Be Like Col Sanders: Be ALL IN on ONE Main Idea!

When I ask authors, “what are you most concerned about in your writing,” a huge percentage of them have replied “focus and flow.”

If you ask a reader who has had the unfortunate experience of reading a book that is not focused, they will let you know about it—it no uncertain terms.

Think about it:

Col Sanders did one thing: chicken.

He didn’t deviate. He didn’t get dispersed.

In the financial world, we’re taught to “be diversified.”  There are some, like Grant Cardone (“Sell or Be Sold”) who say that’s a great way to get taken down. Why? Because you’re not focused. You hope that something sticks to the wall. Same thing holds if you’re an author. Being “diversified” spells d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r.   You can’t build a legion of readers who rave about your book if it’s all over the map.

Finances, writing—when you know your stuff, you’re all in.   When you know what works for your money, you concentrate on making that work the best for you. When you know what you want to talk about in your book, you hone that message.

What makes a good book good? It’s focused.  (We’ll deal with flow in another blog…or two).

I have a Ph.D. in English from New York University. It’s one of the top 20 graduate schools in arts and sciences in the country.  My dissertation advisor gave me some of the best writing advice ever. I should be able to rattle off the main idea of my dissertation in 30 seconds. I didn’t know at the time it was called the 30-second elevator pitch. But I have learned it’s what every author needs to have prepared for their book.

It happens a lot. You’re talking to someone, waiting in line somewhere or at a networking mixer. You strike up a conversation, and inevitably you’re asked, “what do you do?”

You could say, “Oh, I’m the project manager for my company.”  Not much of a conversation starter. But if you said, proudly, “I’m an author,” that automatically prompts the other person to ask, “oh really. What’s your book about?”

If you start rattling on and on about your book, you’ve lost a potential reader. Why? You’re not focused. They don’t have a whole lot of attention on what you’re saying, to be honest.  And if you ramble on, you’ve completely lost their interest.  But here’s the real hard truth: if you’re rambling on, you may not have a firm grasp of the book’s focus.

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “keep your eye on the mountain.”  If you don’t, you’re going to wander off the trail, get lost, end up hurt. You get the idea.   When you wander around in your book, your reader wanders too and finally gives up.  Keep your eye on the mountain.

To use another analogy: when an author is trying to cook up a great read, he or she can’t simply throw a bunch of stuff at the reader in hopes that something will stick.   Stay focused.

What’s the payoff? When someone asks you “what is your book about,” and you say, “It’s about how I escaped from the Azerbaijani massacre of Armenians,” or, “my book is about a revolutionary way to handle cancer that doesn’t involve drugs,” that’s going to get a conversation going.

You want your book to be about one main thing—its focus. Focus keeps you on task when you’re writing. It also helps alleviate writer’s block—interestingly enough.

Focus gets refined in the rewriting process—just so you know.  I always advocate that when you sit down to write a book, jot down the main outline so that you have a roadmap.  Write down what you think the focus of the book is.

But then allow the writing process to do its work. You write. You refine, you revise.

Focus communicates.  You may want to put in a section on oranges in your book on apples because you like the writing or you think it’s important. But it’s not about you. It’s about the communication to the reader that’s important.

Focus invites the reader into the book and compels them to keep reading. If you’re book suffers from a split focus, (two or more main ideas vying for top billing) or it’s all over the place in terms of the idea, then it’s not inviting. The reader can’t engage in the book. (And that’s why countless English teachers have looked down their nose or over their glasses at students whose writing isn’t focused. They want to be engaged—and the author has let them down!)

An engaged reader is one who takes what you’ve written and makes it come alive in their minds. That’s the mark of a good book—and focus plays a vital role.

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