You know how sometimes a conversation with someone just sticks with you and ignites all kinds of thoughts in your head?
That happened to me recently, in an email conversation with my friend Kent Sanders, of the Daily Writer Podcast and the Daily Writer Club. That conversation actually led to another wonderful conversation about book ideas that’s going to air this coming Monday on the Hungry Authors podcast, so I won’t spoil that episode for you. But in the meantime, it’s gotten me thinking a lot about why people write and publish books.
I know some authors and book coaches who believe that too many people are writing and publishing books. And I know others who think that everyone has a story and a message worth sharing, and should put it out into the world for others to enjoy and learn from.
In typical Enneagram 9 fashion, I understand both perspectives, and I don’t think I have to hold either of those opinions.
It is true that more people have stories and messages worth sharing than actually share them, for a variety of reasons.
And it is also true that some people pursue publishing books who have no business doing so, for a variety of reasons.
On Monday, you’ll hear Liz, Kent, and me talking about the ideas worth pursuing. But right now, I want to talk about the reasons you shouldn’t write a book.
I’ll preface this by saying that I’m posing some hard questions here. You might disagree with them. But you should scrutinize yourself and your idea before you commit endless hours and effort to creating something. Let’s refine our thinking and our motivations with a little bit of friendly fire, shall we? I hope that by testing your commitment to writing a particular book, your work will be stronger for it in the long run.
In no particular order, you shouldn't write a book if...
You don’t like talking about your story/idea in public.
Many prospective authors don’t want to talk about their idea in public—often because it feels too vulnerable or sensitive to share about. Or perhaps because other people might be offended. This is honestly baffling to me. If you don’t like talking about it, why on earth would you immortalize it in one of the most widespread and pervasive mediums that exist, where it will stay for all time, available for whoever comes across it?
You have to be passionate about a book—so passionate that you can’t stop talking about it. If you’re not that annoying neighbor at a party looking for every conversational opportunity to turn it back to your own book idea, is it really worth it to you?
You don’t like promoting yourself or your ideas.
Related to the above, a book is a product. The whole point of making it available in this medium is for people to buy it. Regardless of whether you traditionally publish or self-publish, you will be responsible for selling it to other people.
If the idea of selling yourself feels icky to you, ask yourself why? Are there legitimately icky sales practices that you can and should avoid? Could you instead find ways that feel authentic and others-serving instead of self-serving?
But make no mistake: If you publish a book, you’ll have to start selling.
Your idea can more effectively reach your audience in another format.
Sometimes a book is not the right product choice. Sometimes, your idea should be an online course or a video series or a podcast or a community or a tweet instead. You might want to do some market research to find out if your audience wants to learn whatever you have to teach through a book. There might be a better format that appeals to them and gives you more flexibility.
Have you thoroughly planned out what you want to say? Have you thought about how readers will experience it as a physical (or even digital) book?
You aren’t ready to devote time to writing it.
Think back to the last time you said, “I don’t have time for X.” It probably wasn’t too long ago.
Let’s say you write 500 (shitty) words an hour. If you’re writing a 50,000-word book, that’s 100 hours at a minimum that you’ll need to devote to this endeavor. Writing it is just the beginning, so 100 hours is barely scratching the surface, but let’s just go with that.
Now ask yourself: If I didn’t have time for X, how would I have time to put the 100+ hours in to make this book happen?
If you’re thinking, “Yeah, but my book is more important to me than X!” That’s great. So then, seriously, ask yourself: where am I going to make time to make this book happen?
You haven’t read any other books on this topic.
I’ve used this analogy before and I’ll use it again.
Imagine you walk into a restaurant, and at every table there’s a different conversation happening. You go to the table where they’re talking about your favorite topic—the topic you want to write a book on.
Do you plop yourself down and interrupt everyone else to start sharing your thoughts?
Imagine the nasty looks you’d get. Someone thinks, “I just said that.” Someone else thinks, “That’s old news.” Someone else thinks, “We’re taking this conversation in a different direction, dude.”
Of course, you would never do that.
Instead, you would listen carefully to what others are saying, and you would consider what you have to contribute that adds value to the conversation.
But you’ll never know how you can add value if you don’t first listen to what everyone else is saying.
So it goes with books.
You’re not thinking about the next book.
Authors put too much pressure on their first book, feeling like they have to pour everything into it and that they need to be Malcolm Gladwell on the first try. Even Malcolm Gladwell wasn’t Malcolm Gladwell on the first try.
Too many authors are thinking short-term; they’re only thinking about this book instead of planning to write multiple books. Planning from the beginning to write multiple books takes the pressure off of your first book and gives you permission to get better over time.
This book is practice for the next one.
You haven’t tested out the idea.
I do this, too. I have a lot of faith in my own gut feelings about an idea. I feel confident that everyone else is going to like it, too. But I learned early on in my publishing career that I’m not as brilliant as I think I am. :) I have a lot of great ideas, but I have a lot of bad ones, too. I’ve learned not to hold onto my ideas too tightly until I’ve tested them out in public—ideally multiple times.
Practice in public. You’ll learn so much from the feedback you receive!
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