If Not For Money, Then What?

I follow a number of self-publishing email lists, full of authors either trying to get their manuscript accepted by a publisher or trying to publish and sell the manuscript themselves. Despite the almost uniform lack of financial success among these authors, nearly every author is in the middle of writing a new manuscript.


Of course some of these authors are still looking for a great financial return — they expect the next book to be the one that makes them financially successful. But this focus on money isn’t found in the majority of these authors. Their reasons aren’t financial. Instead, their reasons come from a wide range of motivations, from self-esteem to personal expression, to fame.

Writers in the Mormon market also have a wide range of motivations, at least some of which have an unusual, mormon-related aspect. I’m not sure that my analysis really covers everything, but here is a list of at least some of the categories of motivations:

  • The Missionary Motivation -In a missionary-oriented Church, this has to be one of the first motivations for many authors — the idea that through their writing others will be brought to understand the truth. This is an old idea — even in fiction (the first work of LDS fiction, Parley P. Pratt‘s A Dialogue between Joseph Smith and the Devil, was clearly written as a proselyting tool). But those who write for this reason should beware of two possible difficulties. First, in order to be successful, works written as missionary tools need a way to get into the hands of non-Mormons — publishing these works with Deseret Book and most other LDS publishers won’t make that happen. Second, works like this tend to be didactic, which rarely makes good fiction. Fortunately, works motivated by missionary zeal tend to be non-fiction.
  • The ‘Strengthen Your Brethren’ Motivation – Like writing for missionary reasons, writing to strengthen other Church members is common — perhaps the most common reason for LDS authors to write. And, also like works written for missionary purposes, these works also tend to be didactic and work better as non-fiction. But publishing these books with the LDS market makes them available to the right audience.
  • ‘I’ve Got Something to Say’ – An ‘ah-ha’ moment comes when we realize a truth that we didn’t understand before. And the urge to express that newfound understanding leads many people to write, in the hope that others will also gain the understanding that we have. Akin to the missionary motivation above, writers with this motivation become almost missionaries for their cause. At times this leads them to overemphasize the importance of their issue compared to other subjects. Again this motivation is most suited to non-fiction because of the tendency towards the didactic.
  • The Self-Expression Motivation – For some authors writing is a primary means of expressing themselves. They can no more stop writing than stop breathing. And expression demands an audience, so they seek ways to publish their writing.
  • ‘Deepening Your Own Understanding’ – Sometimes the motivation for writing is more about the experience of writing, than about the product. Through writing, authors can improve themselves and increase their understanding of the world.

Of course, an author’s motivation can be more complex than a single motivation, and authors may find a combination of the above and other factors are at work. Regardless of how complex, though, it is important for an author to understand his or her own motivation. That understanding helps the author write a better book, and understand their own expectations.

I’m sure that there are other reasons for writing also. I’d love to hear what you think. In any case, these motivations are more realistic than writing to make a lot of money.

So what motivations did I miss? And what motivates you?

13 thoughts on “If Not For Money, Then What?”

  1. Because it’s fun. I think that’s a bit different from having something to say or doing it for self-expression.

    I don’t think that it’s fun without some of the other motivations, but once those motivations get you into the process, it really can be quite fun to do the writing and revision.

    In other news: I just finished the third draft of my Irreantum fiction contest entry. And this revision really was fun. And very worthwhile. I need to do this revising thing more often (I too often just do a first draft and then a second draft).

  2. Three reasons.

    1) Sleep will not come otherwise. There are nights that I curse being a writer because I really would rather get some sleep. But that scene just keeps stirring in my brains, which leads me to…

    2) Exploration. Many writers have something to say but some of us instead have something to ask. I remember once being told, for example, that there are two reasons one bears their testimony in church. Either it’s because they feel the spirit or because they want to. I’m in the latter category. If I write, it’s not because I have answers, it’s because I want them.

    3) Family history. Both my family and my wife’s have various journals and humble tomes of family history detailing the exploits of some great-great so-and-so. Granted, these aren’t always published (though some are), but like the Nephites, we often feel the need to record for posterity. My mother has been working on a book about the letter-writing courtship of her parents during WWII while my grandfather was fighting in the Pacific, and my father and I have been laying the ground work for a novel about one of his many misadventures. They occurred more than forty years ago, so there will be plenty of fiction to fill the gaps. Still, more than any other endeavor of mine, I feel compelled by heavenly powers.

  3. I love how these comments are all about internal motivations, instead of meeting the needs of others or accomplishing some external goal.

    I have to admit that while I enjoy the writing process, my motivations are more external — more to communicate with others than for myself.

