Don’t spend years on your book and let it bomb because you didn’t do this

by | 6 Jul 2021

The comedian stepped onto the stage holding a thick sheaf of A4 printer paper. He gave the audience a wink, glanced at the top sheet and read a joke. Silence. He dropped the piece of paper.

Open mic night

Years ago, friends and I went to a comedy club for some laughs and a burger.

After the first-timers had exhausted our pity, it was time for Jimmy Carr, a successful TV comedian. Here, at last, was a professional to entertain us.

Throwaway gags, literally

Carr ploughed on. Next sheet, next joke. A cough-laugh from the drunk bloke at the back. The paper hit the stage. Next, a trademark edgy gag got an appreciative chortle. This leaf of A4 went under his arm.

For the next twenty minutes, he slowly carpeted the stage with paper. His big finish was to flourish the handful of successful gags from his armpit and say, “Buy tickets to see which of these makes it into my Wembley show!” Then he marched off the stage and out of the club.

You wouldn’t step onto a stadium stage with jokes you cooked up in the taxi, so why would you waste years on a book with untested ideas, stories and explanations?

Test to ensure your ideas land with people. Use Twitter and Linkedin. Use workshops to introduce one new idea per session. Do a talk at the village fête! Like Jimmy, go out of your way to test concepts, tales and descriptions with real people. See their confusion, answer their questions and try the same ideas in different ways. Drop what doesn’t work and refine what does.

When you know your material works, then you can start to write because you really don’t want your readers to have an opinion of your book like the one we had of that night at the comedy club: “Well, they do a good burger…”

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