Avoid the “White Van” Moment
Why Most Readers Don’t Finish Reading — And What You Can Do About It
If you’re writing a book to grow your business, you can’t afford to lose readers. Here’s how to make sure that they stay engaged from beginning to end.
An unmarked white van screeches to a halt in front of you. The door slides open and a guy in a ski mask yells, “Get in!”
What do you do?
Believe it or not, I see this happen all the time when I’m working with my strategic book development and writing coaching clients. Not literally, of course. But new authors often begin chapters and paragraphs by launching directly into the meat of whatever topic they plan to cover. There’s no context. There’s no setup. They just pull up in front of the reader and yell, “Get in!”
For readers, that can feel jarring, unnerving, and confusing. When authors do this, they run the risk of losing readers. And losing readers means losing business. So it’s critical that you identify and correct the “white van moments” in your book.
Now, to be clear, I don’t blame my clients for jumping the gun. I think it’s a function of the fact that I work with such incredible minds—true experts and authorities. What I’ve noticed is that experts often know their fields so well that they can forget what it was like not to be an expert. They forget to take the perspective of an outsider who’s reading about these ideas for the first time.
When you’re reading a book, you want a heads up that a new idea is coming your way, and you want to get a sense of where it’s going to take you. That’s why successful authors always prepare readers to receive new information: This is what I’m going to talk about. This is why I’m talking about it. This is what you’re going to gain by reading about it.
By giving readers that context, you transform the experience. Now, instead of it being like a terrifying white van, it’s like a double-decker tour bus has pulled up—a tour bus that you requested. In big, gold letters, the bus declares its destination—Chicago! New York! San Francisco! You know exactly where it’s going and you’ve already bought into the idea that it’s someplace you’d like to be.
Once I explain to my clients this idea of white vans and tour busses, I find that they adapt quickly. With a little bit of guidance, they start getting better at noticing when they’ve written white van moments—and they also get better at fixing them. Because, as a writing coach, I don’t just correct my clients’ work. I explain what the problem is, how to spot it, and how to fix it, so that they can become more and more effective at communicating their message.
Before you turn in a piece of writing, I encourage you to reread your work from the viewpoint of a novice. Or else ask for the help of someone you trust—someone who isn’t an expert in your industry. Consider whether you’ve written any white van moments and, if you have, turn them into “tour bus moments.” This extra investment of time will keep your readers happy, engaged, and confident that you’re taking them in a direction that they want to go.
If you’d like to learn more about how to write a book to grow your business, check out From Owner To Author, a Facebook community I created for coaches, consultants, and business owners with authorial ambitions. You can click here to join the conversation. And, for an even deeper look, you can get my book. It’s called, How To Write A Book That Sells YOU.