    Perhaps I should reexamine the writing process I go through and see if I don’t like it more than I realize!!

  4. Good point, Kent. I think it’s difficult for me to find external motivations because so far I’ve only written for a narrow band of the Mormon market. And I know that neither money nor fame is in my future.

    But I do want to communicate with others. And just as with this blog, part of what drives me is to create an overall environment where more talented artists are creating the type of Mormon narrative art that I value (and have the opportunity to publish that art).

    I also am motivated by the thought of exploring things that have yet to find expression in Mormon literature. In fact, that’s something that may weaken my writing a bit. For example, with my story Return, I think I focused too much on capturing a particular feeling (a sense of feeling slightly out of synch) and perhaps did so at the expense of characterization and plot.

  5. The missionary motive has got me thinking. I have this discussion from time to time with non-religious friends who take umbrage at our emphasis on missionary work. “Why push your beliefs on other people?”

    “Isn’t anyone who has ever written a book doing the same thing?” I ask. “If you have a certain world view, and you like it, and you promote it to others, aren’t you proselyting?” The only main difference that I see is that our missionaries will talk with you for free.

    You delineate a difference however, between the missionary motive and merely having something to say. I’m going to mull over that. But I think, broadly, all writing falls into two categories: you want to make a buck, or you want to promote your own ideas. I suppose there’s also that horrid third category – postmodern nonsense in which you’re so full of your own write to be an “artist” that you can just mumble incoherent crap to yourself – but I think that’s an ego-infused version of the financial motive.

  6. (I move to strike write from the first half of the last sentence of that last entry and replace it with right.)

  7. I write probably to understand myself better and because it helps me clear my head (I gotta keep the crazies in check!). But I also write because–this is gonna come out ridiculously cheesy–I feel that language is a God-given gift to us. For me, participating in meaniingful language and the writing process is often like prayer. It’s a kind of communion. It’s one more way for me to invite God to work things out in me. Maybe that’s a little like the “deepen your own insight” category, but, then again, maybe not. When I write I’m sometimes looking for my own insights but I’m usually looking for what God would teach me. I guess that makes me a missionary to myself 🙂

  8. I’ll go with the compulsion factor and getting it out of the head.

    Too much creative energy, too little time to express it all.

  9. Anneke said:
    “You delineate a difference however, between the missionary motive and merely having something to say. I’m going to mull over that. ”

    Please don’t spend too much time on it. I was mainly making a distinction between the LDS missionary motive (i.e., proselyting to get your audience to join the Church) and promoting your own ideas (which is a kind of missionary motive – just not necessarily promoting the Gospel as such).

    “But I think, broadly, all writing falls into two categories: you want to make a buck, or you want to promote your own ideas.”

    Perhaps. After reading the comments above, I tend to think that many people do write solely for self-expression. But, then again, why does work written solely for self-expression get published by the author? You would think that if it were written solely for self-expression, the author wouldn’t bother to get it published!

  10. I have been working on an LDS fiction manuscript for nearly a year. My motivation has hung somewhere just out of reach for me to identify. I have persisted because I’ve felt that I’ve had a story idea that is gripping, and gospel principles are integral to the plot’s success. I love the process of writing.

    I had done no research whatsoever as to the commercial viability of my story. I only entertained a vague idea that maybe, just maybe, I’d turn out to be a good writer with a good story that LDS readers would like.

    As I’ve been writing, I’ve thought on and off about what financial rewards might or might not be out there for putting out a really great novel. I didn’t look into it at all, staying focused instead on my writing. With my lack of knowledge about LDS publishing, I just reasoned that either a self-publishing model OR a publishing deal with, say, Covenant or somebody would facilitate a reasonable financial reward to me as an author. Surely, I’ve thought, the authors who’s books that I myself buy and enjoy reading must be making $30 or $40K for all of their work and talent.

    I attended an excellent writer’s conference this weekend. It was my first. The workshops and sessions were so relevant and enjoyable. I learned so much about writing! Mingling with other authors and aspiring authors was so totally cool! But I learned (accidentally, sort of) what kind of money seems to be out there for somebody who writes a great book that the LDS market wants to buy.

    Specifics of financial returns were not addressed directly in any of the workshops I attended. But, the facts seemed to leak out of the periphery. Whether self or otherwise published, I ended up with the strong sense that I’m way off when it comes to the question of “how much money is there in writing a great book for LDS readers?”.

    Interestingly, I come home and continue to make plans to write and finish my novel, little deterred.

    Still can’t peg my motivation, but I love doing it. Actually, maybe it’s as simple as that.

    (Another possibility is that I got the financial thing wrong)

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