The best books do less, not more

One of the most common mistakes for an author is to try and cover too much with your book. This is especially true for first time authors who have experience writing essays, think pieces, articles, etc. but are now proposing their first book-length work. To expand their current writing style to this longer format, authors tend to stack multiple topics on top of one another, creating a book that is sometimes unwieldy and often too broad to be appealing to a precise audience.

If this sounds familiar to you, you aren’t alone!

Here’s my tip: instead of expanding wider, drill deeper.

Take a look at what you have on paper right now (whether this is your formal proposal, a rough outline, or just some notes on the back of a napkin) and identify the one central idea that you are uniquely positioned to share with your reader. Then, start on a fresh page and make note of everything you’ll need to cover to clearly and compellingly convey that one central idea. Whenever you find yourself veering into topics that are related or connected but not essential to the unique story you’re telling, save those on a separate page.

This is a vulnerable exercise! It will likely require you to rely much more on your own authority and voice because you’ll be pushed beyond the surface level. But don’t let imposter syndrome get in the way of the best, clearest, sharpest, and most essential version of your book.

Speaking of imposter syndrome: another common mistake—especially among first time authors—is to assume that you’ll have only one chance to publish a book. This leads writers to pack too much into their book idea or outline for fear they won’t have another opportunity to say everything they want to say. When you trust that more opportunities will arise in the future, you free yourself to say just what is essential for this book, for this moment.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, the best books are really about the smallest ideas. If you aren’t convinced, take a peek at the current nonfiction best-seller lists. After weeding out the celebrity memoirs, I can almost guarantee you will find a set of books that make a bold promise to the reader about one focused idea.

The key is for you to find the one small idea that only you can share with the world, and then share it with focus and passion. That’s a book I’d want to buy!

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