How to Write a World-Changing Manifesto

How to Write a World-Changing Manifesto

When I sit down to work with a new author, I always ask them about their goals for their book, and invariably I get a version of the same answer: They want to make a difference in people’s lives. Very often, they want to change the way people think, elevate a conversation, and bring new understanding to a vexing problem.

That’s a great mission. We all want to have an impact on the world, and most of us would like that impact to be a positive one. But changing the world through a book begins with changing the mind of one reader, and then the next. Most of us are stubbornly attached to our positions, which means that if you are writing with the ambitious goal to influence public opinion, your book is likely to face an uphill battle. Those who already agree with you don’t need persuading, and those you hope to persuade aren’t interested in having their minds changed for them. So how do you make an impact on society through your writing?

Authors of mission-driven manifestos share some common pitfalls. The more clearly you understand and anticipate them, the better you can avoid preaching to the choir or having your words fall on deaf ears.

Pitfalls to avoid when writing a passion project

The Problem: Focusing on the Wrong Things

When you’re very close to your subject matter, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s most pertinent to readers who may be new to your ideas. As an expert, you’re likely to underestimate the value of basic information, which you might assume everyone knows (and which you might be bored to tears by). You may also have a tendency to overestimate the interest value of arcane observations and implications, which may be fascinating to you but not necessarily central to your thesis. This pitfall is especially common among academics, who love the intellectual workout they get from debating the finer points of an issue with equally well-informed colleagues. That will not fly in a mainstream book. Persuasive writing requires you to join the reader at their current level of understanding and walk them, point by point, to a new way of thinking.

The Remedy: Get a Tough Developmental Editor (and Listen to Them)

The deeper your expertise, the more you need a hard-headed developmental editor who is not afraid to raise objections and identify gaps or inconsistencies in your arguments. At this level, editing is about strengthening the book’s comprehension and logic, not fiddling with its spelling and grammar. The most common criticisms you’re likely to hear from your developmental editor are: put this in laymen’s termsthis section is beside the point; and explain why this matters. Although they must be a muscular thinker, your editor need not be an expert in your subject. In fact, it’s better to find an editor who can approach the material with a level of familiarity similar to that of your target audience. If your argument is clear and persuasive to your “smart novice” editor, you can assume it will be clear and persuasive to readers, too.

The Problem: Unconscious Bias

Manifestos are ideological by definition, so you will undoubtedly be taking a position in your book. But take care to check yourself for bias: it’s possible that you may be overly attached to a particular interpretation of the material, leading you to misrepresent the information, or present your opinions as fact.

Of course, it’s perfectly fine to express an opinion or take a position, and in some cases doing so may be central to the book, but opinion has to be framed as such. It’s even okay to hold a contrarian point of view; informed opinions can be persuasive even if they are outliers. But inflating your opinion or failing to put forth a balanced case will come across as manipulative, which will raise readers’ skepticism. Your argument should be, “This is my position on this issue, and here is some evidence to back up my claims,” rather than, “Trust me, I am right” or, worse, “Listen only to me.”

The Remedy: Invite Constructive Criticism 

Conduct careful research. Lots of it. And be equally careful in your note-taking. The consensus bias means that humans are fallible to shaping arguments that shore up our assumptions. You can get away with that in a dinner party debate, but your critics will poke holes in your argument (or ignore your book altogether) if your argumentation is anything less than rock solid.

When your subject matter is controversial, it’s critical to test its credibility by sending out your manuscript for peer review to other experts who know your subject well. It can be very hard to invite other experts to critique your work, (many authors worry that their peers will judge them harshly on their writing abilities, or shoot down their ideas), but it’s imperative to do so. Solicit feedback from people whose credibility and expertise you respect, especially if they’re in a different ideological camp.

The idea here is not to reverse your position or even to soften it, but to argue your points more effectively. Readers are more likely to be persuaded by your arguments if they can see on the page that you’ve considered other points of view.

