Everybody Keeps Saying You Should Write a Book. But Should You?


Jerry Payne

July 20, 2022

You’ve had an amazing life. Or an especially difficult one. Or an inspiring one. Whatever kind of life you’ve had, every time you begin talking to someone about it, you’re met with the same reaction: “Wow, you should write a book!” But should you?

As the ghostwriter of over thirty memoirs, you’d think my answer would be an unequivocal yes. (Especially if you were thinking of hiring me to help you write it!) But my answer is something less than unequivocal. My answer is: it depends.

When I’m approached by a potential new client, I always ask the same thing: What are your goals for the book? If one of your biggest goals is to get published and strike it rich, I’m going to tell you that, unless you’re famous, there are much better ways to invest your time and money. It’s extraordinarily difficult to get a book published these days, at least by the big publishing houses. That’s just the reality of the marketplace. Amazon has sucked a lot of profit out of the publishing industry. Some of the bigger publishing houses folded, some merged, and none of them will take on a project that they don’t believe will be a huge success right out of the gate. And that usually means the author is already well known. Sadly, having an amazing life, or an especially difficult one, or an inspiring one, isn’t quite enough.

As I point out in my book Writing Memoir: The Practical Guide to Writing and Publishing the Story of Your Life, less than one-half of one percent of manuscripts from unknown authors are accepted for publication by the mainstream publishing houses. Now, there is an alternative: self-publishing. I highly recommend an author self-publish his or her book and I make that service available to my clients. Self-published authors can make their books available on Amazon faster, maintain full editorial control, and make more profit on a per-book basis. But the problem with self-publishing is that you have to be prepared to market your book yourself. Your book might be on Amazon, but people need to know to look for it there in the first place. How much marketing know-how do you possess? How good are your social media skills? How much time are you willing to devote to pushing your book to the public?

Truthfully, the bottom line is that it’s often a chore just to break even on a book.

So if all of this is true, then why should someone write a book? One solid reason is to use the book as an adjunct to another project. I’ve had clients successfully use their books to further their business or to help launch a business. A book suggests that you’re an expert in your field. It’s a calling card, of sorts. A brochure. The book will pay for itself not by the sale of copies, but by bringing in business.

For my money, here’s the best reason of all to write a book: because you have to. If you have a book inside of you that just has to come out, to where you know you’ll regret it one day if you don’t write it, then that’s a wonderful reason to write a book. And if it helps even one reader, inspires them or motivates them in some way – if that’s enough for you, then write your book. If that’s how you feel, then you’re the kind of person who ought to write a book. Moreover, if you have that kind of passion for your subject matter, then you’ll have the kind of book that people ought to read.

If you’re that kind of potential author, then I’m in full agreement with your friends: You should write a book.

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