You Should Write a Book!
Several people have commented lately about how their friends and family don’t quite understand the process of publishing. Teri wrote:
“If you even mention an agent or editor is looking at a proposal, they want to know when the book is coming out! Or since my family tends to be supportive, they talk about having a famous relative! Hold on folks, it’s only a proposal and a rejection could be on the way!”
Many of you have experienced similar things. The minute you have an agent, everyone wants to know when they’ll be able to get your book at Barnes & Noble. It can be difficult, and a little humbling, to try and straighten them out on the facts.
There’s another scenario that illustrates how most people really don’t get it about publishing. This usually happens to people who have never even thought about writing. It’s when you’re sitting around shooting the breeze with your friends, telling about something that happened to you, and the friends start saying, “You should write a book!” Maybe it’s because of an amazing incident or an inspiring life journey. Maybe you’re funny or have a way with words. Whatever it is… it causes otherwise totally rational people to begin chanting “You should write a book!” I get several query letters each month that begin with some variation of: “For years, all my friends have been telling me I should write a book. So I finally did.”
Even though most people don’t know anything about publishing, it sure is flattering when they say, “You should write a book!” We tend to want to believe them. If we hear it often enough, we start to take it seriously.
In many cases—yours, probably—it turns out to be good advice. Who knows, maybe J.K. Rowling’s son said to her one day, “You should write a book!” But for many hopeful writers, better advice would have been something like, “You should keep a journal!”
The way I see it, the whole “you should write a book” thing makes about as much sense as watching your friend shoot hoops in the driveway, seeing them sink five in a row, and exclaiming, “You should play for the NBA!” In reality, you know nothing about what it takes to play in the NBA. And five baskets does not a Michael Jordan make.
But everyone is familiar with books. We’ve all been reading them our whole lives. So it’s easy for people to feel like they “know books.” And it’s easy for people to believe there’s nothing difficult or specialized about writing a book and getting it published… after all, so many people do it, right? (It can’t be as hard as training to be a professional athlete.) And people don’t understand the business aspects and the daunting competition, let alone the difference between being able to write, and being able to write something people will actually want to read. Most people simply have no idea what they’re talking about, whether they’re asking when your (unwritten) book will be released or saying you should write a book.
What’s the point of this blog post? I’m not sure! Maybe it just cracks me up that people who know nothing about publishing even say things like, “You should write a book.” Or maybe it’s distressing to me, because it convinces people who are not writers (but surely are talented in other areas of life) to write books and send them to me, making it necessary for me to be the bearer of the bad news… and truly, I hate ruining people’s days.
Let’s just end with this: Are you a writer partly because others told you that you should be? True confessions, now. Was it anyone with knowledge of writing and publishing? Share your story.
>Again, I’m so glad that you have put this issue in persepective.
We do not all have a publishable book in us. Unfortunately, our celebrity culture here in the UK makes it look easy. Anyone and their cat or dog who is a TV or film celebrity is being published here, at the expense of ‘real’ authors.
I’ve just attended the Cheltenham Literature Festival which was top-heavy with celebrities promoting thier autobiographies, which effectively marginalises some of our best literary talent, even in the week the Booker Prize was announced.
I think I must be one of the few people in the UK that did not have any aspirations to write a book. Sometimes I feel really guilty about this, because for other folk it is their dream. But it is a call, something God has asked me to do and so I take that very seriously. Gradually, over the years I have come to love it, even though I behaved like a reluctant child for many years!
>I started my first novella around age 14. It was a ‘wagon train’ historical. I needed a short story for a Gr 10 assignment so I took a scene from my novella and embellished it. When the marks were announced, I’d scored the highest. That was my green-light-go-ahead so I kept writing fiction.
As a young adult, I took a creative writing course to see how I ‘scored’ in the real world. My instructor liked my work. But hubby and I were both shiftworkers in the military and between work and kids, I put my novel aside. Although I always seemed to be scribbling something.