If there is a person or organization already preaching your gospel, don’t ignore or aim to discredit them—consider joining forces. Join the movement that’s already in progress, and be bold about making your own unique contribution. You want a book with an argument that is distinct from others’ but you probably won’t be saying something absolutely brand new, so don’t pretend you are.

The Problem: Excessive Negativity

At the heart of your manifesto is a problem that cries out to be solved. Seeing as you’re worked up enough to write an entire book on the subject, it’s fair to assume you’re probably feeling a certain level of personal frustration about it. You may have noticed a million different ways in which the problem presents itself, and a million terrible side effects. Resist the temptation to catalogue them all in your book, and keep your book scrupulously clear of bitterness and judgmental attitudes. Not only is excessive negativity a big turn-off, it’s unbalanced, unhelpful, and intellectually lazy.

The Remedy: Focus on Solutions

The best manifestos are more than polemical rants. They propose solutions and open new avenues of possibility. Yes, you’ll need to illustrate the magnitude and breadth of the issue, and might even want to inject a little drama into it. But it’s important to strike a balance between presenting new ideas and bashing old ones. To really engage readers’ attention and move them to action, you must give them an actionable takeaway, or at least a new worldview to embrace and promote.

The Problem: Forgetting the Reader’s Priorities

You may desperately want people to take better care of the planet, raise their children more compassionately, or contribute more to their communities, but do you think they care what you want? Of course not. They’re reading books that scratch totally different itches. Now, there are plenty of people who already care about the things you do, and you could write a how-to book to help them to do them or understand them better, but that’s not the same thing as converting new hearts and minds to the cause. Every reader, when browsing for something new to read, considers the question: “What’s in it for me?” And if the answer is: “a lecture,” most people will pass.

The Remedy: The Trojan Horse

Every ideological cause has practical applications that benefit all sorts of people in different ways. One of the best ways to persuade readers to try something different or care about something new is to find an authentic benefit that already matters to them. In marketing, this is called the “Trojan Horse” strategy: deliver something that they want, but slip into it what they need.

Environmentally apathetic readers might be persuaded to recycle more and reduce waste if you can show them how it will save them money. People stuck on a junk food diet might be open to eating differently if they learn that it will increase their energy and productivity. If they’re trying to lose weight, you can also show them how to develop a healthy attitude about food and love their bodies.

Determine how your philosophy or methodology might impact people who are less inclined to be interested in it, and show them why they should care. This might not seem like the book you intended to write, but if you get it right, you stand a much higher chance of altering the behavior or attitude of a whole population.

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In this article, I’ve focused a lot on the challenges faced by mission-driven authors, but it’s important to remember that you also have some pretty amazing strengths. Writing any book is an incredibly demanding task, but your passion ensures that you’ll have the commitment to see your project through. You’ll also have a desire to make the book as good as possible, so you’re less likely to cut corners or fudge the details. And when the time comes to market it, you’ll have the enthusiasm necessary to talk persuasively about your book in interviews, and to champion it on social media.

As a truly interested subject matter expert, you understand your issue and its ramifications deeply. And because you know all the major players in that space, you’re in a good position to build a community of interest and support around your book’s themes. This is where your passion really pays off. Guided by the truth of your own experience and the insight of your research, you have an instinctual sense of who truly “gets it”. This will be immensely helpful when the time comes to build your team, bringing in the mentors, collaborators, and publishing team members who will work with you to execute your grand vision and make your mark on the world.

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Manifesto Checklist to Change the World

How can you determine the marketability of your book idea if you are too close to it to tell if it’s viable? Here’s a short checklist of attributes that any manifesto must have.

