Benefits for Your Readers

Mary Keeley

With the exception of novelists who learn about their characters and the storyline as they unfold in draft stage, most writers have a well-developed concept for their book before you sit down to write. At this stage you’re at least partially aware of the messages you want to convey. In other words, the benefits for your readers.benefits_reference-10hx29v

Writers write because you want to communicate something to your audience. Writing is all about sharing hope, enjoyment, comfort, encouragement, inspiration, information, and personal passion. Writers of nonfiction genres have an advantage because benefits to the reader are an integral focus of the content. It isn’t as straightforward for novelists, who are necessarily absorbed with applying craft as you develop your page-turning story, at the same time communicating a message to your readers through your voice and your characters. Translated into your proposal, these takeaways become the reader benefits.

I recall one of my clients, who wrote a narrative nonfiction book. She had chosen to weave the reader takeaways throughout the proposal because she thought it would provide a continual reminder to editors of the numerous reader takeaways from her story. However, an editor contacted me. She knew her busy team wouldn’t have time to read the complete manuscript before the editorial meeting. Yet she wanted them to have full understanding of my client’s inspiring story, so she asked that my client compile a list of the reader benefits she could forward to her team before the meeting. Makes good sense; it’s where passion and practicality intersect.

Since then I have encouraged writers to insert a Reader Benefits section in their proposals. A good place to position the Reader Benefits section is near the beginning of your proposal, before or after the synopsis or overview. Provide succinct responses to these questions:

  • How is your book going to change the life of the reader and benefit him or her spiritually? For example, explain the ways your novel will influence the reader to think differently about a group of people, a different generation, or about God. Or, show how the information in your Christian Living book will influence readers to make practical adjustments in their lifestyle to live a God focused life.
  • How will your novel help a reader who is struggling in he same ways as your protagonist? This should be easy to describe from the emotional arc. But condense it to one concise statement for the purpose of this list.
  • How will your nonfiction book help readers who are struggling in the area of your topic? For example, name the beneficial points your book covers that other books on the same topic don’t.
  • Why should readers seek out your book? Give some thought to this. A compelling statement here may be enough to convince the agent or editor to continue reading the entire proposal.

When you finished your book and read it in its entirety, hopefully aloud, did you notice additional benefits for your readers, perhaps woven subtly through your voice or a character’s perspective? Add those to your bulleted list.

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  1. While I certainly follow the growth and development of characters and plot through multiple drafts, I do write fiction with a definite plan for reader benefits.

    It’s a three-part system, and I compare it to the erection of a tent.

    * First, there’s an overall theme that bounds the story arc. This is in place from the beginning. One might liken this to the tent’s fabric envelope, and it’s formed by the basic plotline.

    * Next, there are the individual characters, each of whom is ‘created’ to illuminate one aspect of the theme (obviously, with some overlap). Their backstories and personalities are crafted with this in mind; they both supplement and complement one another to achieve this end. They are the tentpoles.

    * Finally, the characters’ interactions provide the dynamic tension that holds the story together, and (hopefully) keeps the reader both engaged and edified as the theme is developed. These interactions might be compared to the tent’s guy ropes.

    For example, you might explore the question of loyalty and trust (the tent)based on the story of Saul, David, and Jonathan (the poles), with the anitpathy that developed between Saul and David being balanced and and held in that dynamic tension by Jonathan’s friendship for David existing in parallel to the natural loyalty he felt to Saul (the ropes).

  2. Christine Dorman says:

    Mary, what a fantastic idea! I am writing a novel and did have a couple specific things I hoped my readers would take away from reading it, but I never thought of stating those upfront in a proposal. Thank you for the guidance. 🙂

  3. I’ll have to take another look at my proposals. I do have a spiritual take away bullet point, but it could probably use more detail. Your questions at the end will help develop a more comprehensive reader benefit s section. Thank you, Mary!

  4. Micky Wolf says:

    Great post, Mary! Definitely keeping this one handy. Thank you. 🙂

  5. Wow, Mary. I love this. I know we’re supposed to have reader benefits, but the way you shared this helps me hone in on the reader benefits of my books. I loved your suggestions for how to include this specifically in my proposal.

    Thanks for sharing this! Very helpful!

  6. This is great, Mary. Thank you. I am always amazed when reading the finished work aloud, how unintentional links or messages are found … God is so good that way. He covers us!

  7. Like others have already said, this is a fabulous idea. For a while, I was considering writing a memoir about my years in middle school through high school graduation as a young woman who was teased profusely and constantly seeking popularity. Kids still struggle with this today and I thought it would be a good way to let young people know they aren’t alone and that there is hope at the end of the tunnel. But when I began thinking about my platform and what I currently write, I felt creating a novel with a character that deals with some of these issues might be more beneficial. Starting out by creating a list with these and other questions might help me focus the idea better before I begin putting pen to paper. Thanks!

