Books fails for many reasons, but nonfiction books fail when they fail to find an audience. Although this is a common consequence after publication, it can be hedged against in the early stages of book development.
When nonfiction books fail to find an audience, it’s typically because they were developed, accidentally or purposely, for everyone. A book read by everyone sounds like a worthy aim, but it’s a reflexive and counterproductive goal.
Why? After all, everyone sounds like a lot of readers, and most people associated with books (rightly) believe that the more readers the better. Also, the concept of “audience” is inclusive: When we describe our book as a book for everyone, we mean it’s a book for anyone. No one should not read it.
This is the everyone reflex: the natural and potentially even logical assumption that when we write, we write for everyone. The reflex is powerful, and when it guides development, it leads to books that fail to find real readers.
The everyone reflex is partly a manifestation of our confirmation and egocentric biases: We assume that others are as interested in our subject matter as we are, even if they don’t know it yet.
In this way, the reflex lets us sidestep the responsibility of explaining our book’s relevance. Though this seems unnecessary—surely interested readers will find our book?—it’s a critical part of argumentation and one of our most powerful tools in positioning our book for success.
To circumvent the everyone reflex during the development stage, we must ask and answer the question of our book’s relevance. We must explain, on the page, our book’s “significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand.” This explanation serves as our book’s reason-for-being, giving shape to our argument and pointing toward its most appropriate audience.
By identifying our book’s significance to the matter at hand, as well as the interested readers who already do and should care about it, we write not for the nameless, featureless everybody, but for the very particular readers who need and want our book.