Why Are You Writing Your Book?

CC Image • Wiertz Sébastien on Flickr
CC Image • Wiertz Sébastien on Flickr
Over the next few months, I’ll be blogging through the questions I ask in The Self-Publisher’s Checklist: 33 Essential Questions to Ask Yourself Before Self-Publishing, a resource you can get for free by subscribing to my email list. While it’s meant to help you wrap your mind around the immense number of issues to consider when self-publishing, the downloadable PDF offers no answers.
It could be a blocked writer’s worst nightmare: multiple blank areas waiting for definitive words.
But these are hard questions, especially if you’re a first-time self-publisher. That’s why I’m blogging through every question. [ref]And also because Jim Woods said that he’d much rather have answers to all these questions—or at least further explanations—than just having a worksheet to fill out. Since Jim is a smart guy, I listened.[/ref] When I self-published The Gospel According to Breaking Bad last year, there were only a few of these 33 questions that I ever answered with any kind of definitiveness. I would have saved myself a lot of time and effort by going into my self-publishing journey with many of these questions answered before the fact.
For this series, I’ll be sharing my own experiences in self-publishing my book. Just know that my experience is not prescriptive, it’s descriptive. I will never say, “This is exactly how you should answer this question.” There are so many variables involved in self-publishing a book that anyone who tells you to follow their exact self-publishing strategy is just trying to swindle you.
What I did may not work for you. What I didn’t do may work for you. While I’ll be stating how I would have answered these questions, I’ll also ruminate on the many ways one could answer these questions. I’ll try to find great articles that can help you think more deeply about the question at hand. There’s so much good content being written by self-published authors that it can be a daily, though often delightful, chore to wade through all of the information. I want to help point you to the good stuff, and I encourage you to point me to the good stuff as well.
Blogging through the 33 questions of The Self-Publisher’s Checklist will be a learning experience for me as much as I hope it is for you. To that end, I ardently desire comments on these posts on how you’d answer a question, or links to other articles you’ve read covering the same topic.
Now that we have the series introduction out of the way, let’s commence with answering the first, and maybe even the most difficult, question to consider when self-publishing:

Why are you writing your book?

I’m not sure that self-published authors give enough serious consideration to this question before starting their pièce de résistance. I know I didn’t. My answer to this question changed three or four times during the writing of my book, but I never answered it before starting my book. Knowing the why before eradicating that blinking cursor for the first time can provide an uncanny focus on your end goal(s).
So, let’s consider a few possible answers:

I Want to Make Money

Let’s just get this one out of the way. Yes, you can make money by self-publishing your book. Will you reap a writing career after self-publishing your first book?
You may be able to stake claim to a writing career after your 10th book, but only if you’ve been smart about your books and book marketing, or incredibly lucky with one of your releases. In a recent Digital Book World report on indie author earnings, they relayed that most self-published authors make less than $1,000 per year.
Read that again in case your main motivation in self-publishing is to make money:
Most self-published authors make less than $1,000 per year.
Now look at your current yearly salary. Now look at this: $1,000 per year.
Here’s Digital Book World’s fancy graph to belabor the point:
Yes, your earnings could skyrocket once you get past the “aspiring writer” stage, but even then, choosing to self-publish just one book will not allow you to retire early.
However, wanting to earn money from your book is not a bad motivation at all. In fact, I’ve found that learning about the marketing aspect—and having total control of that marketing—has been fascinating. It’s OK to want to make money from your self-published books; just don’t quit your day job.

I Have To

Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Maya Angelou echoes the sentiment: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” In other words, sometimes the motivation to write a book is because you have to. Your soul mandates it. Regardless of whether or not it’s any good or an audience ever reads it, you’ll write your book because it’s a story that sings to be released from the cage of your mind. This is an admirable answer, and it may even make your work better (or at least not so self-conscious) if you’re wholly unconcerned with critical reception.
However, a majority of authors would likely provide this answer. They write because they’re compelled to, even if they can’t say who’s doing the compelling.

I Want to Prove to Myself That I Can

Writing is hard.
Writing a book is harder.
Writing a book that people want to read is harder still.
Writing a book that people want to read and buy is even harder still.
Writing a book that people want to read, buy, review, and share for years on end is Everest.
Completing any of the steps above is cause for celebration. It’s a chance for you to sing a quiet Song of Myself, to laugh in the face of Resistance, to know that you’ve achieved a goal you’ve always had.
When I finally got serious about completing my book last year, this was my reason. I told my doubting, insecure, self-conscious writer self to shut up for once. Come hell, high-water, or 1-star Amazon reviews, I was going to see my book live.

Now It’s Your Turn

This question—Why are you writing your book?—can have dozens of different answers, even from the same person. So, I’m curious.

Why are you writing your book?

Or, why did you write your book?

Comment below (and definitely leave a link to your book if you’ve written one). I’ll be fascinated to read your answers.
P.S. A question that doesn’t exist in The Self-Publisher’s Checklist is one that I’ll consider in next week’s post: Why self-publish?