Proper Motivation: Why Write a Book?

I was browsing a freelancer forum to find editing gigs, when I stumbled upon this post (name and site withheld to protect the guilty):

“I have written a novel and it came around 36,000 words.

To get published, a novel should have 60,000 words atleast and I fell short of words.

Now, I need someone who can write those additional words without actually disturbing the usual flow and without making it boring.

Most importantly it should be finished in a week.”

For this work, the job poster was offering $50-150.

My reaction:

Obviously, I didn’t apply for the job. (And I was gratified to see that the two people who HAD bid on it were asking thousands of dollars. At least they had some sense!)

But that job posting made me think about why people write books (I mean, why would you write a book and then not finish it and yet still want it finished? I was so perplexed).

I came up with three broad reasons:

  1. You’ve always wanted to write a book, and there’s a story inside you that you just HAVE to get out.
  2. You have a business of some kind and think writing a book would give you prestige, attention, sales, etc.
  3. You’re under the assumption that writing a book is really easy and you’ll get published and make a lot of money.

Yes, I put the above job posting in the third category. I don’t have a lot of advice for that guy. I mean, best of luck, I guess, but if you can’t do the right research or sit down to write your own work, well, there’s not much I can tell you, is there?

I do have things to say to those other two categories.

Now, if you’re a No. 2, you’re easy: best of luck to you. I don’t think it’s really the most productive way to sell a thing, and I personally hate reading your books, but I hope it works out for you. (How-to business books seem especially prone to being this sort; nothing really to tell me, just a lot of salesy jargon, typically unsupported by any actual facts besides your personal experience.) Not my bag, but apparently someone is buying them, so I guess that’s fine if you want to devote a lot of energy to a side project like a book.

If you’re a No. 1 (and I think most fiction writers are), there is a whole cavalcade of advice books out there for you. How to get published, what to do, what sells, who to talk to, etc. etc. etc. amen. (I’ve reviewed some of them). Depending on the book, they’ll help you write, help you edit, tell you how to get published traditionally, or try to convert you from a No. 1 into a No. 2, with the book the centerpiece of the thing you’re selling. And I guess that’s great for some people. But I’m just not wired that way.

I mean, don’t get me wrong: I would LOVE for something I have written to take off. But if it means quitting my day job, gallivanting around the country, shilling to different people and always talking about myself… well, that’s not why I wrote a book. I wrote a book because I wanted to tell a story.**

Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that, but that’s the original motive. It’s what I am trying to focus on every time I sit down to my laptop. If that means I don’t get to be a best seller…well, I’ll have to come to grips with that.

Why did you write and why do you want to get published?

**Some of those advice books insist that you can’t hold on to this idea if you want to be a publishing success. I think they are dead-wrong, but I don’t yet have the personal proof to come right out and say so.


Filed under Publishing, writing

4 responses to “Proper Motivation: Why Write a Book?

  1. PD

    I think the product matters more than the motivation, to be honest. There are so many ‘pouring my soul out’ crimson-tears types who think they can substitute enthusiasm for skill–you need a bit of both. And if you’re going to write just to sell yourself, do it so well that no one questions it.

    • That’s a good point: that’s part of why I think good beta readers and editors are important. But if I had a “good” book as the result of the kind of job posting I found? I don’t think I would ever be satisfied with myself (or the book).

  2. Reblogged this on Robin Writes and commented:
    We’ve all probably seen something like this; Craigslist is a “great” place for some of these folks to advertise…

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