Many writers contact me regarding something they wrote—a poem, short story, memoir, novel, self-help book, family history, or something else. Some of those folks ask me, “What should I do next?” Two important questions I ask are “What do you hope to do with this piece, and why did you write it?”
It behooves us to understand why we are writing. For example, I write my memoirs because I’ve experienced incidents that readers will find funny or fascinating. I want to sell my memoirs to a traditional publisher. If I fail to convince a publisher to buy first rights, I will self-publish. Knowing what I want to write, why I want to write it, and what I hope to do with it has a strong influence on how I write.
Because I want the public to read my memoirs, I know I have to select the most interesting incidents in my life and write them like short stories that contain action, dialogue, setting, and plot. Each incident must have a beginning, middle, and end, as well. If I write a long diatribe starting from my birth to present day, I will bore readers. If, however, I choose the best incidents to write about and write them as individual stories, I will entertain readers and make them want to keep reading.
A memoir is not an autobiography. It’s not a platform from which to boast about my accomplishments. It’s meant to entertain readers.
Why do people write? Every writer has a different answer. One client said she wanted to tell the story of why she adopted a child and give the highlights of raising an adoptee. She wants to inspire others to adopt as well as encourage women with unwanted pregnancies to carry to term and give the infants up for adoption. She plans to self-publish.
Another client was writing an entertaining children’s book that highlights the need for caring for the planet. She already has a traditional publisher awaiting the book, her latest in a series.
What you hope to do with something influences how you will write it, so from the start it behooves you to understand why you write.
If you are writing a journal to express your private feelings with no intention of anyone reading it, you don’t have to worry if you hook or entertain the reader. You don’t have to concern yourself with proper word choices, grammar, or punctuation. If you want others to read your work, though, you must think of all those things and also organize the material, break it into logical chapters, ensure the reading level is correct for your intended audience, and much more.
If you hope to sell your book to a traditional publisher, you will need to keep the publisher’s preferred length in mind. You also may have to hire an editor before you submit the manuscript for consideration and will need to plan and budget for that expense.
Depending on the editor, the depth of the editing (line edit or developmental edit), and the length of your work, editing can cost be as little as $500 or as much as $10,000, for longer manuscripts. You will definitely want to keep the editing costs in mind if your manuscript is lengthy. For example, if your book is 100,000 words, you may decide to recast it into two separate books, both with a clear ending, and release the books a year apart, for budgeting purposes and also to keep the cover price in a range that more buyers will pay. If the original manuscript is 70,000 words, you may decide to cut it down to 50,000, to save on editing and printing and keep the retail price down.
If you plan to self-publish, you definitely will need to hire an editor plus pay for publishing. You must plan for those expenses.
Aristotle wisely said, “Start with the end in mind.” When you start a new piece of writing, be sure you know why you are writing it and what you plan to do with it. That information dictates what you write, the length of your piece, and how you write it. It also lets you know if you must budget for editing and publishing.
Do all those things, and your knowledge and decisions will guide you from the moment you open the new file until you type “The End.”