  1. Bona fide expertise. Are you a demonstrable expert on the subject? If not, consider taking a journalistic approach. Interview people who are experts, and apply your own analysis to tie their testimony together. (Don’t just quote their books.)
  2. Solid research and documentation. Take no short cuts when exposing the status quo!
  3. A concept that people are already looking for. Be clear on your target readership and take care to avoid the conceptual pitfalls of passion projects.
  4. Awareness of your expectations and the real-life pros and cons of publishing. Will your professional credentials be called into question? What affect will a book have on your reputation? Will going on the record about your passion project help you live your values?
  5. Assurance that a book is the appropriate medium for your world-changing message. Is there a sufficiently “big idea” to warrant a full-length book, or could your ideas be easily summed up in an article?
  6. If you were able to see this idea objectively for a second, would you tell yourself to keep going? If so, keep going.

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How to Write a Killer Book Introduction

How to Write a Killer Book Introduction

Of all the book chapters you will write, your introduction is likely to confound you the most. What should go in it? How long should it be? Is anyone even going to read it? Most authors find themselves scratching their heads over questions like these. I hope to answer them here.

A book introduction isn’t strictly necessary in every book, but most non-fiction books will benefit from having one. If you’re going to include one, it’s critical to get it right. Potential readers often skim the introduction to help them decide whether or not to buy a book. An introduction that’s engaging and compelling can clinch the sale, but a dull or meandering one can kill the reader’s interest before they’ve even glanced at Chapter 1. Having said that, some readers skip the introduction altogether, so it must also stand alone and should not establish important facts or statements essential to understanding the rest of the book. So, what does go into it?

A non-fiction book introduction has a few jobs to do:

1. Tell the reader what’s in it for them.

Most importantly, the introduction should tell the reader what they will gain from reading the book. Some introductions are highly specific in describing the book’s content, breaking it down chapter by chapter. This is especially true of how-to books that need to be read or used in a specific way. Others simply describe the life-transforming gifts the book promises to deliver. You should choose an approach that supports your material, and speaks to your reader’s needs and motivations.

2. Create interest.

The introduction must also prime the reader for the experiential journey they are about to embark upon. What will it feel like to read this book? Be consistent with the style and tone of voice that you use in the book, and don’t hold back on the charm. You must sparkle on the page and be every bit as clever, insightful or helpful as you are in the rest of the book. Think of the introduction as a blind date. Your undecided potential reader needs to figure out whether they like spending time with you enough to invest their time, attention and money in a longer-term relationship.

3. Build rapport.

Unless you’re writing a memoir, your book’s chapters will largely focus on your reader’s problem and your solution to it, rather than your own personal stories, thoughts and opinions. But the introduction is one place where it’s definitely ok to “break the fourth wall” and address your reader directly, as an author and a human being. Open up a little bit about your personal motivation for writing the book. Was there a particular “aha” moment when you realized that you needed to write it? Tell that story now. And who do you hope to help with the book? Sharing your desire to serve a particular type of person will help to forge a bond between you and your potential reader, demonstrating to them that you understand their needs and are motivated by serving their best interests.

4. Build trust.

Finally, your introduction should underscore your authority as the right person to write this book. No doubt you are a credentialed expert in the subject you’re writing about, but you can’t take it for granted that your readers know that, so use the introduction to conversationally share some details of your professional history. If you’ve been helping clients with this problem for twenty years, say so. If you played an important role in pivotal moments in your industry’s history, explain how. If you’ve conducted deep research or developed a proprietary system, tell them about it. This is not bragging, it’s putting yourself in context. You must answer the reader’s unspoken question: “Why should I listen to you?”

Length

There are no hard and fast rules regarding the ideal length of an introduction – just make it as long as necessary to get the job done, and no longer. That could be anywhere from a single page in some cases, up to a full-length chapter if there’s a particularly fascinating back-story to share. Usually, it’s best to aim somewhere in between, leaning toward the shorter side. Certainly, you do not want to write an introduction that’s longer than your average chapter length. Just stick to the highlights, and save the detailed foundation of your book’s premise for Chapter 1.