Jump forward 30 yrs. Hubby reads a Love Inspired book and when he’s done, he looks at me and says, ‘You could’ve wrote this. Why aren’t you writing?’ So he bought me a laptop and within 2 yrs, I’d written 5 of them. And I thought they were good…
But after the ACFW conf, I see how they can be so much better…
>Haha I think that is what you call self sabotage.
>I’ve decided that when I send out queries I going to begin each one, “I wrote this because my family told me I should, but I didn’t think it was very good. One night I heard the voice of God. I thought it might have been from eating the last of the Halloween candy. I went and asked Eli about it. I heard the voice again and I said ‘Speak, for thy servant heareth.’ The voice said, ‘submit your work, so the ears of agents will tingle.’ But I give you fair warning that if you read this most wonderful work of mine and you happen to be very fat, very old and sitting on a stool in the temple you may fall of backwards and break your neck. If you dare take the risk, here is my work.”
>Am I a writer because others told me I should be?
All throughout grade school, high school and college, teachers and professors told me I should pursue writing as a career. I became a journalist to pay the bills with my writing, but I write fiction because I love the escapism involved in putting myself in another character’s head.
In the past year, I’ve fallen in love with writing fiction even more because honing my craft has helped me step it up a notch.
I’m curious, though. Does that ever work? When people start out their queries with “I wrote this because my family said I should.”
To quote the Query Shark, I would think that would be: “Instant form rejection.”
Am I right?
>A magazine editor heard me preach a sermon while I was still in seminary, and he asked if I could submit my opening illustration–a personal story–to him. He published it, and then he asked if I could write more stories with a devotional point for him. So I did. And he kept publishing them.
I had received encouragement from a college English professor about my writing, but no one said I should write a book. I’m still not sure exactly where that bug came from, although when it bit, it bit hard.
Exhilarating and scary, writing that first “book.” As much as I craved encouragement and affirmation during the process, the straightforward criticism from people who know writing and publishing have helped me most.
>I write to breathe.
People tell me I am a good writer but the real reason I put pen to paper is not because of that. I do it, so I can breathe…so I can get through the day…so I can say something…so I can influence the lives of others. And yes, it can be hard. But it matters. It really does.
People that say, “You should write a book” sometimes mean well but they miss the point. The point is not to just have a book in the hand after it is all said and done. The point is the writing itself. Writing down our stories, the very action, is so liberating. We harness words and ride them. We take them and use them as tools to build whole universes and frame worlds…including this one. That’s powerful. It really is.
>Oh, good grief. I came in late today and missed out on all the fun.
Anyway, the question was: Are you a writer partly because others told you that you should be? True confessions, now.
Why am I a writer? I love to write. I love to read. I love people. I like politics, chocolate, and inspiring stories (not necessarily in that order). I love to learn (and if you’re a writer for-get-a-bout-it, you’re always learning). I love truth. I love God.
So generally, I love life. Why not write about it???
People have often told me they like they way I write, which is encouraging when I write devotionals. But fiction?? Oh, no, that’s my own crazy notion!!!
>Yes, that was a common comment before I was published. Afterward it was “You should write MY story”. The only person I listened to way-back-when was Ralph Daigh in, you guessed it, “Maybe You Should Write a Book”.
>No one has ever suggested I write a book (that I remember). But over many years numerous people have expressed appreciation of my “gift” for writing.
When I wasn’t looking, God put me in job after job that refined my writing skills. I didn’t even realize He’d done this until I wrote a bio for a book proposal.
I can pinpoint when I heard God’s call to actively use this gift for Him. Nearly ten years ago, a brother Christian called my writing a “ministry.” After I prayed about it I understood the truth in his words. Because writing is indeed my ministry, I will continue to write until God directs otherwise. My desire to be published is simply the desire to minister to more people, using my gift to produce “hundredfold” for my beloved gift Giver.
God has already directed my gift without me knowing it. How He chooses to use it in the future is still His plan, my privilege.
>”…five baskets does not a Michael Jordan make.”
Haha! I went to a Garrison Keeler reading and signing. He said people always ask him if he played basketball. He says, “Yep. Not very well, though.”
Everyone knew I wanted to write. However, I didn’t start writing a book until my mom told my sister that *she* should write a book.
