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?