Timing

Although your introduction is placed at the front of the book, you don’t have to write it first. In fact, many authors find it much easier to write the introduction last, sometimes even after the first round of substantive editing is complete. By that time, you’ll have found your voice and your confidence as a writer, and you’ll also be able to draw the reader’s attention to specific sections in the book.

Above all, don’t make the mistake of thinking of the introduction as a dull but necessary evil. Yes, lots of people will skip it, but that’s no excuse to treat it like a throwaway. Put your best foot forward. Take time to write it with care and confidently showcase your ideas, your personality, your history, and your dedication to the reader. Your up-front investment will pay off in reader engagement and book sales.

How I Discovered the Art of Entrepreneurship

How I Discovered the Art of Entrepreneurship

In 2004 a casual acquaintance made an audacious statement to me.

A music producer with a chinstrap beard that was way ahead of its time, Dave was the father of one of my daughter’s friends. I was chatting with him by the school gates and fretting about my upcoming move away from London, where I had a fun job at a cool magazine, back to my hometown Vancouver, where there were virtually no print media jobs. How would I find work as an editor? He flapped his hand at me. “You’ll be fine! You’ll do something cool and entrepreneurial.”

His words hit me like a sharp smack on the rump; startling and presumptuous. Where does this hipster dad get off dismissing my employment concerns on the grounds that I’m going to do something “cool and entrepreneurial”?!

His remark really got under my skin. You’ve got me all wrong, Dave! I’m not interested in business. I’m creative. For one thing, I hate doing things I don’t want to do, and as far as I could tell, businesspeople have to do a lot of things that I wouldn’t ever want to do, like wearing conservative clothes and pretending not to have emotions. They have to value money more than people. They have to be ruthlessly competitive. They have to be utterly obsessed, neglecting their health and their families in order to get ahead. They have to “eat stress for breakfast!” I wouldn’t want to care that much about anything, let alone a line of t-shirts / pasta sauces / dog grooming services.

Furthermore, Dave, if I were to live my life fixated on one narrow obsession, it would have to be something meaningful. It would have to be art! Artists are obsessed with their work too, but that’s different. Workaholic entrepreneurs were delusional slaves in a prison of their own making, but artists who lock themselves in their studios for weeks on end were my heroes.

The Artist’s Passion

I have wanted all my life to make meaningful art.

What better purpose could my life have than to touch the mind of another human being in a way that makes us both feel less alone? I had so much to say, and there were so many ways to say it. Films, music, painting, conceptual art, fashion, literary fiction, dance, theater… It was all so inspiring — and also paralyzing.

Trouble was, I couldn’t seem to muster the attention span necessary to master any particular art form, although I dabbled in them all. I’d had an on-screen film and television career in my teens and early 20s, but I didn’t love acting enough to, say, do non-equity theater. I liked painting, but was lazy about dragging out my brushes or my sketchbook. Pattern cutting courses. Piano lessons. Life drawing classes. Jewelry design. Sure, I was interested. But not obsessed.

I clearly wasn’t going to cut it as any kind of artist, so I figured I’d better just get a damn job so I could pay my bills. So that’s what I did. In fact, I managed to snag a damned good job, as Arts and Lifestyles editor for the Vancouver Sun newspaper. I threw myself into my career as a mid-level manager in mainstream media, covering the arts instead of contributing to them. But Dave’s prediction must have planted a seed. Ten years after that fateful conversation outside Fox Primary School, I did indeed do something cool and entrepreneurial.

The Birth of a Business

The newsroom was downsizing for the fifth time in eight years, and I wanted out. I was leaving what I considered to be the best editorial job in town, so there were no more rungs left to climb on that particular ladder. That’s when it became clear: if I wanted exciting new career opportunities, I was going to have to create them myself.

