value,” plus it would have been too predictable. So we kept talking until we got to the heart of what the book was really about. Here are just a few of the questions that I asked to figure it all out:

* Have you changed during your time in NYC? If so, how?

* What was most important to you then? What about now?

* What are you the most proud of? Ashamed of?

* Would you do anything differently if you could do it all over again?

* What did you learn from your experience?

* What do you think other people could learn from your experience?

I wasn’t trying to change the author or make her something that she wasn’t. I simply wanted to find out who she was, and make the most of that. When I take an author through that process, it usually leads to a “bigger” book.

In this case, I discovered that the author is really just a soft-hearted romantic looking for (and longing for) her soul mate… underneath her witty and often outrageous exterior. That created a rich contrast, a protagonist that’s more likable, and a story that’s easier to relate to.

Don’t you think?


The original book would have been too predictable – just another tell-all memoir filled with celebrity gossip (and sex jokes). Shock and awe. Sure, it might have gotten an agent and publisher (but it might not have).

The new book is bigger. Yes. It’s still celebrity-driven, sexually provocative, and wickedly funny. But it also has heart. Once you get past the humor and excitement, you’ll see that it’s ultimately a story about a woman’s ongoing search for true love.

Plus, it’s being written in a way that will inspire other women to keep believing in love. It will show them how to have more fun while they’re trying to find it. And it will show them that it’s okay to fail along the way.

This book isn’t just about the author, is it?

And that makes it more readable.

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Parting Thoughts…

Remember that you and your book have the potential to transform people. Even if your book is “just” a book of sad love poetry, “just” a novel, “just” a gift book, or anything else. If you try to give your reader a valuable experience, you’ll be successful. If you try to give as much as you get, you’ll be successful. If you care about your reader, you’ll be successful.

If your only goal (or your main goal) as an author is “self-expression” or “writing as therapy” that’s okay. But you should write in journals, instead of writing books. Remember, it’s not your book. It’s your reader’s book. And these aren’t my tips on how to write a better book and get published.

They’re yours.

I only wrote them down. 😉

For more information about getting published, click here to read my free 15-part Guide to Finding a Literary Agent. Then click here to see the 3 different ways you can get 1-on-1 help from me (free to fee) as your Book Marketing Coach. You can ask me questions about writing a “bigger” book or getting published on my blog, or via phone or Skype during an introductory consulting call.

Now, leave a question or comment below!

– Mark

Mark Malatesta
Your “Undercover” Agent
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