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16.5.18

When your reader doesn’t believe you, call them out

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When you decide to write a book, you face one significant barrier: no-one likes being told what to do or think. In fact, the harder someone tries to convince me of anything, the harder I resist, and the more sceptical I become. I might even fling a book onto the couch with a bit of righteous anger, exclaiming, ‘How stupid do you think I am?’ That is how one-sided arguments make us feel: insulted. ‘Pollyanna-style’ panacea to the injustices of the world have the same effect. 

Every book is a how-to book. That’s a big call, but think about it: every book wants to persuade us of a proposition. Every book tries to leave us changed. The ones that succeed give us the option to remain unchanged.

The best authors encourage us to rebel against their central theme. They give us the keys, fling open the cage, and say, why don’t you hop into the cage and wrestle with that lion any way you want. As an authority on subduing lions, I suggest you use a tranquiliser gun before you open the door, but if you’re going to try hypnotising the creature, go ahead.

But, you may cry, I don’t want my readers to make a mistake such as trying to hypnotise a lion. I have done all the research, and I know that every single lion tamer who has decided to hypnotise a lion has ended up dead. It’s irresponsible to even to suggest such an idea. You are right of course. Your job is to change your reader. You must persuade us not to act counter to the evidence you have gathered.

If you are thinking about now that this blog is going in circles, you’re wrong. I’m going to show you how to call out your reader’s doubts as they read your book (or blog) in a way that strengthens your case.

Equivocating doesn’t help

Maybe, perhaps, in my view, I think, I believe. Authors commonly use these phrases in the hope that their readers will feel free to go along with their argument. Wrong. Search and remove all such phrases from your manuscript. Why? When you write a book, you position yourself as an authority. Author. Authority. Therefore, your readers don’t want to spend time reading about what you think or believe. They have turned to you to find out what you know.

Although such phrases of equivocation are well-intentioned, they don’t help. They undermine your authority and leave the reader at sea. In my experience; research shows; my clients tell me; are valuable alternatives. More often than not, however, you can leave delete such fudging phrases and improve your manuscript immediately.

Some handy phrases that get you right inside your reader’s head

Canvassing the doubts or counterarguments your reader deepens their sense that you truly understand and empathise with them, and give them the opportunity to change. The way I build that intimacy is to use phrases that speak directly to their unspoken fears.

  • You might be thinking this doesn’t apply to you …
  • Does this all sound a bit complicated?
  • You might think your girlfriends/colleague/family members have all this sorted, and you are the only one struggling.
  • Does this sound like a bore?
  • Maybe you have never thought consciously about this before.
  • But what if …
  • If you are thinking about now that …
  • Are you wondering …
  • Critics of my ideas might say …
  • You’ve probably heard advice before that contradicts what I am saying.
  • Do I sound like I am a bit arrogant?
  • It’s not a matter of …; it is more like …

The list goes on. The phrases that you choose depend on the age of your audience, the gravity or otherwise of your topic. Of course, you must answer your readers’ doubts, provide proof that your case is the right one, and reassure them.

Timing is important

Don’t introduce doubts too early. Carry your reader along for as far as you can with your stories, data, examples and metaphors. Take them through the details of your arguments, explain the benefits of understanding life from your point of view. How will their lives change for the better if they believe you?  Take them to the brink before you turn them back. Anticipate the moment of doubt, the moment just before your reader flings your book away and exclaims that it’s all too much and introduce your salving balm right then. How can you anticipate the moment? You must know your reader well, of course. But in my experience, all authors intuit the moment. It is the moment when, after writing away for some time, enjoying getting your ideas onto the page, you think to yourself, why do I bother? What’s this book about? No-one will ever read this? Many authors experience the doubt as a personal doubt.

If you take your uncertainty and answer it, you will keep writing, and deepen your reader’s trust.

Respect the reasons you are writing

It takes guts to edit out your equivocations and replace them with careful investigations into other views your reader (or other authors) might have about your topic. It takes practice to get the timing right, and understanding of your audience to choose the right words. But anticipating doubts is a respectful way to build trust and to persuade readers of your case: the reason for writing a book.

PS:  Want more?  You may like: Don’t overcomplicate your book promotion program

 

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