Should you write a book this year? Do you have an idea that you’re convinced the world needs to read about? Consider the strange experience of Mr. Franz Kafka.
Apparently Kafka became obsessed as a young man with the idea of writing travel guides that would give real, detailed advice about the actual opening hours of local sites, how to find discounts on tickets to museums, and even fair prices at houses of ill repute in favorite tourist towns. Kafka and his best friend Max Brod were so convinced that they would make a fortune on this real-world approach to travel writing long before Lonely Planet, that they refused to tell the publisher they approached what they idea was until he paid them an advance. They were convinced the publisher would want to steal the idea.
Sadly for the world of travel writing, but luckily for literature, the idea came to naught, and Kafka instead wrote his masterpieces of fiction.
But the tale does reveal something of the mind of many writers, who are convinced that the world is waiting to steal their idea – the same world that will eagerly embrace it when they are ready to share. Hence, they engage in a weird mixture of simultaneous attempts to publicize the idea in question – and keep it a secret at the same time.
As a coach for writers and speakers, I’ve been asked to sign many an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) to ensure that I won’t leak the idea to someone else or somehow make a fortune on it myself.
Two cold, real facts get in the way of my capitalizing on all these tempting ideas. First, there is (virtually) nothing new under the sun. That is, just about every idea ever put forward has already been done so somewhere else by somebody else. Of course, those other people haven’t had the idea in exactly the same form as you, but it’s close enough that your idea isn’t as startling as you think.
Second, far from the world waiting to pounce on your idea, the reality is that you’ll have to ram it down people’s throats for years before anyone starts to pay attention. Really. Especially if it has elements of uniqueness the world hasn’t seen before.
Don’t believe me? What books populate the best-seller lists year in, year out? Spy novels, Murder mysteries. Romantic fiction. On the non-fiction side, it’s cookbooks, diet books, and books about getting rich. Virtually none of the ideas in these books are completely and utterly new. Rather, they run in familiar forms and patterns with new details and twists.
What makes them successful are their ability to touch upon enduring human needs and desires.
So if you have some insight into basic human needs and desires, then maybe you should write a book. But realize two things. First, it’s not the subject matter that will sell it – it’s your unique voice. And that no one can steal, because only you can write it. The more you find your unique voice the more you will ensure the book’s eventual success.
And second, writing a book means starting simultaneously down two paths, if you want to be successful. The book writing, and the book publicizing. As the author of an idea that deserves to be heard you must do both. Don’t fantasize that the world will magically take up your idea, sell your books in the millions, and put you on all the TV shows worth being on without any effort on your part. There are simply too many ideas today competing for too little human attention. Your book has to fight for attention with all the others.
If you’ve got a voice, and an idea, and you’re ready to fight for their significance, then maybe you should write a book this year.