And so in 2013 I left the paper to found LifeTree Media, a hybrid book publishing company specializing in nonfiction books that help, heal and inspire. In the three years we’ve been in business we have published eleven books, and I am proud of every one. I am exhilarated by the challenges of running my own company, and by the freedom and responsibility that come with it. So it turns out that Dave was right, but what’s more important is that I was so, so wrong. Wrong about what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Wrong about my own suitability for the task. Most of all, I was wrong about the difference between business and art.

Start-Up Fever

Right after making the leap from secure employment into the uncertainty of an early-stage startup, I sat down and made a very long to-do list. It included fun, creative things like choose a name, have a logo designed, and write website copy. It included philosophical things like define our brand values and write a mission statement. And of course there were practical things: set up accounts, brush up on Excel, learn some bookkeeping fundamentals.

My workload was heavy but I felt light as air because, much to my surprise, I found every one of these tasks intensely absorbing. I spent hours on the weekend building a colour-coded project budget spreadsheet. I wrote sales kits for our service packages. If I woke up in the middle of the night unable to sleep, I was delighted to have a few extra hours to browse the internet for cool fonts. I even spent Mothers Day creating a brand guide, because that’s how I most wanted to indulge myself on my special day.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, I was hit by a pair of realizations.

Realization 1

I was officially obsessed — and loving it. Obsession, I discovered, isn’t draining, it’s energizing. It’s like a perpetual motion machine. The more I learned, the more I wanted to find out. The more systems and tools I created, the more excited I became as I watched the business take shape. And this triggered:

Realization 2

In my youthful ignorance, I had thought of business strictly as a soulless money-making exercise. And of course, it can be that for some people. It’s absolutely true in that every company’s business model must be designed to turn a profit, or it can’t survive. But that’s just what the business does. None of that describes what it is. What my business is, I discovered, is a vehicle for my personal self-expression and a tool with which I can make an impact on the world around me. It is the manifestation of my life purpose in action.

In other words, my business is an art project.

Business is My Creative Medium

Just like an artist, I get to decide what my company looks, sounds and feels like. What kind of people it’s for, and how it should affect them. What it stands for, and how it gets its point across. And I do this using every piece of me: my skills, talent, aesthetic sensibility, intuition and guts. Just like making a film, building a business is terrifying at times. I can’t completely control how it will turn out, or be sure that anybody will “get it”. Like a painting or a song, it’s highly revealing; I must stand behind it, but I can’t hide behind it. And it is intensely creative. In fact, it is the most creative, complex, exciting, bold, multi-faceted and dynamic art project I’ve ever made.

Above all, it is mine, all mine.

Nobody forced me to start my own business, just like no one forced me to draw in my sketchbook. But unlike the visual art I never made, this business demanded that I breathe it into being.

By answering its call, I unblocked my own personal channel to universal source energy; the same energy that inspires the painters and poets. What is creativity, after all, but the power to make the imaginary real? I have chiselled this company out of a lump of raw potential and watched in fascination as its features emerged under my hand. Looking back on my years as a frustrated failed artist, I see that my problem wasn’t laziness or lack of talent; it’s just that I was trying to work in the wrong medium.

At long last, I am making the art that only I can make. LifeTree Media generates meaning in my life as well as money, and the further along this path I go, the more certain I am that I am in the right place, doing the right thing. My business is a living expression of the things I care most about, and the instrument with which I will leave my mark on this world. And that’s just about the best definition of art that I can imagine.

maggie langrick
Founder and Publisher, LifeTree Media
 
Maggie Langrick is the President and Publisher at LifeTree Media, a publishing company specializing in nonfiction books and ebooks that help, heal and inspire. Before founding LifeTree in 2013, Maggie was Arts and Life editor for the Vancouver Sun newspaper. In June 2016 she was shortlisted for the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence, Canada's only national peer-reviewed editing prize, for her work on Shell, by Michelle Stewart. She is the author of the forthcoming book Bold, Deep and High: How to Write Your Best Book. Maggie calls herself "an optimistic cheerleader for the human race", and thrives on a balanced diet of yoga and ribald humour.
       

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