Lots of people think they should write a book. I had one guy tell me, after I carefully explained my own book quest (paraphrasing), “I care too much about my project to take that risk. I’ll self-publish.”
What I do now is say, “That *is* a good story! Have you thought about submitting it to (appropriate magazine)?”
>I decided I would write a book at the ripe old age of 4. Before that, as a fluffy-haired two-year-old, I used to scribble with crayons and cry out, “Be quiet, everyone. I have to write. I NEED to write!”
My room filled up with crazy stories from the time I was six, and when I was eleven, I finally sat down to our clunky old computer with an ancient version of Windows and a very squeaky old floppy disk drive and began my first novel, burning with ambition. I reached all of 30 pages on my first draft of that historical novel, using my history books for research!
But you know what? I couldn’t get that story out of my head. I rewrote it every year throughout my teens, terrible draft after terrible draft, and I delved into real historical research of the more traditional kind. 😉
By now that story has morphed into something far different, a piece of historically accurate fiction that is actually fit to be published. Meanwhile my historical research has given birth to other stories, waiting to be written when I start querying my current project.
I would say my reasons and motivations for being a writer can still be summed up in that declaration. “I have to write. I NEED to write!”
>I hear it all the time. It’s both bane and blessing, considering I now more fully understand the process involved in getting it published. But it is those earlier “hearings”…those ones that came to me in my youth from my junior high teachers–those words of promise they penned in my yearbooks–that speak most clearly these days.
They told me I had a gift and that I should tend to that gift. In doing so over the years, I’ve become a better writer, a better thinker, a better communicator, and a better seeker. Thus, I no longer cringe when I hear other’s admonition to “write a book.” I simply thank God for the wisdom of parents and teachers who seeded a hope in me early on.
It keeps me to the pen, even when it breathes humble and hard.
>Yes, Rachelle…did anyone ever say to you, “You ought to be an editor or an agent?”
I know the process is long and hard, but I using the excuse “I’m writing a book!” to explain to my family and friends my long hours on the computer and subscriptions to magazines and not really listening to the conversation…
Do I have to tell them?
Seriously, I tried to ignore the story in my head, until I HAD to write it down. Whether it ever gets published, I don’t know, but at least it’s written down.
Writing isn’t something you choose; it chooses you.
>All through school I was told that I was a good writer, but I don’t recall anyone suggesting I should write a book. I guess they all knew the difference between a book and a term paper.
When I first decided to write fiction, I had no support at all, and I gave up after a couple of stories were rejected. Years later I went back to it, this time with the support of my husband and a few select friends, and I’ve kept at it. But the impulse came from inside me. In fact, one reason I decided to write again was so that I would have something in my life that I did only for ME!
>I was a huge bookworm but never thought about writing as a career. Until in seventh grade I started a romantic suspense and all my friends squealed at my “genius”. Then my literature teacher give me some huge compliment on an essay and I promptly went home to start my first manuscript (now hiding on my hardrive.) Still didn’t think about writing as a career though, until my editor at the newspaper where I wrote told me I should write a book. LOL
That’s when I discovered eharlequin and the writing world.
I’d love to know how you became an editor, and then decided to agent.
>What a fun post.
Ok, no one even knew I’d written a book for years after I had. I’d never longed to be a writer, nor had I done much of it growing up. It was so strange then, that out of nowhere, ideas begin flooding my brain.
After joining ACFW and a few crit groups and taking some courses, it all fell into place. NEVER had I expected to be put on this path, but God is opening doors, so I will continue walking through them as long as He opens them. Whether it’s all the way to publication or not.
>Ha! I love this post! Ever since I first got published, people have scampered out of the woodwork and told me/e-mailed me/messaged me, “Everyone tells me I should write a book! I mean, they’re practically HOUNDING me to write a book. How should I go about that?”
Hmmm… I hate ruining people’s days too, so I usually smile, say encouraging things, and point them to my website where I share my journey to publication (and link to your blog, Rachelle!).
