So, You Want to Write a Book? Step 1: Get real.

Advice to would-be authors

One of the ways I see writers making a living these days is by selling the dream of authorship. It works like this: Thousands upon thousands of people want to publish a book, so writers who have published books provide them with training, advice, and support – for a fee, of course. Much of my livelihood, in fact, works off this model. As a ghostwriter, I help would-be authors write and publish their messages, often in the form of books.

As with all good things, however, I’ve noticed this model has a dark side. Since the Internet-of-today is all about – jargon alert! – “scaling businesses through platform building,” some writing services are going bonkers with their mass-marketing approach to the business. Some offer great advice and services. But what some are marketing in attempt to scale their businesses is – and I know this will shock you – a distortion of the truth, aka, a lie.

Ring Lardner (famous author)

So at the risk of being labeled a fuddy-duddy, allow me to suggest that all aspiring authors of the world take a moment, pump their proverbial breaks, and evaluate a few deeper realities of writing and publishing. Before shelling out boatloads of money for help with your book project, carefully consider some of the deeper realities that reside beneath the “marketed truth.”

Marketed Truth: You can write a book in a few weeks.

Deeper Reality: Very few authors have written a good book that quickly. Writing with excellence takes time and effort. It’s not always hard. Sometimes the words flow easily and quickly. But it’s not always easy. Most of the time, in fact, the writing – and especially the rewriting – is challenging. Consider these words from a few successful writers:

  • “Easy reading is damned hard writing.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” – Thomas Mann
  • “When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.” – Enrique Jardiel Poncela
  • “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler

Marketed Truth: It’s easier and cheaper than ever to publish a book.

Deeper Reality: Services like Create Space make it easy, and you no longer need the help of a traditional New York-based publishing house. But … it still will cost you if you want a quality product. Even if you’re a great writer, you’ll need great editors (plural), a great designer to make it look good and great marketers to help sell it. You’ll have to spend time and money to get the attention of the book-buying public. And, ultimately, you still probably won’t sell very many books. Most likely, you will spend far, far more to write, publish and market the book than you will make on the sales from the book.

Marketed Truth: Everyone should write and publish a book.

Deeper Reality: Speaking of fuddy-duddys, anyone remember writer/contrarian Christopher Hitchens? I seldom agreed with much that he had to say, but that doesn’t mean he was never right. For instance, he’s generally credited with saying, “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.” Very true. And Walter Bagehot, a British essayist, once pointed out that, “The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything.” Also true. So if you are a great writer who doesn’t have much to say or a poor writer with nothing to say, you certainly can write and publish a book. But please don’t inflict it on the rest of us.

OK, enough cold water. The point of all this isn’t to discourage most of you from writing and publishing a book. Really, it’s not. The point is to encourage anyone who is thinking about writing and publishing a book to do so with a clear view of reality. Measure the costs. Set a budget. Be smart about it.

When I talk to people who are thinking about writing a book, I almost always encourage them to do so. That’s because most of them feel a compelling need to write something that’s on their heart. The bigger question is this: To what end? I believe God sometimes tells us to write a book, a blog, an essay, a poem, or some other musing simply so that we can process a lesson He wants us to learn. The audience is me and God (or you and God). No one else.

Writers write because they have no choice. The message within them longs to break free and live in some form, and to suppress that message is nothing short of disobedience. So write. And if you are so called, publish what you’ve written. And, if so called, market what you’ve published. But no matter where your obedience to a message takes you, bury your expectations. As the great Flannery O’Connor put it, “When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God’s business.”

Want Free Help? Here’s a Checklist.

Want some free tips to help you think through a potential book project? I put together this list a few years ago, and I periodically update it. Click here to read my Author’s Checklist. You don’t even have to give me your email address. All it costs you is the time it takes to click the link and read it. But, hey, if you want to sign up to receive my blog, by all means, go for it!



Click here for more information on books I’ve written.