It isn’t just a byproduct of the digital publishing age. From the time that book publishing became available to the masses instead of just royalty and the super rich, countless people have asserted that they have a book in them, all they need do is write it.
Many give as reasons that they have something to say or just have a need to express themselves. However, if you look at the sales figures for books over the last couple of centuries, the largest majority fall into the category of good old fashioned storytelling.
Storytelling pre-dates the printed page. As long as there has been civilisation, teaching as well as entertainment through storytelling has been a common method among peoples all over the planet for conveying information or enjoyment from one generation to the next. In our modern world, both are often accomplished through books.
If you write non-fiction books, it would be reasonable to guess that you’ve accomplished a level of expertise in something and either want to share it, or to profit by effectively becoming a remote teacher. There’s no shame in that. Teachers get paid after all.
Fiction is a different realm. Motivations can vary widely and some writers are more driven than others, though asking them why doesn’t always lead to an immediate answer. Those of us who write because we’re driven to write often see it as a thing in itself. The creative necessity of writing stories can be like an addiction, always driving us forward to get the right configuration of words to produce an effect within the narrative, where a reader will experience our imaginary worlds.
Since around 2010, indie publishing has become a respectable publishing option, separated from the vanity publishing that still takes advantage of mediocre writers who want to see their stories in print at any cost. Much of the dross does still get put into e-book form, but indie writers themselves have set the bar at producing books at least as good as the established publishers. Sometimes better, as talented writers choose to retain control of their stories while large publishers churn out ‘popular’ material.
The trouble is, getting better quality stories noticed among the slush pile is harder now than it was when that pile was in a publisher’s back room. What this means is that if a writer hopes to make money from writing, they have an uphill battle, regardless of skill or motivation. This has led to various ‘scams’ where opportunists publish any old dross, but present it in a way meant to get past the quality censors. To their credit, Amazon has taken some steps to put a stop to their customers getting ripped off by this sort of thing, but it also makes it a little more difficult for those high quality indie writers to get their first efforts seen.
On the bottom line, if your motivation for writing is financial, the only way to superstar status is still to submit work that will appeal to a wide audience to a traditional publisher. Or, if you’re up for putting your own money forward for speculation, paying for advertising in proven markets. This means learning which markets have been of benefit to other writers and it also means writing something that is going to appeal to a popular market and doing it well, not to mention putting in the costs and efforts for good presentation.
If your motivation is to write the kind of stories you like to read, perhaps in a speciality genre, your options are a little easier. Write the stories, get them professionally edited and a professional bookcover made. Research the possible markets and decide whether to go with Amazon’s exclusive program or to make your work available to a wider audience.
The majority of writers who choose this path make a few sales here and there, but the kind of sales that lead to quitting the day job are still reserved for a select few who get discovered mostly through word of mouth. Write something great and there’s a small chance the recognition will follow.
This leads to another common motivation for writing; celebrity culture. There was a time when telling someone you had a book published met with reactions of awe and respect. Since the opening up of the indie market, perception of writers has flipped entirely and much of the time, telling someone you published a book means avoidance. “Oh gods, s/he’s going to start talking about his/her book and I can’t take anymore author spam!”
We’ve become vilified; the minority group of the Internet. If you’re looking for adulation, look elsewhere. Writing, even really good writing, just doesn’t get the admiration it once did.
To those of us who write because storytelling is a part of who we are, that isn’t a major issue. We carry on writing because we are driven to write. Sure, we make an effort to learn about marketing and try to make our work as widely available as possible, but we understand that money, fame and respect are just bonuses when they do happen. They are not to be expected.
By far I think the most common motivation for writing fiction is that readers, having had their imaginations stimulated by books they enjoy, have a natural inclination to want to create stories of their own. What would they have done differently in the plot they just read? What kind of outcome would they have decided for a character they loved or hated? Though only a small percentage of these imaginative readers will ever finish writing a novel and of those, a smaller percentage still will have crafted it into a great story, the stimulus to share the fancies of our imagination are a basic human trait, at least among readers.
Storytelling is a natural human inclination because we have imagination. Whether writing with serious intention of publication would suit a specific person is another matter. The work involved puts off many would-be writers and the difficulty of the business of writing thins out the hobbyist from the driven writer. There is no shame in working out that professional writing is not for you. Some people are more inclined towards verbal storytelling and some just want to write out their stories for their own satisfaction or to entertain family and friends.
Not every writer has to go professional. The desire to tell a story may come to anyone. I don’t think it should ever be discouraged. Even small children make up stories as part of play. One person may have just one story they want to tell while another churns out one after another neverending. At both extremes, it is up to the individual to determine what their motivation is for writing a story, and whether the act of creating a tale must necessarily lead to dipping into the often cut throat world of publishing. For many, the exercise of imagination is enough.
Books available at: