Don’t Forget the Reader Benefits

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

If you visit our blog regularly, you probably noticed that Rachelle and I switched blog days. Beginning this week, you can enjoy Rachelle’s blog on Wednesdays, and I’ll be blogging on Thursdays because this pattern works better for our individual schedules.

I was corresponding with an editor today about a client’s project. She got the nod from the editorial committee this week to formally present it in next week’s meeting. This editor loves my client’s book and has become a champion of the project. Knowing what her editorial committee will want to see, she made specific requests for additional information in the proposal. One of the requests was to create a separate section titled, “Reader Benefits.”

My client’s book is an inspirational narrative nonfiction. She had chosen to weave the reader takeaways throughout the proposal for continuing effect. However, the editor knew her team won’t have read the full manuscript before the meeting. Yet she wanted them to have a full understanding of the inspiring impact of my client’s story, so she asked that my client list the reader benefits prominently to give a complete picture of the scope of the book. Makes sense.

When you prepare your proposal for submission, consider doing the same. Provide succinct responses to these questions in bullet points:

·      How is your book going to change the life of the reader and benefit him or her spiritually? Examples: 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 the same ways as your protagonist? This should be easy to describe from the emotional arc. But distill 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? Example: name the beneficial points your book covers that other books on the same topic miss.

·      Why would someone 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.

A good place to position the Reader Benefits section is near the beginning of your proposal, before the synopsis or overview. It’s okay to provide hints of your personal writing voice, but remember this is a business document. Business language should be the dominant voice.

What are the reader benefits of your book? Do you already have them listed prominently in your proposal? Can you think of additional reader takeaways to list?

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47 Comments

  • Anne Love says:

    I’ve only had three sips of coffee, and my eyelids are only half mast, but you’ve got my thoughts rolling. My readers will be able to think about redefining courage when they read my book.

  • Halfway through my first cup of Earl Grey, but here we go…I’m going to pretend everyone here is a acquisitions editor. I’m in my pj’s, but… insert professional voice….now.

    -How is your book going to change the life of the reader and benefit him or her spiritually?
    The challenge of adapting from traditional Native American culture and religion to upper class British culture and well educated Christianity is addressed and answered by the love and care shown the MC by the family that adopted him. He is not forced to accept the faith of his rescuers and/or told his previous beliefs were wrong, as was entirely common in the era of the book, which is 1864 to 1895. The love and kindness shown in the face of prosecution for hiding him, of the family are what drew him to Christ and what sustains him in his grief at the loss of his people. His adoptive white family learn the MC’s ways and adapt their lives to blend in with his history, but never at the cost of their faith.
    The arrival of a woman who is adept at lying for her own survival, and scarred by years of abuse throws the family into a new round of saving the broken. The intense challenge of finding the truth and rebuilding her heart falls on the shoulders of the only man who understands the pressure of the battles she faced trying to stay alive.

    How will your novel help a reader who is struggling in the same ways as your protagonist?
    Women who are trapped in abusive marriages often feel completely isolated, ashamed and unprotected. Peeling away their defenses takes intense love, patience and understanding, simply because the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism is so ingrained.

    Why would someone seek out your book?

    The hook is “What if your greatest fear was your only salvation?”
    Those who look for an element of the exotic and and the thrill of the unknown, combined with the intensity of being terrified of love, and then, after decades of forced solitude, finding the only heart that beats in time with one’s own and the joy of living free after a lifetime of fear. And the pure joy of seeing and knowing that God has never turned His back on His children.

  • Mindy says:

    Thank you, Mary, for this post. I feel challenged to really think through these questions before I continue with my manuscript, so I when it comes time for the proposal I will be ready. Thank you again!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Mindy, you make a good point. Writing a bulleted list of intended reader benefits in the early concept stage, can help to guide the writing to stay on track, and then it is ready to insert in your book proposal.

  • “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.” In education, we have goals for each student. Thinking of children’s writing in terms of goals (even those of reading for pleasure/enjoyment) makes so much sense to me. Sharing those goals seems like a great marketing tool, as well as a component in a proposal. The proposal IS a marketing tool for the editorial committee!

    Best wishes to the author whose work is being considered at that next level!

  • Your bullet points are as melodious and soothing to me, Mary, as the turtle doves cooing outside my window. Yep, I’m a list girl. Questions such as these have been swirling through my mind during the writing process and, in fact, get to the very reason for writing. Now I just need to get them on paper. Thank you so much. I pray your day will be wonderful!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      You’re right, Meghan, and you stated it so well. Answering these questions can take an author beyond the bulleted section for the proposal to the very core of why you are writing in the first place. It has ripple potential to further kindle your passion, which will inspire your writing.

  • Mary, just wondering if you would elaborate on what elements you feel are necessary in a fiction proposal, such as comparable titles, sell sheets, etc? I know every agency is different. Do you think this Reader Benefits section is something most editors are currently seeking, then?

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Heather, I don’t know that fiction editors are expecting to see a reader benefits section in the proposal, but it can’t hurt to include it–as long as your manuscript comes through on the stated benefits. Your proposal is the place to “sell” an agent or editor on you and your project. It is appropriate for you to emphasize the benefits your project offers to publishers and to readers. Putting reader benefits in a separate section upfront in your proposal is a way to do that.

      There is too much to talk about in regard to necessary elements in a fiction proposal here, but I’ll plan to blog about that again soon.

      • Excellent–thank you, Mary. I know proposal elements change sometimes. For instance, Sell Sheets seem a relatively new phenomenon. Would love to have a workable list.

  • Sarah Sundin says:

    What a great idea! Thinking this through carefully would also help leading into the book release for publicity and interviews. Although I write fiction, the themes and issues provide fodder for conversation.

    In my new release, On Distant Shores, my WWII flight nurse heroine outranks the hero – and this creates some problems. In today’s bad economy, many couples face similar situations with the wife out-earning the husband, or being the sole provider. I hope the novel will spark conversation about how to maintain love and respect in these situations. The characters also explore what to do when your goals are thwarted and when you find yourself “in over your head.”

    I love the idea of pulling these themes out in bullet points (love bullet points!) at the proposal stage.

  • This is something I never thought of doing in a proposal, partially because I haven’t had to draft anything this formal yet. This makes so much sense. In the back of mind I keep what I think the reader will get out of my work as I write, but I think a bulleted list in the early stages would make for a more focused book and give me a head start on the proposal.

    Thanks for the great post, Mary.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      You’re welcome, Cheryl. There’s something about getting those benefits written down that helps you stay focused when writing, as you stated so well. And it can help to maintain a consistent focus for the proposal and for everything you do to promote your book before and after your book releases, as Sarah mentioned.

  • Thank you, Mary.

    I haven’t started my proposal yet, but since the early conception stages of my novel I have thought about what I hoped readers would take away from it. My book is about a teenage faerie who dreams of transforming into a dragon–which sounds like it has nothing to do with Christianity or even real life. However, the story is about how to discern who and where God is calling you to be. It has a secondary theme that a life of service will give you more joy than a life focused on obtaining power and dominance. Finally, I am hoping readers will take away how important it is to listen to the wisdom of those who journeyed ahead of you.

    Blessings!

  • What a wonderful idea to add depth to the proposal. Even though fictional stories don’t have a tangible “take-away,” at least not in the same sense as non-fiction, there are definitely spiritual and emotional benefits that should be highlighted. After all, I believe most of us write inspirational stories so our readers can walk away with a greater understanding of God’s love and faithfulness.

    I think the best place to start is to look at what the theme of the story is. If the theme is forgiveness, like in my first novel, then in my proposal I would highlight how my characters find the ability to forgive the unforgivable, and, more importantly, how to accept forgiveness from God. My heroine also discovers that God’s plans are very different than hers–but if she’s not willing to trust His plans, she will miss out on His abundant blessings. My hero discovers that despite what others have told him, he has what it takes to succeed at his goals–because God has called and equipped him. I believe these are the “take-away” lessons my story offers.

    I agree that having these bullet points before I start writing would help me keep focused on what the reader is taking away–and hopefully what they’ll share with their friends and family later on!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Well said, Gabrielle. Forgiveness and trusting God’s plan over our own are beautifully woven in your book. Many lessons like those in your story can only be shown and received effectively through a novel or through anecdotes, instead of how-to steps, in a nonfiction book.

  • Micky Wolf says:

    So helpful, Mary! You and all the Books & Such gals are so effective in describing aspects of the writing journey in accessible, quite digestible posts of wisdom and insight. Now…to personally apply these principles and ideas. Thank you! :)

  • Wonderful reminders of how to pinpoint the transformation of our characters and the affect it will have on our readers.

    • The theme of my novel Soul Salvage is rescue. The salvage industry in 19th century Key West is the setting and the parallel that demonstrates what the Lord does for us.
      My heroine discovers that although people have forsaken her, the Lord doesn’t and won’t. Not only that, He redeems our brokenness while He’s at it. The hurtful things others do to us don’t have to define the future choices we make. She also learns to extend grace to those people who have caused her pain.
      After years of being stooped under the weight of loss and guilt, my hero releases his melancholy and apathy into the Lord’s very capable hands.
      Redemption, salvage, and not a moment too late.

  • Mary, I so appreciate your concrete how-to’s–create a reader benefits section and place it near the beginning of your proposal. As I think about the bullet points for this regarding my own WIP, I find myself venturing back to when I first discerned the need for a book like the one I’m writing. I was simultaneously directing an evangelical ministry and a bible study ministry. This placed me in a unique position to understand how the right resource would not only help with the spiritual growth of our clients, but also would assist with the confidence of those I partnered with in ministry. So, all this foggy knowing now becomes more clear.

  • This is a great idea. I find myself thinking of a Questions for the Reader page, but hadn’t considered takeaways as something to be included on a proposal. Thank you.

  • Sharla Fritz says:

    Thanks for getting us thinking Mary!
    What are the reader benefits of my book? By reading my book, readers will be able to recognize major distractions in their lives such as the distractions of stuff, technology, ambition, and guilt. They will learn to sort out what is only a distraction from what is a true life’s purpose and be able to find more fulfillment in their lives by avoiding the distraction and living attracted to God’s path of joy.

    Additional takeaways include: personal stories of learning to abandon the side-tracked life, biblical principles on distinguishing distractions from our true path, and exercises for to help readers overcome the struggle to make authentic and godly choices in our distracting world.

    What do you think?

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Sharla, your book not only addresses spiritual life change using stories readers will connect with for application to their own lives, but also exercises to help readers apply them. An editor who sees your bullet points may be quickly convinced that your book on this topic is special.

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    …and I thought my proposal was just about ready.

  • I’m so confused.

    I thought today was Wednesday, but since I’m reading this the day after tomorrow . . . today (when this was posted) it must be the day before yesterday.

    Thanks for clearing that up for me!

  • I’ve been polishing my proposal on my book, Devotionals for Widows: Four Steps from Grieving to Thriving, and am fighting my inclination to be too “wordy.” I think I’ve included what you suggest, but it took me several pages! LOL I will consider the list of features instead. Thank you!

  • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

    You’re welcome, Reba. That’s the beauty of bullet points. Your mind tends to automatically make a switch to short, succinct statements, not necessarily even full sentences.

  • I’ve never heard of including a section like this, but it makes perfect sense. Thank you for giving us such great question prompts as well. I’m bookmarking this post for future reference!

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