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This is post is part of our special series that will unpack the criteria we consider when evaluating manuscripts. Today we are delving into what makes a manuscript fresh, and how to take a unique approach. Whether you are in the midst of writing, or have already received feedback from us, our hope is that this series will provide the insight you need to make your manuscript even better. View the full series here.
The Christian market is flooded with a lot of books, including those that come from major publishers, self-publishers, and hybrid publishers like Word Alive Press. Readers today are spoiled for choice. They have so much reading material to choose from, especially if they avail themselves of e-readers, like a Kindle or a Kobo.
This is great news for readers! For writers, it’s a bit more complicated.
Without a doubt, writers today have a fresh challenge that writers a few decades ago didn’t necessarily have to worry about so much. Last century, the major Christian publishers each put out a handful of new titles each month, and self-publishing, for the most part, didn’t exist yet. In other words, there were fewer books fighting for our attention.
Nowadays, the stream of new books is almost endless.
So here’s the question we’re going to focus on today: is your book as original and unique as it could be, in order to break through all the noise?
Let’s start with an example. Arguably, the most common type of book in the Christian arena is the devotional. The devotional is a collection of short entries, often with one presented per day so that the reader can follow along for a month, or even a year, with each entry including a story which leads the reader to prayerfully reflect on a spiritual truth. The exact format may change a bit from one devotional to another, but it’s a tried and tested concept.
As an editor of Christian books, I can confirm that I see a huge number of devotionals every year, and the Word Alive Press Free Publishing Contest often sees more congestion in this book category than any other.
The problem is that many of these devotionals are structured very similarly, and although many of the books are well-written and contain true spiritual insights, they don’t manage to break through. The reality is that, when it comes to devotionals, it takes more than great writing—it takes vulnerability, a willingness to engage in unique, surprising, and personal stories.
It’s also important to make sure you target your audience specifically. If you’re writing a summary of your devotional and find yourself typing something along the lines of “This book is literally for everyone,” you might have a problem. Saying that your book is broadly written for everyone might seem like a good idea, because it means you have more potential readers. But potential readers don’t necessarily equate to actual readers, and targeting your book too broadly might mean your writing is too… well, generic, to use an unflattering term.
When it comes to devotionals, the more specific the audience, the better. Are you writing to moms with newborns or young children? How about families going through medical crises? Or young women trying to navigate the intricacies of high school?
Having a targeted audience like this means that you can highly customize the writing, and highly customized writing almost always means highly unique writing. There are a lot of books full of generalized content, and very few books designed specifically for people in small niche markets. Identifying those niches and writing books designed for them is where you’re likely to find the most devoted readership.
Although I’ve used the example of the devotional, this advice applies to most other types of manuscripts as well.
If you’re writing a memoir, for instance, an author’s instinct is often to be exhaustive—begin with birth (or even before that, with their parents’ life stories), then go into a lot of detail about your childhood, dating life, marriage, and every other subsequent stage of life. I have my own term for this: the kitchen-sink memoir. These types of books are usually very long and all-encompassing.
The problem is that most every memoir is going to follow this same kind of formula, and unless you’re a celebrity or took a very unusual and compelling path in life, your memoir might end up coming across as… here’s that dreaded word again: generic.
It’s not that any person’s life is generic, of course; I’m a firm believer that every life is unique and compelling. I really
So it boils to down to finding interesting and unusual ways to present your story. Again, figure out who you’re writing for. And find an overarching theme that knits the most important parts of your story together, and perhaps focus on the parts of your story that contribute to furthering that theme. It’s okay to leave things out.
And here’s the really important part: like I said before, don’t be afraid to get personal, to be vulnerable. Because it’s in these sorts of details and stories that a memoir really comes alive. These are the parts of the book that your readers are most likely to connect with.
If you’re wondering if the tone of your writing is fresh and taking a unique approach, keep these tidbits in mind. Combined with good writing, a well-targeted book packed with personal insights is going to elevate you over everyone else. It will ensure that your book is uniquely, specially yours… something no one but you could have written.