5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Write That Book

You shouldn't write that bookI’ve heard that 80 percent of people say they have a book in them.

“That’s cool.  I’d like to write a book someday,” he says hopefully, and I nod.  Yes of course you would.

When you work in publishing and you learn that 80 percent of people think they have a book in them, you become quite selective about how and who you talk to about your line of work.  And so I’ve been very careful on this blog (since it’s MY blog, and not the firm’s blog, or my husband’s blog) to not talk too much about our work at Yates & Yates.  The problem is, it’s a BIG part of my world.  And to not talk about it here is leaving out a big chunk of my life.

What many people don’t know is that I often help the firm, which is both a law firm and literary agency, with certain projects, joining conference calls, going over marketing plans, reading manuscripts, proposals, and PR materials, social media things, cover design, endorsements, brainstorming ideas for various clients on what they want to write and why, how to get their book in front of people who will love it, how to maximize their time, and so on.  I’m often online looking at writers, what they’re saying and how it’s being received and the overall movement that is happening in the {mostly Christian} marketplace.  I’m ‘listening’ to what’s out there, because we love books, and we love our authors.

[I felt like I should give that precursor because I don’t know if the people who read this blog really know how I might be qualified to write this post in the first place.]

Back to the 80 percent:

Does it surprise you that 4 out of 5 people think they have a book in them? For aspiring authors, it should give a snapshot of how competitive and difficult it can be to actually get your book published. Only a select few books will find a publisher, and even fewer still will land on the tables at Costco.  

This is going to be a two-part post to the 80 percent — on both why you shouldn’t write a book, and why you absolutely must. Now for the cons …

5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Write That Book:

Reason #1: You shouldn’t write a book if you think it is going to be fun or easy. Writing a book is not for the faint of heart.  It looks all sexy on the outside, but on the inside, it’s a fistful of sweat, blood, tears, and {sometimes} wine.  It means vomiting your heart or your personal story or your idea to the mass public – putting yourself out there permanently on paper, forever recorded for critics or family or friends to scour over. It means scheduling writing weekends and weeks away. It means pouring over words when words don’t come. Writing a book means saying hard things, feeling a weight of awesome responsibility to your audience, and standing in a spotlight of scrutiny. It involves a considerable amount of insecurity and angst – will readers like it? Will my agent like it? Will my publisher like it? Is this just crap? Am I blowing smoke out my you-know-what? Is this what I really want to say?  And it means a whole lot of work that doesn’t involve writing whatsoever — like marketing, networking, platform building, media interviews, speaking, traveling, and kissing babies.  

Reason #2: You shouldn’t write a book just because you have a large social media following, a successful business, or a popular blog. Some people write blog posts, not books.  Some people write for magazines, not books.  Some people are amazing entrepreneurs, but that doesn’t mean they should have a book published.  Not every writer, business owner, popular blogger can be successful in the book format.

A while back I was at a friend’s party, and there was a woman there who had growing small business, a medium social media platform (several thousand ‘followers’), and she wrote for an online publication, and wouldn’t you know, an agent came knocking, which felt very flattering.  After hearing what we do, she asked me, “do you think I should write a book, and what do you think it should be about?”  “The better question,” I responded, “is do you want to write a book?  (Because it didn’t sound like she did.)  Of all the things you are juggling right now, do you feel like writing a book is what you are supposed to do?”  I was asking the question rhetorically, because if she is pondering whether she should write a book and she has no clue what even to write about, I think she has her answer.  Just because an agent approaches you doesn’t mean you should write a book nor does it mean the timing is now.

Reason #3: You shouldn’t write a book you aren’t passionate about just to fit the current buying market. I’ve had many, many conversations with writers who are passionate about a certain subject, and they want to write about that subject, but the general reading public is not very interested in that topic (right now). The publisher tells them there isn’t much of an audience for what they want to write. Do they change their book idea to write what people want to read, or do they keep trying with the book they already have? It’s such a blow to our ego to get a rejection, but it is not uncommon. Kathryn Stockett’s book, “The Help,” was rejected over 60 times and took over three and a half years of persistence to get published. Change your book idea if you must, but if you aren’t passionate about your new idea, your readers will be able to tell. Don’t give up your passion to fit a fickle buying market.