My English teachers told me I should be a writer. My Calculus teacher said I should be an engineer. 🙂
>People were always telling me I should write a book, but when I got a phone call from Greg Johnson out of the blue that said “Are you a woman of faith? Do want to write a book?” I took him seriously..good thing- we’ve just turned in book 4!
>Let’s just end with this: Are you a writer partly because others told you that you should be? True confessions, now. Was it anyone with knowledge of writing and publishing? Share your story.
My college professor said I was a great writer, and that I should change my major from Finance to English. Do you think I listened to him? No!
I’ve also had other people tell me that I should write a book because I describe things so well.
I don’t believe these experiences led me to write. I believe my love for reading caused me to want to write a book.
I could really empathize with your entire post, though. Back in the mid-nineties, when I first started writing my romance novel, and joined RWA to learn more about the publishing process, I finally shared my dream with my friends and family. They said: “Don’t you need a lot of money to get published.”
I patiently explained that I wasn’t trying to self-publish. They still didn’t “get it”. They still thought that I misunderstood and they further said that only rich people can get a book published. They assumed that all authors paid the publisher to publish their books!
Then, they’d said: “Well, you need to be friends with somebody at the publisher if you want to get your book published. They’re not gonna just publish books that people just send to them. If you don’t know anybody, then your book is never getting published.”
They didn’t know what an advance was. They didn’t know about earn out. Your post really got me to thinking about my pre-pubbed days…
>I remember walking through a Barnes and Nobles as a teen and looking at the big, fat paperback bestsellers on an end display and thinking — how do they do that? I could never come up with a plot that long. Very ironic, since my mss is 200,000+ words.
I wrote my first “book” at 5 — and my first chapter book (i copy page per chapter) somewhere around 12 I think. (I don’t have either). But mostly my stories were in my head, i just always thought I had an overactive imagination. I would always play out my stories — dressing up, running around the neighborhood acting out the scences, etc. And I was always a boy. Boy were cool. (I use to pray God would make me a boy, but I always woke up still a girl). I guess that’s why my MC is a guy, lol.
>I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. Honestly, I started out never wanting to be published, content to hobby-write for the rest of my life. Somewhere in college (a few years ago), I started taking myself seriously. A few people may have said I should try to publish or whatever…but it was never a big ordeal to me.
Although, you might think this is funny, Rachelle: When I was eleven I mailed a short story (fifteen pages, double spaced) to a publishing house. I copied the address off the back of a Mandie Mystery and put a handful of one dollar bills and coins into the envelope for shipping and handling. Didn’t tell anyone about it, and promptly forgot I’d done it.
About six months later we’re at my grandparents and my parents (or one of them) came back from checking the mail.
Mom: Kaci, did you send something to [name of publisher]?
Me: (after thinking about it a minute) Oh. Um, yeah, I did. A story.
Mom: Well, I think you just got your first rejection letter.
Me: Oh? They wrote back? Cool. Ah well. I didn’t expect anything.
I really wish I knew who got that thing and sent me the rejection – It’d be hilarious.
Anyway. So yeah. Occasionally now I get the goofy “rich and famous” or “when’s it come out?” thing, but yeah. Most amusing to me is when people think it’s slow when the book takes less than a year to go to print. I want to tell them that’s likely pretty quick.
Ah well. Hehe.
Honestly, the friend/book reviewer who got me serious actually nearly scared me out of writing (I’ll never tell her). So now I’ve gone from the hobby-writer to the overachieving perfectionist writer.
Ah well. Thankfully I’m fast. God has a funny sense of humor. I’m a “soon-to-be” published writer now, and I think God is still laughing at the way this has all gone down.
I know I am…. 0=)
Anyway, enough of me. Have a good one, Rachelle and All.
>Hi, Rachelle. I’ve been lurking here for a while but had to jump into this conversation. Your post made me laugh, but also struck a chord with me.
I’ve been told several times that I should write a book. Thankfully, I realize that as of yet, I don’t really have a story to tell or a call from God to write a book.
What I do have is a desire – and I’m pretty sure, a call – to work in publishing. As I’ve started researching the industry, I’m more convinced than ever that I should NOT write a book! 😉 But I look forward to someday helping all of you who do!
