Make your readers feel

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
— Maya Angelou

Writing a book is a complex task. It's not always clear what makes for a successful book, but are there are three elements that help engage readers: content, style and emotion.

Sometimes we like a book because the author provides a unique perspective on a topic and expresses it beautifully. I would place Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon in that category. Gopnik is a Staff Writer at the The New Yorker and his writing in this book is insightful and beautiful.

Malcolm Gladwell's, The Tipping Point is another example. This book had a freshness that captured the world's attention, and it was full of 'ah-ha' moments from Gladwell's plentiful array of anecdotes. It was timely and emotionally engaging because it made us look at how we view trends around us.

Other times it's because the book reached us at the right time and we had an emotional meeting of minds with the author. Jack Kerouac's On the Road was like this. It's a book of its time. It's lovely writing, but it didn't speak to me the way it seems to have spoken to those coming of age in the late 1950s. When I ask others of my generation about it, they usually feel the same.

At other times we engage because a range of indefinable elements come together and we feel the book is right. It might not be the best writing in the world; it might not be a groundbreaking idea, but the emotion speaks to us. 

Think back to the content, style and emotion of books you've read. Try to identify which aspect stood out for you. Was it a great new idea, was the writing style unusual, or did the work appeal to your emotions.

When you are writing or planning your own book, try to be aware of the mix of these elements you would like, or more importantly, which you think you can write. If you happen to have a groundbreaking idea or perspective that's wonderful. Groundbreaking is rare. I would urge you to examine your idea very carefully and prove that it is indeed groundbreaking.

To be conservative, I am starting from the point that you don't have a groundbreaking idea and that you must reply on style and emotion in your book. With a great writing style, you have the ability to create revelatory moments for your readers. You only need a few of these. The great film directors and screenwriters are excellent at working with structure. A memorable movie usually has three high-points that viewers take away with them, which may be:

  • The camera lingering on a striking or beautiful image,
  • An emotionally engaging scene, or
  • A quotable quote from a character

What you actually say in the book is, of course, important, but how you express that idea is critical. For this, you need to find your voice – your own style. That's your point of difference.

If you are in business, you will already be aware that you – and all your competitors – know the facts about your particular area of expertise inside out. Simply knowing the facts is not enough.

Your point of difference is in you. It's your style and your ability to emotionally engage with your audience. It's finding a memorable way to express a key point. It's how you present yourself; how you communicate. It's your emotional intelligence in dealing with people.

You, are a whole collection of indefinable characteristics that make people want to do business with you over someone else. If you can harness this in your book, you will be engaging and authentic. People will remember how you made them feel when they read your book and they will want to speak to you. With a business book, that's what it's about.