  8. Jim Lupis says:

    A Readers Benefit section in a proposal is a great heads-up for a stronger submission. I am also going to develop a readers benefit section that I will print out and keep in front of me as I work on my WIP. A constant reminder of why I’m writing my story. Thanks, Mary.

  9. Angela Mills says:

    I had an idea of what I wanted the takeaway to be from my novel, but I put it out of my head as I was writing. Now, I need to go back and see if those things come through. Adding to the proposal is a great idea!

  10. Kristen Joy Wilks says:

    I remember grumbling inside when an editor who asked for a partial wanted an “about the book” page. I had already written a huge proposal with everything that I thought anyone might request. Now I had to write something else to add to it? What on earth would I write anyway? But that little half page of text became my favorite part of my proposal. I added it to my proposal file and thank God that I had to write it. What had drawn me to the book of Jonah in the first place. Jonah’s terrible attitude, the fearsome Assyrian army, God’s chilling determination to offer His mercy to a nation of warriors and conquerors. All of this I was able to explain, on paper, for myself and those considering my book. So so glad that this editor required it.

  11. I appreciate your list of specific questions, Mary, for a Reader Benefits section. They make me think of the discussion questions that are so popular now at the end of novels. Perhaps the Reader Benefits section would give a novelist a head-start on book club discussion starters?

  12. I want my readers to:
    -learn a bit of obscure history, to see what injustice and degradation does to a person
    -learn about another culture, to find out why Navajo people don’t point with their fingers or look in someone’s eyes
    -understand that the grieving and healing process is different for everyone
    -to see the tole that spousal abuse takes on an entire extended family
    -that Jesus asked “why?” and that means we can too, and that by asking why, we can open our hearts to the rawness of healing
    -understand that adoption from one culture to the next is not always blanket assimilation
    -feel and see grace and forgiveness at the most painful, life changing levels

    Why should an editor read this? Be in the moment of heart breaking ruin, life threatening kindness, and unexpected redemption.

  13. I don’t know if this will help – but I start with a one-line hook before I ever start writing.

    For example…”A Marine will risk everything for the guys next to him…but the hardest thing to risk is his heart, for a second chance at love.”

    That sets the overall message, and there are subordinate takeaways for the reader, such as –

    * What price loyalty to a memory?

    * How can we learn to love again…and to learn to love ourselves enough to take a chance?

    * How can we find love..and then learn to step aside for the good of our beloved?

    Phrasing the subordinate takeaways as questions is beneficial for me, because I have to look at how I am answering them in the development of the characters, their interaction, and the story arc.

    Generally, three or four subordinate takeaways seems about right for planning. Others may develop in the writing, but the important thing is to answer the core values well.

    Anchoring these to Scripture helps to keep the message clear, as well.

  14. Very helpful, Mary! I just bookmarked a new page in my draft proposal for this information. 🙂

  15. In my completed MS, my heroine and my villain have similar life experiences and similar emotional reactions to the trauma they’ve experienced. How they respond(character arc) to those traumas are very different. I hope my reader can see the power they have to choose their own ending, so to speak, in regards to the debilitating effects of bitterness.
    My novel’s working title is Soul Salvage. It is set around the business of shipwreck salvage in the 19th century. The Lord is in the business of rescue. Not only does he help us jettison those things which hold us down, he can redeem that which we thought was beyond repair.

    Mary, how should those of us who write fiction approach the idea of issue-driven fiction? Does this alter or enhance our stories? Are certain publishers more interested in this kind of content?

  16. I often participate in webinars for my day job. Many come with a series of statements, “after completing this webinar the participant will be able to . . .” [yawn]

    After completing my book, the reader will . . . [oh, dear God, don’t let them yawn!]

    Thank you, Mary. I’ve got some serious thinking to do.

  17. Kiersti says:

    What a thought-provoking post–thank you, Mary!

    One thing I’ve been learning is that I may have some reader outcomes in mind at the start of a story, but God may have other things in mind as well that only emerge as the story develops. With my first novel, I wanted to give readers a glimpse through the eyes of another culture (Navajo, in this case) and into a less-known bit of history–specifically Native American boarding schools, and join the journey with my characters of learning to see through others’ eyes and move toward healing, understanding, reconciliation in multiple ways. And those elements are still key to the story, but it turned out another theme the Lord had for that book is the simple but continually-needing-to-be-relearned (at least for me!) lesson of trusting Him, and being willing to step out in faith when He calls us to rather than listening to fear.

    In my current WIP, I knew I wanted to write something that would help more people know the stories of the Navajo Code Talker heroes of World War II. What I didn’t expect was that the Lord also wanted to teach me and give me a heart for families with disabled children, specifically in this case, spina bifida. It amazes me how He continues to use my stories to open my eyes and heart and teach me new things…I hope someday He’ll use them to do that for others too.

  18. Mary, thank you! I’m re-thinking things in a new way. I also love all the commentary here–so helpful!