I'm working with an author who has a huge platform but is having trouble connecting the messages in his books with his core audience. It would seem easy since what he presents to the world is appealing to a large group of people, but it's not always easy to translate a public persona into a compelling concept. This is a common challenge for many authors, especially nonfiction authors. Being able to identify the difference between real needs and felt needs can mean the difference between a good book and a great book.

One way to overcome this is to know why your core audience engages with you. Why do they follow you? The reason they follow you is because you are meeting a felt need of theirs. Identify those needs, then build your book projects around them.

Here’s how I define felt needs and real needs in this context:

  • Felt needs can be simplified to being synonymous to wants, wishes, hopes, and, in short to issues, changes, results a person deems necessary for their lives.
  • Real needs often refer to the real qualities and efforts a person needs to develop or utilize that lead to the results they desire.

Here are some examples.

As you may be saying to yourself that both sets of needs appear to be real, I concur. Yes, both felt and real needs are legitimate. But sometimes as people of great passion and conviction, authors have arrived at places in their own lives where they’ve come to see larger issues that are affecting groups of people versus individual lives. I think it’s noble for authors to help readers rise above their circumstances and answer to higher callings and the like. But it’s all about how you lead them to do this.

It’s likely that you see people’s real needs and just want to help them with the real solution, so you dive in, tackling their issues head on—like giving them medicine without a spoonful of sugar. But what you’ll notice, if you release a concept like this, your audience generally will reject real-needs messages as quickly and strongly as they will receive felt-needs messages. Just compare your social media posts: which ones get the most responses, likes, or shares?

My recommendation: address felt need up front and just kind of slide the medicine, the behavior and habit changes (the real need), in there in between.

You may think that handling their message in this way waters it down, but I strongly disagree. Carefully planning how to present your message shows that you understand what it takes for your readers to get from point A to point B. Their sense that you get them will translate and will cause your message to get into more hands, affecting a larger audience than it would if you went right into what you see as your readers’ real need.

When you show that you can relate, you are not watering anything down. You are actually revealing your own humanity. If your purpose is to empower, inspire, or teach, you must get on eye level first. It’s basic empathy. Then they will be open to receiving from you what they need to not only get there (felt need) but also to receiving what they need to stay there (real need). Does that make sense?

As you develop your concepts, consider what your goals are for the project. You don’t have to have a grandiose vision, but you will feel accomplished and satisfied when your book project releases and meets your set expectations.

If this continues to be a challenge for you, consider consulting with an industry-experienced editor, one who has experience working on books that compare to yours. They can help you home in on the felt needs of your audience and help you develop books that center on those needs.

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