Saturday, June 28, 2014

Thinking of writing a book?

Recently, I was asked to present to a small writing group on "writing a book." I was given very little other guidance. At first, this felt a bit daunting; how could I talk about writing a book in less than half an hour, without any focus?

As with many such tasks, it is best to take such invitations as an opportunity for values clarification; what is important to me about writing books?

And as with many such tasks, it is fun to try to break them down into a nice little bow for easy teaching.

So, I came up with, the "the Five Ms" of book writing: Motive, Meaning, Motivation, Market, Manageable.

Motive- What do you want to accomplish with your book? A job? Tenure? Promotion? Getting a clear sense of your motives for wanting to write a book will help you begin to think through if it is even a good idea to do so. After all, a book takes a lot more time than an article, and three articles, which might still be only 1/5 the length of a book, might be "worth" a lot more in your discipline (or might not).

Meaning- What will the book mean to you? Will it help you view yourself as a more senior scholar? Will it provide a sense of closure to a project? Will it signify your expertise in an area? Will the writing of a book be something that will provide meaning to your life, on a day to day basis (the writing of it, not the completion).

Motivation- Do you have the motivation to follow through with this? Be honest with yourself. What supports and resources do you need to help you stay motivated. Books are for the long haul- you need to make sure to have your daily rituals in place and your accountability structures.

Market- Is there a demand for your book? Who will read it? Academics? Will it be for the educated general public? For classes? Do you have a contract? Many people overestimate the interest in their work. I think it is usually best to have a contract in hand before you are too far into your text (unless, it is based on your dissertation, e.g. already mostly written). What happens if you write too much and your dream publisher wants major changes? Oh, and speaking of market, if it is for classes, make sure your proposal includes which  courses around the country (world perhaps) might use your book. Be specific; do a good web search.

Manageable- Can you pull this off? Do you have the time, resources, skills, knowledge? Be honest with yourself. Again, you may need to develop some new skills to insure that you are able to write your book!

Of course, there is a great deal more to consider; but perhaps this can help you begin to reflect on some of the key issues pertaining to writing a book.

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