Not everyone wants to write a book. A great number of people, however, do possess that desire. Or that desire possesses them—that’s often more accurate. For some it’s because they have ideas that feel compelled to share. For others it’s the sense of accomplishment of having successfully strung together thousands of words and seen them encased between covers. For still others it’s economic—books can be sold, and if done well, can become a living. There are surely other reasons as well. Since I read a lot, I frequently wonder about other authors’ motivations. Often, I suspect, it’s because they underestimate how difficult it is to navigate this path to success. You have to come up with an idea that is unfamiliar to your target readership—free advice: no book appeals to everybody—that has a hook that will make them want to read it.
I’ve read books where this hasn’t been thought through well. Love them or hate them, this is what major publishing houses do well. They figure out what likely will have appeal. They make mistakes, of course. Everyone does. Still, they have a solid track record that makes them the hope of writers who have the burning need to, well, write. One of the cases where this becomes an issue is where an author tries to be funny. There is a lively market for humorous books, but if you’re trying to convey serious information but you find yourself cracking jokes along the way, you’re going to confuse, rather quickly, your readers. What are you trying to do? Make me laugh or teach me something new? What should I prepare for when I pick up your book?
Don’t get me wrong—I clearly haven’t figured all of this out myself. I do think that the combination of a doctorate (which teaches advanced research skills), and editorial work (which teaches how publishing works), should be a winning combination. Ideally, anyway. What I find is that it does make me approach books critically. I look at the publisher. I ask myself, what is this book trying to do? You see, to read a book is to enter a relationship. The book has an author. That person is sharing what she or he has thought about. By publishing it, they’re inviting you into intimate spaces. That’s why I tend to be gentle in my book reviews. I know the hunger. I too feel compelled to write. And if I don’t get the mix right, I would hope that any readers might, if they reflect on it, see that this is merely an awkward effort to begin a conversation.