>I’ve wanted to create stories since I read the Narnia series at age 11. I write because that’s what I feel driven to do. In writing, I push myself to excel further than I can imagine doing on any other career track.
I don’t recall anyone ever having told me I should write a book before I actually did. If anything, I would hear the opposite. Most folks I know seem to believe writing a novel is a self-indulgent pastime. Of course, that doesn’t stop them from reading novels and enjoying them. What must they think of the authors of all those gripping reads?
>I don’t recall anyone telling me, “you should write a book.” Plenty of people have said, “You should get married,” but no one considered that I would write a book.
My true confession is that I thought self-publishing looked interesting and decided I wanted to try it. It’s hard to self-publish unwritten work. Once people picked their chins off the floor, they began to ask about my next book. That’s part of the reason I’ve continued self-publishing rather than adding my work to the slush pile. With all the interruptions this year, it took most of it to complete my latest novel, so even though it’s probably the closest thing to “ready” I’ve ever written, I pandered to my few fans and self-published it.
Like everyone else, I want he validation of traditional publication, but maybe it is enough to have my mother tell me she cried when she read a scene or to have Dr. Farmer say with a big grin on his face, “I never knew you could get so much out of one rat in the church!” If I never get a contract or if I get a million dollar advance, it won’t mean half as much as the support of my friends.
>Great post. 🙂
My husband told me to write a book, and I did.
He definitely knew nothing about publishing. And considering I haven’t gone back to the high paying job I once had, he probably regrets his advice. 😀
>For me I think writing has sort of followed me around. I was convinced I was going to be an actor for the rest of my life – but then I realized theatre life (and working nights) isn’t really for me. I also realized I wanted to raise my kids in the midwest. Sigh. I’m a homebody.
So out went that dream – but writing has always been the constant… it’s just been mostly drama or non-fiction that I’ve written. Sometimes I wonder myself what I’m thinking pursuing fiction – maybe I’m just trying to give voices to all the characters in my head and somehow come out seeming normal…?
Funny post, though, Rachelle. And so true. People REALLY don’t understand how much actually goes into writing a book!
>LOL! This reminds me of the Shakespeare syndrome. I spent my undergrad years wth a lot of hyper-intelligent people who had all read Shakespeare. As a result, whever a Shakespeare production went up on campus (such as my senior project in theater, _A Midsummer Night’s Dream_), people would compliment the work, but could not resist going on to say: “You know how the Fairie Queen controlled her fairies? I really think she should have been more domineering.” Or “Did you ever think about dressing Bottom as a French mime instead of as a donkey?” Or “That was a pretty good Puck, but the one I saw at the Royal Shakespeare Company had three heads and it was awesome!” Everyone was an expert when it came to Shakespeare, just like everyone is an expert writing critic. 😉
>I usually get: “remember me when you’re rich and famous” OR “I’ll be able to say I knew you when!”
ACK!! I hate that.
Unless you are JK, most children’s authors do not make a ton of money.
I do set them straight and watch their faces fall. Oh well. It’s better than leaving them with the wrong idea, I suppose.
Maybe someday, when I’m rich and famous, they can say I told ya so! hahahahaha!!
This post was doubly enjoyable for me, since one of the most popular talks I give is “You Should Write A Book,” subtitled “The Rocky Road To Writing.” Whether presented to a local Rotary Club or a state-wide gathering of church librarians, at the end of the talk I always get the same comment: “I had no idea all that was involved.”
Writers are generally respected, especially by other writers and folks in the publishing industry, but there is precious little understanding on the part of much of our readership. Perhaps the crest of our craft should feature a picture of Rodney Daingerfield.
>Gee, thanks, Rachelle. All these years practicing three-pointers in my driveway for nothing!
This must happen in every line of work. I had to stop telling people I worked for the highway department after a while. Whenever I did, the first words out of their mouth were, “You know, you people really ought to…” It’s amazing how many people think they can solve traffic problems just because they can drive a car! Makes me wonder why I took all those courses in college.
True confessions: I have had people tell me I should write. And no, they didn’t know anything about publishing. But I also know the value of good advice, learning the craft, and making contacts, and I won’t send anything out until it’s as good as it can be. So you see? Some people do listen to the professionals!
