If you’ve got a book inside you that’s hammering to get out, don’t let me discourage you. But before you commit yourself to the project, ask yourself a few questions:
1) Why am I writing? I touched on this last week, but the question is worth repeating. To be blunt, if you don’t feel the work is worth doing for its own sake, you may want to think twice. While it’s hard to come up with exact figures, the most common estimates on the Internet are that about 4 million new titles are published annually. No more than one in four get published through a traditional publishing house; the remainder are self-published. And the average sales for a book? No more than 1000 copies lifetime for traditionally published works. Self-published authors fare worse; most sell only a handful of copies. Very few authors break through to the extent that they can make writing a full-time vocation; for most, it’s a side gig at best.
2) Do I have the tools to produce good writing? Maybe your English classes in school were a total bore, but if you can’t spell well or use correct grammar and syntax, readers and editors will know it and will be turned off. Don’t count on spell-checkers or grammar aides such as Microsoft Editor and Grammarly to fix your problems, either. Spell checkers are notorious for missing spelling errors that result in homonyms (words that are spelled differently but sound the same, such as their, there, and they’re). Grammar aides can be very helpful in composing an email or a business letter but in my experience lack the depth of command of English grammar, usage, and style needed to write a book and have it emerge sounding as if a real, breathing, feeling human being wrote it. If you cannot write consistently and correctly at an eighth-grade level (usually considered the sweet spot for a popular-level book for adults), work on getting yourself up to that level.
3) How much time am I willing to commit to the project? You can commit half an hour a day; you can commit eight hours a day, depending on your stamina, your attention span, and other demands on your time. The point is that writing a book takes plugging away, day after day; very few people are so struck by the Muse that they can turn out a publishable manuscript in a few weeks or even months of fevered work. If you don’t develop the habit of writing regularly, the chances are that after your initial burst of activity, your work will languish in a drawer or a computer file for years, if not forever. This isn’t to say that you can’t take a break from working on a manuscript, whether it’s to work on another project or to take care of other things that have come up in your life; sometimes you spot things after taking time away from a given piece of writing that will lead to your making some major improvements. But do set a time to come back to your work and start working with it regularly again, or it may stay on the back burner permanently.
By the way, when you are looking at time commitments, don’t forget research time. It should go without saying that nonfiction writing requires a goodly amount of research, even if you are a recognized expert in the field in which you are writing. Top fiction writers also spend a good deal of time researching, more than many people think, so that they can create believable fictional worlds and make the needed suspension of disbelief possible.
4) Do I have the support of significant others in my life? If you have a spouse, a live-in S.O., or children, your devoting a lot of time to writing is going to have an impact on them. Apartment roommates may not care much if you vanish into your bedroom or workspace for hours on end to work on your project, but family members almost certainly will. If they begin feeling neglected or ignored, or put-upon because they are taking on what they consider to be an unfair share of chores or expenses, you may find yourself facing serious opposition to your writing, seriously damaged relationships, or both. You’re wise if you get them on board ahead of time.
5) Am I willing to put time and energy into marketing? If all you want to do is write memoirs or poetry for your family and friends, this may not be of any concern to you. If you want to actually make any money from your book, you will have to invest in the process of marketing and selling your books—that means getting word of mouth going, advertising, arranging book signings and appearances, and doing promotional activities and personal sales. Authors with standing reputations and big names may get sizable marketing budgets and efforts devoted to their latest works by their publishers, but that’s not most of us; count yourself fortunate if your publisher (assuming you have one) is willing to assign you a marketing specialist who will help you develop a promotional campaign, with you still doing most of the legwork and assuming most of the expenses.
I haven’t scared you off yet? Good—happy writing!