What is Takeaway Value in Writing?

By Laurie Winslow Sargent:

One common phrase used by writers, editors and agents is ‘takeaway value’ (also spelled ‘take-away value’).

It’s a critical key phrase/concept, which aspiring and advanced writers must consider for every article submission, every book proposal, even every blog post (that you hope strangers will like and share, anyway).

What is takeaway value? Here’s a clue: if I don’t give you at least a little right now, you’ll be highly annoyed with me. You want to know what that phrase means.

Answer: giving your readers something new to walk away with after reading your work, that will change them somehow.

You might offer takeaway for your readers to:

  • help them learn something new and interesting
  • make them laugh
  • make them feel better understood (you’ve been where they are now and survived)
  • give them concrete how-to: to build something new (be that a bird house, a relationship, or a book proposal)
  • give them new hope
  • lead them to great resources
  • motivate them to action (you can help point to what action): make a call, write a letter, start a movement

One takeaway for you reading this post of mine should be:

  • understanding new information (knowledge of writing terminology)

But I can’t  skimp on this. How does simply knowing what a term means help you? It doesn’t, much. You need additional takeaway. You want to know HOW it will help you sell your article or story to a magazine, get that book contract, or garner blog followers, right?

I assume that you want to:

  • understand how why takeaway is critical to selling writing

And to truly get it, I hope you want to know:

  • how to take a specific story or article of yours, improve it, make it most marketable, and help your readers

Here’s where I have to force you into a little introspection. Many writers write stories about incidents they found personally inspiring, or devastating, or unique. Then they cast it to the wind (AKA, cyberspace) hoping someone out there will be equally interested.

Online, you may indeed attract readers who accidentally find you via keyword searches. Yet your work is not done. Those readers are still asking, “What’s in it for me?” Will they finish your story? Return to read more of your stuff?  Have you offered self-absorbed rambling, or something they as a reader can benefit from?

And that’s to get readers to read a free blog post. What’s to make them want to pay for something you have written? Publishers will ask you the same thing. If you don’t offer your (their) potential readers takeaway value, your publisher won’t sell books. They won’t get back their investment in you. If it’s a magazine and they don’t meet readers needs, their reputation will go down and they’ll end up with displeased advertisers. They depend on you as a writer to give them material that will keep their readers asking for more.

A few examples…

While doing some freelance editorial work for one magazine years back, I was sent an article with a plea to do anything I could to fix it. The artwork was already scheduled, and the article assigned. The writer had promised in her a query many exciting tips. In the final manuscript, a few tips were great and many others ho-hum, common knowledge. The editor rightly feared that with too many articles like that, they might lose subscribers who wanted better takeaway value for their money. My solution as editor was to condense the article and pair it with two other stories and a sidebar in the same amount of space the original article took up.

One hard lesson I learned personally many years ago occurred when I wrote meaningful story (to me) about how I was comforted in the midst of a miscarriage, and why. (I wrote it for an editor to whom I’d sold a previous story.) My kind editor said that although she was glad for me, how would my story help another woman who had miscarried? It was one of those ah-hah moments, which forever influenced my writing.

Bringing it home

Your personal story of triumph or tragedy might have excellent elements in it, including interesting dialogue and scene setting, to put the reader in your place. But what do you leave them with, when the story is done?

If  told with impact, your message for your readers should be clear. Yet it may help them to be guided a bit, at the end. Give them some direction or offer an insightful summarizing comment or question for them to ponder. Or provide a list of resources or links, so they learn from you and continue their journey of exploration.

Take a fresh look at your current story idea. Who are you writing it for? What do you hope for them to get from it?

Next up: how to discern your target audience, so you can better anticipate reader’s needs and offer some takeaway to help meet those needs.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Shauna Hoey on October 20, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks for the tips!

    Reply

  2. AWESOME post Laurie, thank you!

    Reply

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