Christian Standard recently published a good series of short articles around the theme “So you want to write a book?” Anne Milam talked about the benefits of self-publishing, Daniel Overdorf encouraged writers to hone their craft, Dave Ferguson offered candid insight about the need for both a compelling idea and a significant platform, and Mark Atteberry gave the wonderful reminder that “unless you captured Bigfoot or single-handedly brought down the Taliban, don’t write about yourself.”
But even with all this great advice for aspiring authors, does the world really need more of us writing more stuff? In the United States alone, over a million books are released each year, many of them self-published volumes selling just a few dozen copies. In fact, according to Out:think, no other industry has so many new product introductions. “Many book categories have become entirely saturated, with a surplus of books on every topic,” they write. “Each book is competing with more than ten million other books available for sale.” Do we really need more of them?
I often think this when I hear of another person planning their magnum opus, but I rarely ask if the world needs another song or movie or TV show. (Well, actually I question that last one all the time. Have you seen Bridalplasty?) Books seem different because they’re a way to increase one’s own prestige regardless of the industry you’re in. A scientist or politician or preacher won’t wonder if perhaps they should cut an album, but they will think of a book as the next obvious step on a career ladder.
It also seems different because you often hear people group their desire to be an author with a string of other bucket list activities; writing a book becomes a life experience they want to have, like hiking the Appalachian Trail or petting a dolphin. This doesn’t happen with other art forms—when was the last time you heard someone say, “I’ve always wanted to direct a movie!” or “After I retire, I’m totally getting an exhibition at the Guggenheim.” These folks may be no better at crafting a sentence than they would be at creating a sculpture, but writing a book seems somehow easier than other creative work, and self-publishing makes it even more accessible. (Meanwhile, the manuscripts I routinely edit for aspiring authors argue the opposite.)
This summer a friend, himself an author, introduced me to his agent who then invited me to submit a proposal to write a book myself. I’m torn.
On the one hand I have a life philosophy of saying yes to interesting and challenging opportunities. On the other hand, I’m not interested in just adding to the noise. I keep thinking of something Ben Arment once said, that no one should write a book unless they are pregnant-to-bursting with a message they simply HAVE to get out. I wonder how many of the books published last year, and especially how many of those published in the Christian industry, met that criteria. I won’t be submitting a proposal until I’m sure mine does.
I’m glad Stevie Wonder didn’t figure the world already had enough music and Francis Ford Coppola didn’t shrug off the idea of yet another mafia movie. The world may be full of content, but there is always room for more if it’s truly good.
So yes, there are books that need to be written, ideas that need to be shared, and people who need to be writing. I’m just not sure “wanting to” is a good enough reason.