Aim for a High Degree of Relevance
By Evan Braun
This post is part of our special series that will unpack the criteria we consider when evaluating manuscripts. Today we are considering the importance of relevance. 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.
If you enter a manuscript into this year’s Braun Book Awards (no, the awards aren’t named after me), in return you’ll receive feedback that grades your book according to several different metrics. In the current blog series, I’ve been breaking these down and talking about them one by one.
That feedback form contains two broad categories—Craft and Significance. The metrics that pertain to Craft include research, the hook, originality, structure, and mechanics, plus for novels dialogue and characterization. In many ways, these are the more straightforward metrics to judge.
But what about the Significance metrics? These are a little bit trickier. They aren’t necessarily quite as straightforward.
There are three metrics that fall into this second category: relevance/importance, articulation and focus of ideas, and voice. Today we’ll address that first one, about the relevance and/or importance of the book you’ve written.
To come to a determination about this, we think about the manuscript in terms of a simple question: will readers care about this book?
As I’m sure you can imagine, this is a complicated question. Primarily here we’re looking at the themes of the book. Is this book raising a social or theological issue that is of especially high significance right now? Or is this book making a strong case for why an otherwise seemingly unimportant issue should be given greater consideration?
For example, in recent years there has been a rise in books written about mental health from a Christian perspective. This coincides with a rise generally in discussions about mental health in society at large. For various reasons, there has been a definite influx of books by authors who are courageously telling stories about depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health issues that affect so many of us. Instead of suffering in silence, many authors are putting pen to paper, both in non-fiction as well as fiction.
There are too many topics to list here, but I’ve seen powerful stories relating to the family medical crises, couples who struggle to conceive, unplanned pregnancies, and dealing with the ramifications of all different kinds of abuse.
On a more theological level, in recent years I have encountered several impactful books on the subject of women in leadership.
Does a book have to revolve around hot-button issues in order to score high in relevance and importance? Not necessarily. An effective author will have all manner of strategies to persuade their readers to care about the subject at hand. One of the most satisfying experiences for readers is when an author manages to inflame their passion for a subject they previously cared little about.
I’m sure in the coming years we will be seeing a large number of books written about the current COVID-19 pandemic and the struggles people are going through because of it. I expect there will be many important perspectives to be shared about this current era.
Some topics in Christian circles will always be relevant, but this question does cause us to look at whether there’s something particularly timely about the topic. And when these subjects are deeply personalized, as opposed to being discussed in a general, second-hand sense, there is an added level of value.
Finally, please bear in mind that simply writing about a highly relevant topic isn’t a guarantee of being short-listed. The most relevant book in the world might still score very poorly in other metrics, so your aim should be to submit a book that is of high quality in a holistic sense. It certainly doesn’t need to be perfect, but your book will be stacked up against some pretty stiff competition, and you’ll want to ensure that it compares favourably.
About this Contributor:
Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. Braun is an experienced professional editor, and has worked with Word Alive Press authors since 2006. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.