It’s a tricky moment, I’ll admit.
That point in your business book when you go out on a limb.
You make a controversial argument which you know some people will disagree with. You go for a radical change of tone throughout. You even re-structure it in new way.
It feels scary, doesn’t it? Even though it’s only words on a page.
But if you’re like many business authors, there’s one person you’re most afraid of when you do this: your critic.
Critics are rarely far from our mind when we’re writing a book, because it’s human nature not to want to be, well, criticised. We want everyone to love our work.
But here’s where that approach can take us down the wrong path, because it can lead you to write to please your critics. That’s never a good idea, and here’s why.
You’ll hold your best stuff back
It’s likely that the gold in your book isn’t the content that everyone agrees with, but the points that are outside the norm. Attracting some negative comments is therefore inevitable.
But what’s the alternative? Being vanilla?
When you worry too much about what your critics think, you hold back some of the most valuable opinions and advice you could share. Your job as a business author is to stimulate new thought, not to reassure your readers that what they assumed all along is correct.
And remember, what one person finds aggravating is what another finds thought-provoking and fascinating. Give your readers enough credit to see the difference and you may be surprised.
You won’t enjoy writing your business book
There’s nothing more ho-hum than the experience of writing 50,000 words that are assured not to spark a negative reaction in anyone. Where’s the fun in that? When you’re constantly policing your every paragraph, afraid of causing offence, you’re on your guard.
If the thought of upsetting anyone makes you want to hide your face in your hands, try thinking of it as being a bit naughty. Could you get away with it? Just this once?
You’ll block your ideas
You know how your best ideas never come when you’re trying to have them? It’s always when you’re doing the washing up or going for a walk. That’s because when your mind is relaxed and free, it allows space for your inner wisdom to surface.
It goes without saying that we’re not at our most creative when we’re thinking about what bad things could happen. It clips our wings and saps our soul, denying access to the inspiration our books need if they’re to connect with others.
And it’s human nature to feel more afraid of what we could lose when we take a risk, than what we could gain. It’s just the way our brains are wired up to work.
But if we run away from risk, it takes the spark out of our business books. And with the plethora of dry, dull books out there, that’s definitely not what the world needs.
Your critics won’t be reading your business book anyway
I’ve saved this until last, because whenever I make this point to my book coaching clients, they always laugh.
I remember one speaker who was writing her book with me. She’d been an academic in her previous career, and was now a well respected speaker to her audience of professionals – not an academic in sight. She was concerned that her erstwhile co-workers would look down on her newly non-academic writing style and privately criticise her for it. She could almost see their eyebrows arch and their lips purse, as they read her book in private. This was blocking her from getting on with it.
When I reminded her that she wasn’t writing for them in the first place, and that they’d be unlikely to spend their spare time reading a book that had little to do with their own interests, she relaxed and her book flowed again.*
Let’s face it, your critics are probably not that interested in what you have to say. And that’s fine.
So now you’re not worried about the critical things people will think, you can focus on the lovely. What are you excited about in your business book? What elements of it are going to make the most difference to your readers? And how are you going to win them over to your ideas?
Otherwise all you’ll be is your own worst critic. And that doesn’t makes sense at all.
It’s your fans – current and future – that you’re writing for, not your critics.
*An update on this. This author has recently told me a university professor has chosen her book as one of the text books for an undergraduate course because of its content, style, and accessibility. It’s also being used by a number of other educational organisations. So even though she took out most of the six-syllable words and 90% of the footnotes, it’s still appealing to the academic crowd. Well, whaddaya know?