Message development: Know what you want to say and how to say it

I recently watched a morning talk show interview with a best-selling nonfiction author who obviously paid close attention during his media training.

He knew what he wanted to say, he knew how to say it, and he said it well.

Not surprisingly, when I checked his Amazon sales rank two days later, his book was the top seller in one of its three categories and the second-best seller in the other two.

It’s proof that messaging matters.

Message development

That’s why you want to spend time on message development as you formulate your book marketing plan.

Message development helps you determine what to emphasize when communicating about your book, whether it’s on social media or during media or podcast interviews.

It’s not hard to do, but it does take thought, testing, and tweaking.

Here’s how to do it.

7 steps to messaging that matters

Follow these seven message development steps before posting about your book on social media or doing an interview. They will help you get clarity and focus.

1. Review your book to determine the three most important points you want to communicate.

This applies to both fiction and nonfiction.

With a novel, you might want readers to know that it’s a fictionalized version of a true event or that you used your great grandmother’s diaries to help write the setting for your historical fiction.

For nonfiction, think about what you want readers to take away from your book. Why did you write it? What do readers need to retain when they’re done?

Write down all three points you want to make.

2. Identify supporting information for each point.

This can be statistics, compelling facts, and anecdotes that illustrate the message point.

Relevant facts for the great grandmother’s diaries might be the number of diaries, the years they covered, or how you came to possess them.

For a nonfiction book on the impact of climate change on endangered species, for example, you might use eye-opening statistics from scientific studies to support a message.

3. Create draft messages.

Brainstorm possible messages, but remember: You want messages that resonate with your target readers, not anyone else.

That’s why knowing your ideal reader is important. 

4. Test your draft messages.

Try them out on people you want to influence – people who read the types of books you write. They can be friends or colleagues, but they need to be able to provide honest feedback.

  • What language seemed to resonate with people?
  • What language confused them?
  • Where did they get confused?

Listen carefully to their responses and take their input seriously. 

5. Refine the messages.

Take what you learned from the testing process to make any necessary changes to the messages. 

6. Test again.

The repeat testing is important because you want to be certain that your key messages are appropriate and can influence the behavior you’re looking for. 

7. Adjust again.

Keep making changes — and testing — until you’re confident that you’re using language that will generate the reaction you want.

Do your messages do the job?

As you work on your messages, make sure they:

  • Contribute to your goals.
  • Resonate with the people you want to influence — even if this means they don’t resonate with you.
  • Get a response when you use them. If they don’t, they might need more work.

Message examples

For an example of a message you’d communicate about a work of fiction, let’s revisit great grandma’s diaries.

A message with supporting information could look like this:


I used my great grandmother Tillie’s diaries to make sure I recreated the 1920s as accurately as possible.

Supporting information:

  • I read through 7 of her diaries to find what I needed.
  • My book is set in the 1920s, so while I had diaries from other decades, I focused on the period I wrote about because I knew that going through all of them would be too distracting.
  • The diaries almost left the family. My great aunt owned them and forgot they were in her attic when she moved. Fortunately, I discovered them when I was helping her.

Now let’s look at that nonfiction book about the impact of climate change on endangered species. (Note that I’ve made everything up for the example; I haven’t researched the topic.)


If climate change conditions don’t improve, we will completely lose at least 15 percent of the world’s endangered species every year – and more will be added to the list as time goes on.

Supporting information:

  • According to the Endangered Species Research Foundation, global warming has already altered the habitats of more than 100 endangered species.
  • Researchers at the University of Wauwatosa report that they can no longer find evidence of three types of endangered lizards, including the Eight-Toed Lounge Lizard.
  • Scientists at the Global Warming Institute report that the melting polar icecap will have a significant effect on all wildlife, not just endangered species.

Use your messages

Once your messages are final and you’re confident they communicate what you want them to, work them into:

You might need to massage them to meet the needs of these different communication vehicles, but stay as true as you can to the language you’ve tested and refined.

Need help? Build Book Buzz Publicity Forms & Templates has a simple fill-in-the-blanks form you can use to create your messages. Learn more here. 

What message do you want to communicate from your book? Please tell us in a comment.

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  1. Thank you, Sandra. There are some actionable steps here I think I might be able to take. I’m working on my debut nonfiction book about a dance mom who puts a dance studio on a pedestal and the problems that ensue. I’m laying out my chapters carefully taking great creative vision to write about dance experiences to make this a true narrative nonfiction book. I do not have a marketing plan or a launch date. I’m figuring these things out as I study the process and write at the same time. As per your advice, I will work on my main marketing message and figure out the takeaway to the reader.

  2. Thanks for another excellent post. It helped me crystallize more messages for my podcast appearances. As I reflect on my books, I realize that each chapter has a mediagenic message I can develop in an interview or tip sheet.

    Whether it’s how to avoid divorce regret or how to pick the lawyer that’s right for you, these steps will help me deliver information that is useful and on target.

    1. I’m so glad it’s useful, Sonia. It really does help to take a few minutes to be thoughtful about what you REALLY want to communicate during the interview or conversation. Then you can make sure you work your 1 or 2 messages into the conversation, even if the person interviewing you doesn’t ask a question that will make that easy for you.


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