A few weeks ago, I got an email from one of the blogs I subscribe to, offering a free download of a book on copywriting by one of the best copywriters ever, Eugene Schwarz. The book is called “Breakthrough Advertising” and you can download it for free here (although there are a lot of typos) or you can buy a hard copy at Amazon (although it’s pricey).
Anyway, I downloaded and started reading this book because aside from writing fiction, I also make my living writing copy for websites and other materials. I mean why the heck wouldn’t I want to learn from the best?
I wasn’t even through the introduction when I thought, ‘Wow, this is incredible.’
More information than I knew what to do with
The book is a whopping 240 pages and it is jam-packed with useful, applicable advice. So much so that I found myself writing voluminous notes as I read. It seemed like every other page, I had a realization about something – whether it was a mistake I made, something that was missing in my own copy, or even a way to better approach a story I just couldn’t stop having ‘aha,’ moments. In fact, it inspired an entire train of thought that fleshed out a fiction series I’ve started.
Here’s the takeaway
It would take several pages just to summarize all of the useful information, tips, secrets, and examples Schwartz provides in his book but my biggest take away from the book was this: no matter what you write, you aren’t writing it for yourself. You are always, always, always writing it for someone else. You are always speaking to someone else. You are always appealing to someone else.
And what’s more is that this is especially true for fiction. So many writers come up with stories that they think are wonderful but then never go anywhere. This stymies them – why are the stories being rejected, why doesn’t the publisher realize how brilliant this story is?
I’ll tell you why, it’s because it doesn’t speak to the people it serves. As a fiction writer, the people you serve are your readers. Your writing has to be all about them. It has to address the problem or desire they have when they go looking for a book – if it doesn’t, they won’t finish it, and probably won’t read another story from you. Even though fiction is largely sought out for entertainment purposes it doesn’t lessen the strength or depth of that desire. People want entertainment, so give it to them. But it has to be what they think is entertainment – not what you think is entertainment. Although in some cases, it might be same.
As a writer you have to be able to step back from your own wants and desires and ask yourself, ‘What does my reader want?’ What interests my reader? What excites my reader? What makes my reader want to turn the next page?
If you can do that, then you will have a successful book. If you can’t, no matter how good the writing, or how fascinating the topic is, your book will fail.
Get the book, learn a few things, and see if your writing doesn’t improve
I know that writers are constantly reading the latest book on writing technique and how-to’s that promise to make you the next best seller on Amazon, so adding yet another book to the pile may not excite you. However, if you get nothing out of this book other than the ability to identify who your readers are and how to reach them, then I’d say it’s time well spent.
Update: A reader just informed me the free download is no longer available. You may want to check the Gutenberg Project to see if it’s available there.