Frequently when I work with a new writing client they tell me that their book needs to be written in their voice.
“My voice is what clients love and know. I’m funny, the book needs to be funny. I have a very strong personality, that’s what’s made my business what it is today.”
You’re right. Hell, you’ve probably even named your business after yourself. It’s normal, it’s working, you’re growing and successful. But wait, don’t write your business book in ‘your voice’.
What is your voice anyway? When you speak to your children is that your voice? When you speak to a small room of executives? When you do the keynote event at your industry awards? When you negotiate an important deal? When you’re flirting on a first date?
You have a voice for each of those occasions, they are all your voice. You switch effortlessly between voices as the need arises. You become more assertive or speak more slowly. You might build momentum with your voice, create rapport, deliver the punchline. Your voice changes in response to the environment, and there are at least three reasons ‘your voice’ will change:
- AUDIENCE: For each person or group of people we change what we say and how we say it, so that the message can be heard and understood by them. We are not robots delivering a standalone message, firing out words, ignoring the people we speak to. The age, knowledge base, experience and size of an audience demands a different voice from us.
- GOAL: When we want a child to fall asleep we speak differently than when we want them to have the courage to do something new. Motivating an audience versus informing an audience requires a different voice. Persuading the bank to lend you money needs a different voice than when we’re at a busy bar ordering the beers. The goal requires a different voice, and we effortlessly switch between our voices to reach the goal.
- FEEDBACK: As we speak, whether to a large formal audience or one on one, we gather information. We use that information to change pace, volume, direction; to explore ideas better when we notice confusion; to pull back if we’re being too pushy; to increase the energy of a conversation if it flags. Feedback gives us the confidence and ability to create the right voice for the audience and goal.
Now, when you write your book, which voice will you use? How will your voice speak to the audience? What goal do you have? How will you know you are meeting that goal? Where’s the feedback?
Your book will be out there, in the hands (or ears) of one reader, alone. You won’t be there to change the pace if the reader is getting bored. If they’re confused they might just stop reading, you won’t get a chance to explain. If you charge ahead and write your book in your ‘public speaking voice’ how will you spot when your jokes are falling flat? It’s tempting to just go ahead, record yourself presenting your best material, get it transcribed and throw it together to make a book. Some “professionals” even advise this route, it sounds easy and if you read it on the internet it must be right, right? No! Don’t fall into the echo chamber trap, where your ideas or beliefs are amplified inside a defined, closed system. You need feedback.
So, what should you do? How should you write your book so that it has ‘your voice’? Your book has a tough job, and you can’t rely on your joke-telling ability. You need a new voice, your author’s voice, a ‘book voice’. You need to develop the right voice for the individual reader so that they can reach their goal (and yours) by themselves, alone.The biggest challenge, especially for first time authors, is the feedback part. You don’t want to be waiting for the one star reviews on amazon to hear the feedback. That’s too late!
Your book voice starts with knowing your audience, and developing a strong contents list that alone tells the story of the book. The contents list is compelling, exciting, challenging, and demands to be read. Each chapter is standalone, with a setup, information and a pay off. If a reader wants to dip in they can. If they want to read from start to finish they can do that too. The reader chooses the path through the book. Once the book has left the printer and is in the hands of the reader, they are in control. Your feedback needs to come before the book gets into the hands of the reader. Your feedback needs to come from professional writers/editors and beta readers, giving you their unbiased, (possibly difficult to hear) constructive criticism. You need to act on their feedback so that your voice can reach your audience and achieve your goal.
Of course, getting the right feedback, in advance of writing and publication, is the challenge. Get in touch if you want an honest, no holds barred critique of your book idea or outline.