>The first time my own mother ever told me I should be ANYTHING was in February, 2008, during one of her frequent near-death medical emergencies.
My sister, Mom, and I were in the ER when poor Mom, in a moment of salient eloquence, turned to me and said, “You look just like Kathy Griffin. You should be a stand-up comedienne.”
It’s not a book, I guess, but maybe it’s getting close! 😉
In other news, author Nancy Moser (personal friend) has been encouraging me to write a book since I took a novel writing class from her in Kansas City in 2000 or so. I did NaNoWriMo in 2001, and have been working at it ever since.
>I share all those frustrations, especially the one about now that you’re agented, when is your book coming out?!! And even if you take an hour to explain the entire process, they’ll ask the same question again a month later!!
For me, writing has always just been a part of me. I wrote my first ‘romance’ when I was thirteen, and yep, it was gruesome. But I loved it. Publication was never a dream of mine until someone asked why I wasn’t pursuing it. I then had to sit back and ask the same question. So I did. Unfortunately I knew literally (oops) nothing about the process, internet wasn’t in existence yet, and I received some really hard rejections. I’m not sure why I didn’t give up at that point, but I think it was because I knew I loved to write. Once I rededicated myself to God at around age 30, I decided that if I was going to write anything it was going to be for His glory, not mine. That’s a lot easier said than done. Thankfully the world presents me with reality checks almost daily and I’m able to examine why I’m doing this thing that everyone thinks is like popping in the car, driving to the store for a gallon of milk and popping home again. Not. For me, this journey is often like open-heart surgery. But I do it now because I love it and feel called to do it. I still sometimes have a hard time believing I’m actually any good at it.
>I write because I love to write, but I’m fortunate enough to have friends and family who believe in me. But my love of writing came first.
I’m also an editor. I went to school to become one, then worked at a newspaper, then moved into the bottom rungs of a publishing house, moved onto a better job at a different house, then moved onto my freelance work from there. When I tell people what I do, half the time the response is, “I’m a good speller. I’ve always thought I would make a good editor. How can I get a job doing what you do?” I used to almost get offended, which I know is a ridiculous response. So now I just say, “Go take some courses and then see what your professors say.” I think all sorts of jobs, writing included, appear easy to those not caught up in the midst of them, especially if we–or someone else–believes we have an innate talent. Very few things are as easy as we hope.
>No one ever told me I should write a book 🙁 I kind of stumbled into the whole writing thing. But while I was learning the craft and writing I was desperate for someone to validify my writing. My family all loved my work and told me I’d be a big success someday but I didn’t want to be one of those American Idol auditioners who say, “My family says I sound like Whitney Houston” then come off howling like a cow in labor. That was my biggest fear.
Fortunately, I did find someone who was objective and fair and knowledgeable told me I did have potential. That was all I needed to hear.
>I never had anyone tell me I should write a book. In fact, in school, some of my teachers probably wished I wouldn’t. LOL.
However, these voices in my head just wouldn’t shut up! I’d make up characters, create scenes, and watch them play out in my head. I finally took the plunge to write after reading a novel by a popular author that really touched me. I’ve been writing since. It’s been quite a journey!
>My parents have been telling me I should be a writer ever since I won my first writing contest in grade school. I’ve since lost the story I wrote, but I’m sure it didn’t make any sense. I was seven for crying out loud!
But alas, I haven’t been able to shake the writing “bug” ever since. “I want to write,” has now turned into, “I need to write.” Published or not, I will write for as long as the Lord allows me to be on this earth, but it all started thanks to a tiny contest and my parents big dreams.
>I was a business major taking a writing class and the professor, who’s an amazing teacher and writer, told me I needed to be a writer. So I switched majors and now pursue the dream.
>My 50 year-old brother-in-law, who doesn’t have kids and never wanted them, always tells me, “You should make your kid…”
I always ask, “What makes you an expert, or gives me any reason to want to listen to you?”
Okay, I don’t really say that, but I think it – LOUDLY.
It’s the same thing.