Read time – 4 mins.
“I’m not sure why I’m not getting more speaking gigs,” Solomon confided. It was obvious that he ticked all the boxes. An authentic and heartfelt spiritual teacher with a bestselling book, a solid reputation, a unique message, and a dedicated following, Solomon was not only a powerful speaker but also a “rare gem” in his industry. We sat down for a couple of hours tracking back to see if we could find where the gap was. It seemed that his issue was closing deals, so I went back over his last few emails where a speaking gig had seemed imminent and quickly identified the issue. Although he felt the way he was asking for money was warm and professional, in writing it sounded blunt and demanding.
Although Solomon’s case was an email communication, the same applies when you are writing a book. In Solomon’s case, there was a disconnect between what he was saying and the outcome that he wanted. The same applies to the relationship between you and your reader. If you don’t set the right tone and connect to your reader, they will likely close your book and you won’t create or sustain the vital connection that is required to influence your audience.
In the last post we looked at the difference between your tone in the spoken and written word, setting the right tone for your audience, how your tone affects your writing, and engaging different emotions. In this post we’re going to go deeper. We’ll be looking at some of the common pitfalls with tone so you can check that you haven’t fallen into patterns that are likely to lose your reader.
Common Pitfalls with Tone
We’ve already established that tone can be your most powerful ally. But what about when you get it wrong? The following tones are likely to make your reader close your book.
If your tone is too dry, you’ll find yourself speaking or writing with no personality, inspiration, or emotion. It won’t ignite any fire or passion in your audience and it may feel like you are reading from a script or overloading your audience with facts that don’t connect to them.
If your tone is condescending, it will sound like you know better than anyone else. These tones accompany an idea that there is an “us” who knows better, and a “them” who needs to learn. It will sound like you are talking down to your audience and you will alienate them from what you are sharing.
Some “kick-ass” qualities can be essential for getting your statement across. However, it can also fall the other way. Often a tone becomes an expression of unprocessed anger. This can occur when a voice has been repressed and unheard for some time and then suddenly finds a channel for its expression. It can feel so good to be consistently angry after a lifetime of oppression, but if you get stuck there, you will be back in the sphere of generating rage without the ability to move yourself, or your audience, through it productively or create impact in the world. It’s essential to distinguish between cathartic writing—for your own growth and healing—and the writing that needs to be presented to your audience in your book.
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Sometimes a piece of well-timed humor can cut through tension like a knife. When we can laugh at some element of our current situation, however absurd it is, it takes us out of survival mode and enables us to step back, see the bigger picture, and get creative in our ideas for creating change. However, comedy can be easier to imagine than it is to carry out, especially in the written word. I’m naturally lighthearted and humorous in life, but that has rarely translated well into my writing, and any attempts at comic writing so far have left me cringing on the reread. If your comedy is off, it can alienate your reader.
If you are a visionary, a luminary—someone who has an image of creating a brighter future—then you need to take care how you present this to an audience. Again, if you don’t ground your vision in the present, if you only focus on what might be and ignore what is, it can feel like you are presenting from within a bubble, and your audience is likely to dismiss what you say.
SUMMARY AND EXERCISE
In this article we’ve looked at some of the common pitfalls with tone. When I work with authors who are crafting their books, one of the exercises I often give them is to write a blog post or a section for their book, then practice writing in the above styles in a really exaggerated way. This exercise can be very helpful, because once you’ve emphasized the above styles in writing, it can be easier to spot if you fall into them when you are writing your book.
Now that we’ve looked at some of the common pitfalls, in the next article we’ll be asking, “How do you stay connected to your reader when you need to be fierce or blunt with your tone?” We’ll also be looking at formal and informal tones, so you can choose the most effective style for your book.
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 15 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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