Reason #4: You shouldn’t write a book if you aren’t open to editorial critique. Several of my author friends loathe the editorial process. They labor over every word of the manuscript and send it off to their editor, only to get it back in red-line scratched up, and (in certain places) butchered. It bruises the ego. It makes them mad. It feels overwhelming. It seems nit-picky. But many of them also become very close with their editor too. They find their editor becomes a trusted companion on the publishing journey, because they have some hard, hard conversations, and their editor really makes them better. A good editor is like a good coach – she can be hard on you, but she can make the difference between a mediocre book and an extraordinary one. But you have to be open to her feedback, and that can sometimes hurt.  I also think this goes for literary agents.  Recently we helped a client reshape her proposal.  The first draft just wasn’t as sharp as we thought it could have been.  While I know it was discouraging and inconvenient for this author to go back to the drawing board, part of our job is to help sharpen her to her best. And the end product was stellar.

Reason #5: You shouldn’t write a book if you aren’t wiling to promote it. I’m not saying you have to be obnoxious about it, and I realize it can be awkward talking about your book, especially during launch time. I know you don’t want to seem braggy. But the reality is, if God has given you a message to write, you should share it, and you should be proud of it. You can do both of those things with humility. Your book is a labor of love. You’ve poured over it. You’ve dreamed of it. You have a publishing team of people who are also proud of the project. You should boldly share it with others because you believe in it. Particularly with female authors, there is a sort of false humility – a fear of being criticized by others, rather than a boldness to step up and share what they’ve written. Again, I think this can be done with humility and grace, but also with a certain kind of pride – you have birthed a book! You have stewarded a message.  It is worthy to be shared. {Pragmatically, a publisher has invested in your book, and you’ve given your time [which is money], so I’d also argue you have some responsibility to promote it as well.} But if you yourself are unwilling to promote what you’ve worked so hard on, how can you expect your publishing team and friends and family to get behind it?

Stay tuned for my next post to the 80 percent: 5 Reasons You Must Write That Book.  

If you like what you’ve read here, please feel free to subscribe to my blog (see that box right over there on the right hand side of this page?). I write once or twice a week. By subscribing, you’ll simply start receiving any new posts to your inbox so you don’t have to check back regularly.  🙂

    21 COMMENTS

  • Lindsey Nobles June 23, 2014 Reply

    Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

  • Aleah Marsden June 23, 2014 Reply

    Well, I went into this a bit nervous! I always feel like a such a fraud with all this writing stuff that I’m waiting for someone to tell me this isn’t really for me. This ended up being very encouraging, though, thank you! I’ve been tempted to change for an acquisitions editor just so I could be “published.” I agreed to rework my material, even though it wasn’t something I was nearly as excited about. In the end it still didn’t work out because of platform numbers. I sulked for a month and didn’t write anything (and ate all the feelings) and questioned the calling. In the end, I am more excited about my original project and more committed to the small ways of God’s plans.

    I wonder if that correlates with the 80% who want to write a book? (That’s an intriguing statistic!) We are naturally creatures of story. In our social media culture I think it’s a struggle to be present in the here-and-now of our stories. Easy to lose sight of the story God is telling with our lives to those in our current sphere, for the story we want to tell the world. Maybe part of the desire to be published is simply validation of our story. I know I’ve struggled with that!

    Will be sharing and look forward to the next post!

    • Karen June 23, 2014 Reply

      Thanks for this Aleah. Im so glad this was encouraging for you! Yes I do wonder if its a desire for validation and relevance. Keep writing my friend. Your words matter. <3

  • Shelly Roberts June 23, 2014 Reply

    Appreciate this post! Oooohhhh that #1!!! Indeed amen! Looking forward to your second post. 🙂

  • Shelly Roberts June 23, 2014 Reply

    Appreciate this post! Oooohhhh that #1!!! Indeed amen! Looking forward to your second post. 🙂

  • Trillia June 23, 2014 Reply

    This is great advice, friend! Thanks for sharing this part of you with us!

