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If you want to write a book, stop before you start

By Blake Atwood

The calls start innocently enough.

“I found you online while searching for an editor. I want to write a book.”

Then I’m regaled for a couple of minutes—sometimes much longer than that—about the content of this ethereal, would-be, much-desired future book.

But I don’t need to know all that much about the content of your book. Not at the beginning.

What I need to know is why you think you’re ready to write your book.*

***

The bane of modern publishing may also be its savior.

Digital self-publishing opened the floodgates and drowned the gatekeepers. With Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, anyone can publish their book in a minute.

In fact, when a friend of mine read an article about how easy self-publishing to Amazon was, he wrote and published a one-line book, placing it on sale for 99 cents.

It has two one-star reviews, one of which is a verified purchase.

Any cursory glance through Amazon’s search results shows that self-publishing is full of drivel. But it’s also replete with success stories: Andy Weir, Rupi Kaur, Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn—the list is long. These authors have earned wild success on their terms because those floodgates flew open.

That’s one reason why the authors who speak to me want to write a book.

It’s easy, right?

***

I tend to cut new client calls short these days, especially when the question of a book comes up. If their summary lasts much longer than two minutes, I break in with one of three questions:

  • “So, who’s this book for?”
  • “What’s your platform like?”
  • “What’s been your writing experience up to this point?”

If you don’t have ready answers to any of those questions, you’re not ready to write your book.

In fact, I could argue that, even if you do have those answers, you may still not be ready.

The would-be client hems and haws.

“I know, I know. I should be working on my email list. Or blogging. Or finishing writing the thing before thinking about publishing. But I just know I want to write this book now.”

About the only time I’ll give into that is if you’re a previously published author.

However, if it’s going to be your first book, I’ll recommend what Seth Godin wrote in This Is Marketing:

“Begin with a hurdle you can leap.”

***

Writing a book is hard work.

Writing a good book is harder work.

Writing a great book is devastatingly hard work.

Writing a perennial classic is devastatingly hard work plus luck.

Saying “I want to write a book” will not ensure your book is good or that it will sell once you’ve written it. Wanting to launch your brand or business on the curtails of your first book isn’t prime motivation either. If people don’t know you or know what to associate with you, they won’t care about your book. (I know this from experience.)

So, stop setting your sights on the marathon’s finish line.

Focus on the next hundred yards. 

***

A few suggestions:

Define your audience. (You may need to define yourself first. What do you want to be known for?)

Find your audience. Where do they live online? Offline? What are their other tastes? If you had to guess the kinds of media they consume, what would you write? The kinds of groups they join? What products they buy?

Start your blog. Better, especially for authors, start your email newsletter.

Pitch articles. Become a subject matter expert for what you want to be known for. Just imagine what you could do if people searched for your area of expertise and they couldn’t escape your name because it appears on so many different, well-known sites?

Don’t overthink what you do, and don’t do all of those tasks. Pick the one you know you need to work on.

Then just do it, and commit to doing it at a set schedule, whether that’s daily, weekly, or monthly.

And always keep writing. Never let writing become a second-tier priority. Always have a project in the works. As soon as you let the business of writing kill your passion for writing, you’ll become paralyzed.

Yes, it’s unfortunate that we have to write more words to market our “real” words, but that’s our world. (Arguably, that’s always been the writer’s world.)

But no one said the writing life was easy.

Now, do you want to write a book?

Photo by Plush Design Studio from Pexels

*This is mainly geared toward nonfiction writers, who comprise the majority of authors with whom I work.