We don’t need more books in the world; we need better books. We don’t need another mystery novel or cancer survival story or career advice tome. We don’t need another seven steps or four laws or twelve rules for anything, really. Sorry. We just don’t. The world is full of bad books, and we don’t need any more of them.
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This is a myth we hear in the writing world today: “We need you to write! We need you to say something! If you don’t, no one else will.” But that’s like saying we need you to run for office. We need more politicians, more marketers, more people fighting to be heard!
No. That’s not it. We, the reading public, don’t need you to write any old book. We need you to write one worth reading, something so strong it demands our attention. We need you to not just be good but to be interesting, to earn the right to be heard.
This is a job. It’s a calling, a sacred responsibility that ought to be taken seriously. If you can get out of it, you should. When Augustine became bishop of Hippo, he wept. Any leader who grasps the weight of her vocation understands this. Writing is a gift and a privilege, to be sure, but it is not an indulgence. It is not something you are owed. Writing is work. And we need you to do your job.
JD Salinger wrote Catcher in the Rye and spent the rest of his life a hermit. Ernest Hemingway won the Nobel prize for literature and killed himself. Emily Dickinson wrote love poems and died a spinster. There is a cost to this work. Remember that.
A book is a piece of art, and like any great work, we should take great care to contribute something meaningful to the medium rather than splashing paint on a canvas because someone told us to do so. Yes, we need your voice; and if you don’t speak up, maybe no one will. But this doesn’t mean you should write a book.
I once met a blogger who told me he had a wonderful idea for a book. He’d spent two years deliberating over how he would write it. After he told me his idea, I agreed it was good and asked, “How much have you written?” He said he hadn’t. “Not even a blog post?” I asked. Not even a tweet. He had gotten ahead of himself. We all do this sometimes. Never assume an idea should be a book before you have tried to make it everything else first.
These days, shortcuts are everywhere. For $20,000, you can buy your way on to a TedX stage. For $50,000, you can land yourself on the bestseller list. Everything is easy now… except the part where you have to show up and create something exceptional. We don’t need more authors establishing themselves as “authorities.” Treating a book as a business card is a terrific way to write a terrible book.
I believe in a world of more-than-mediocre books, of authors who care about the words they put on the page more than their follower counts. We need better books, not more business cards—smarter authors, not bigger platforms. We need you to care, to craft a message that means something, to give us your intention. To speak up instead of just saying anything.
We need your humility, an earnest desire to create lasting change with real words that mean more than a tweetable. We don’t need more personal brands. We need leaders with ideas worth spreading—clearer thinking instead of larger egos.
We need your respect for the craft. To bring all of you to the table and share a message with a willingness to believe it before anyone else does. We need you to love what you do more than you need your name on a cover. We need a voice that deserves our trust.
We need more than merely a good idea. We need your greatness, your passion, your pathos. We need you to surprise us, to say something worthy of disagreement. To make a stand, pick a fight, to be willing to endure the vitriol that comes.