  • Trillia June 23, 2014 Reply

    This is great advice, friend! Thanks for sharing this part of you with us! Trill

  • Alysa June 23, 2014 Reply

    Love this! Someone told me once, “You have lots of followers, you should write a book!” I said, “Um, about what? I don’t think so.” I have never wanted to write a book just to write a book. If God gives me something to write in the future, maybe I will. But now, no.

  • Erin June 23, 2014 Reply

    Karen… When you decide to write a book… (Perhaps for children, or elementary kids)… I want to illustrate it! I think you should consider it!!!

  • Sharon Miller June 23, 2014 Reply

    Great post, Karen! Lots of wisdom here!

  • Susie Alexander June 23, 2014 Reply

    Karen, those are very wise words. A friend once told me, “I think everyone should write a book.” I couldn’t disagree more!!! If you don’t have a unique story to tell and a grand vision to back it up (along with being willing to do all the hard work and hear the criticism, as you mentioned), please don’t waste everyone’s time!
    But you said it much nicer than I did 🙂

  • Nancy H Vest June 23, 2014 Reply

    I agree with each of these, but especially with #3. A writer spends a lot of time with a book-length story, so it better be a story he loves and not just one to fit the trendy markets. Can’t wait to read the flip-side to this post.

  • Alia Joy June 23, 2014 Reply

    “Just because an agent approaches you doesn’t mean you should write a book nor does it mean the timing is now.”
    Thank you! This is super helpful. I had an agent approach me to write a book but I didn’t feel it was the right timing. After I wondered if I made a mistake not signing with her. It seems like all of my friends currently have book deals or are already published and it’s hard not to feel like I should be striving for more now. I worried I might have missed my chance. But I’m feeling more and more I made the right choice while my kids are so young and homeschooling still takes up a huge chunk of my time. I can’t wait for the next post.

    • Karen June 23, 2014 Reply

      Hi sweet Alia, of course you were approached by an agent! You’re a good writer. 🙂 But I don’t think you’ve missed your chance at all! If anything, you will only start to grow what you’ve started as you write with the incourage writers. They are a fantastic bunch — super excited for you. 🙂

  • jeannie cunnion June 23, 2014 Reply

    Thanks for this great article Karen. As a newly published author, I wrestle with #5 a lot and I am learning, albeit slowly, how to enjoy the promotion part of writing a book. Thanks for the wisdom!

  • ChavosB June 23, 2014 Reply

    “But the reality is, if God has given you a message to write, you should share it, and you should be proud of it. You can do both of those things with humility.”
    Ouch…I have personally struggle with this one (reason #5). I’m trying to figure out how to balance sharing, and do what the bible says “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips.” And guard against “false humility” and not be afraid of being criticized by others like you mentioned. Thank you for speaking the truth in love, and for this kind rebuke 🙂

  • Ilona Hadinger June 23, 2014 Reply

    Thank you for this! I was increasingly relieved and affirmed with each reason, until I reached #5. Okay, so self-promotion comes with the territory. Some pills just have to be swallowed! Looking forward to part two.

  • Christa Sterken June 23, 2014 Reply

    Appreciated this candid and necessary advice! Thank you

  • Diane Samson June 23, 2014 Reply

    I enjoyed reading your blog. I stumbled across your site by following someone else. Then I saw the title of this particular post and I wasn’t too sure what it would be. The title intrigued. Different than I thought. Glad I read it. I’ve been told I have a book in me and that I need to write it. My biggest obstacle right now is fear. I’ve been told no one wants to read My Story because there are too many out there and I’m not famous enough. But my husband keeps asking, “When are you going to write your book?’ Your post did not deter me, it has given me some new insight and vision. Do I listen to those who say memoir type books aren’t big hits? Or do I listen to my heart and just spill it out on the page. Still finding my path. But I think….after today…I will get it out on the pages and then see where it takes me. Looking forward to your next post…Why You Should.

  • Kent Dickerson June 23, 2014 Reply

    After I started writing out my story, I wished I had started many years ago – for my own benefit. It was a great help to analyze my long struggle pornography. Now, I think it is a good idea for everyone to write, just not necessarily for others :{)}

  • Anonymous June 23, 2014 Reply

    And what happens if you don’t believe in God or some higher power? Just a gentle reminder that not everyone believes in the sam God as you or, like me, even don’t believe in any religion at all. 🙂

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