Read time – 5 mins.
Social entrepreneurship and social impact leadership are two of the biggest growing trends. As our world faces a whole host of collective challenges, there are an army of new leaders stepping up to the plate to suggest solutions and make a difference in the world.
If you are making an impact with the work that you do, and you want to reach a wider audience with your message, writing a book would appear to be one of the most logical moves.
As more and more social impact leaders are writing books about their valuable work, in this post we share some of the best practices— as well as the common pitfalls—so that you can write a book that actually contributes to change.
One of the first considerations for writing a social impact book is your audience. Having ghostwritten over 30 non-fiction books (as well as four best-selling ones of my own, which have been published in 15 languages), and having consulted with countless clients on their book ideas, there is one issue that comes up time and time again. Many potential authors will attempt to write a book with no connection to their audience.
Before you even start writing, you need to answer these 3 questions as a non-fiction author:
- Who are your audience?
- What are their needs?
- How will reading your book meet those needs?
What we are really asking here is why should someone read your book? What’s in it for them, and what is your unique perspective or message that will create an impact in their life?
If you are a social entrepreneur or social impact leader, we can assume that your audience also have a desire to make a difference in the world with the work that they do. But it’s not enough to say, “This book is for everyone who wants to make a positive change.” Just like an advertiser will spend countless hours in the boardroom figuring out who their product is for and why the consumer needs it before they start creating it, you need to do the same for the readership of your book.
So who exactly are your audience, what is that specific difference that they want to make in the world, and how does your book help them make that difference? If you don’t write your book—or shape your message—with your audience’s needs in mind, then there will be a disconnect between what you are writing and what they actually get from your work.
What You Say
When you get clear on the issues you are addressing and why they are important to your audience, your next phase is figuring out the angle you are taking with your message. This involves getting clarity around your unique point of view on the challenges you are addressing. Usually you will either have (a) a new thing to say or (b) a unique way of saying something that has already been said. Getting clear on the way in which your message is different is also an essential starting point.
It’s equally vital as you begin to formulate your core message that you don’t make it too broad. While messages such as “I want to make the world a better place,” or “I want to banish world hunger” might be honorable in their intentions, you need to be much more specific in addressing a particular element of an issue, rather than focusing on the issue as a whole.
It can also be useful to move away from messaging that creates the sense of good versus evil. We have been so indoctrinated into a Hollywood plot structure of defeating an evil force that this often comes through in our social impact writing. However, messages that focus on specific solutions without spending too much time dwelling on the idea that there is a corrupt or evil force that needs to be defeated, are usually much more impactful for an audience.
How You Say It
It’s not just the content of your message that counts. It’s also the tone you use to convey it. With social impact books there can be a tendency to make the material too “fluffy” in tone, so that it tiptoes around the issues at hand and doesn’t face them head on. Some of the more successful social impact books that I’ve either read or worked on have had the courage to own their message and deliver it with clarity and strength. So if you think something doesn’t work or something needs to change, a blunt call-out is often more effective than dancing around the edges of an issue.
3 Common Pitfalls
We’ve talked about what works, but the following are some of the recurring challenges that I’ve witnessed in books of this nature.
1 – Vanity
The first pitfall is writing a vanity book. This is a book where the author congratulates themselves for all the great things they have done in the world. When you write an effective social impact book—or any non-fiction book for that matter—if you just do so to congratulate yourself on all the phenomenal work you have done, without giving the audience an idea about how to do something similar, it’s going to fall short of making a difference.
2 – Fantasy
You may have some revolutionary ideas about how to create change in the world, but unless you have tested them out in reality, they are interesting concepts or visions, rather than solid ideas grounded in truth. Even if you are writing a book that has a visionary message about a future world you are imagining, if it doesn’t relate to some of the challenges that we are facing today and give suggestions on how to solve them, it will fall short of inspiring your audience to address issues down on the ground.
3 – Information Dump
In fiction writing there is a noticeable difference between ‘show’ and ‘tell’. When you show your reader, you take them on an unfolding journey. In fiction this means setting the scene, and a fiction writer will go to great lengths to allow the dialogue between characters to unfold in order to create mood or atmosphere. If they just describe or tell us what happened between two characters, we miss the opportunity to go on a journey with them. The same is true in non-fiction. One of the biggest mistakes that a novice non-fiction author makes is that they tell rather than show. A book of this nature is dry and lacks dynamism. It contains all the ideas of the author without any of the texture.
A good non-fiction book shows the reader the authors ideas through many different layers. We hear stories of triumphs and challenges, see case studies so that we can experience the book, and are given practical exercises that we can engage in. We feel, hear, and see what the author is showing us, so that we are guided through the whole depth of our human existence to take action.
For the past decade, Sasha Allenby has been a ghostwriter for some of the greatest thought-leaders of our time. Her journey started when she co-authored a bestselling book that was published in 12 languages worldwide by industry giants, Hay House. Since then, Sasha has written over 30 books for global change agents. Following the events of the last couple of years, she turned her skill set to crafting social messages. Her latest book Catalyst: Speaking, writing and leading for social evolution supports thought-leaders to craft dynamic messages that contribute to change.
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