People ask me all the time how they can get a book deal. So I had my agent write a post on how to get a book deal. But really, I’m telling you, you probably don’t need to write a book. Every time I ask someone why they want to write a book, they have a terrible answer.

So instead of worrying about how maybe you need to get a book deal, consider these reasons why a book deal is no good for you:

1. People who have a lot of ideas need a blog, not a book.
A blog is more immediate, so you'll get better feedback. And getting feedback as you go is much more intellectually rigorous than printing a final compendium of your ideas and getting feedback from the public only when it’s too late to change anything.

Many people think they have a ton of ideas and they are brimming with book possibilities when in fact, most of us have very few new ideas. If you have so many ideas, prove it to the world and start blogging. There is nothing like a blog to help you realize you have nothing new to say.

And, if you do end up having an amazing blog that focuses on one, big grand idea with great writing to boot, then you can get a book deal from your blog.

2. A book is an outdated way to gain authority.
It’s true that lots of people think that book authors are the people with authority. But anyone can have good ideas, and only some good ideas fit into book format. On top of that, the people who are on the cutting edge of any topic are not waiting the two years it takes to deliver new ideas in a book. Instead, they're reading articles and blogs and discussion online with all the immediacy of the Internet.

So if you feel like no one is giving you credit for having good ideas because you don’t have a book, think again: Maybe your ideas just aren't that good. Or maybe you are trying to get credibility with people who don’t know how to assess authority in the information age.

3. Books lead to speaking careers, but speaking careers often lead nowhere.
This reason actually works, because one thing a book really does provide is enough traditional authority to get you speaking gigs. People who schedule speakers are reluctant to give you a slot unless you have a book published by a top-tier publisher.

But before you get giddy about those huge speaking fees that take you to Hawaii and Belgium, remember that the life of a public speaker may not be what you expect. You don’t really connect with people and work with them, but instead flit from city to city making one-hour connections and then leaving. Also, it’s great to get a gig in Newport Beach, but usually it’ll be Bismarck or Birmingham. And the constant travel will keep you so tired that you’ll become numb to those chic-chic accommodations.

But really, the biggest problem with the life of a public speaker is that it is so tenuous, because you have to speak about what you do, but if all you do is speak, then it’s a Mobius puzzle that ends with you having nothing to say. So most speakers have to eventually figure out what to do after the speaking is over. Which means why not just forget the book and figure out your post-speaking career before you even start?

4. You’ll make more money per hour flipping burgers than writing a book.
The odds that your book will be a best seller are absolutely terrible. Writing fiction is an impossible life unless you hit the jackpot. There’s a great article in the New Yorker about a relatively famous, established novelist who cannot support himself on book advances. I can’t find that article, but just trust me: It’s a very very hard industry to survive in.

Nonfiction books are a better bet for personal survival, but this is not to say books are big money makers. Most nonfiction books are paperback originals which means they are $50,000 advances, and most of you could earn more than that spending a year in an office.

On top of that, a book costs so much in time that it’s a cost center which you have to justify by deciding what you are using the book to sell. And that’s the crux of all of this: That a book is a marketing tool. You can market your company or yourself or your blog or an idea, but you need to have something you want the book to support.

5. When you’re feeling lost, a book won’t save you.
A book will not give you direction in life. A book is something you write in order to get you to where you’re going. If you have nowhere to go, a book will insure that you stay where you are: Lost.

People use books like law school. They think if they have some piece of paper — a degree, a contract — then people will respect them and then they’ll respect themselves. But self-respect comes from having some sort of vision for one’s life and heading in that direction. And there is no one who can give you that vision — you have to give it to yourself, and before you can feel like you have direction, you have to feel lost — and lost is okay.

So stop with the idea that you need a book. Most people who think they need a book deal probably need to answer the question: What will I be doing two years after that book? Do you really need the book to get where you want to go? Probably not.

251 replies
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  1. angela
    angela says:

    I do think there are a lot of useless, pointless books – but how could you say that someone doesn’t NEED to write a book. If EVERYONE followed that advice, we wouldn’t have Harry Potter, we wouldn’t have Twilight. If people heard this advice, even a 100 years ago, think of the classics that wouldn’t have been written.

  2. Steve
    Steve says:

    “People use books like law school. They think if they have some piece of paper – €“ a degree, a contract – €“ then people will respect them and then they’ll respect themselves.”

    Writing a book, like getting a degree of any kind, reduces informational asymmetry. You have information about yourself and your abilities, but the world does not and you should remedy that if you want to advance your career. A book, if done well, demonstrates that you have interesting ideas, communicate effectively in writing, and have mastered an area of knowledge.

    You should read up on the principal-agent problem, monitoring, the freerider problem, and informational asymmetry.

  3. Lindsay
    Lindsay says:

    We don’t need to run marathons or climb mountains either. :P

    No, I don’t think you need a book to prove yourself an authority in your field, and you’re certainly right that it isn’t the easiest way to get rich, but if someone has the goal of writing a book, by all means let them. Having goals to pursue is what gives us meaning and makes us happy. :)

  4. Paul Godines
    Paul Godines says:

    Penelope, I’ve read your book and I’m so impressed with it and your blog that I’m using you as a model for my career and business growth.
    I hope you recognize that as a form of admiration.

    As far as the book writing goes, I believe that if you feel the desire to write a book, or a blog or even go and speak, go and do so. For many people have succeed using any one or a combination of them. Wouldn’t it be GREAT to know what combination our future held for us?

    Great Job Penelope, keep up the good work I need to get my dose of inspiration.

  5. Nicolas
    Nicolas says:

    Hi,

    I totally agree with you that blogging is the thing to start to share ideas.
    – it is easy to start
    – it connects you to a lot of people
    – it is interactive
    and you can still decide to make a book out of it later if you want.

    I was thinking on my usage of time and started a blog on time management a few months ago. By now I posted about 200 concrete time saving tips on how to gain an extra hour every day. I receive an increasing number of readers and the comments keep me motivated.

    http://www.memytime.wordpress.com

    I can only recommend starting a blog if you have ideas to share.

  6. flow-wolf
    flow-wolf says:

    What an interesting discussion – thanks Penelope and everyone who commented. I recently completed a long-delayed PhD thesis (which is a book of sorts) and am now blogging on the concept of “flow” which fascinates me.

    The point I’d like to add to this discussion is that some of us write, blog or do PhD’s because these outlets provide a way of organizing our thoughts. Sometimes our efforts can be of value to others and other times its is a personal mission we are on.

    External recognition and success is definitely hard to achieve and I agree that a book written with that in mind can be problematic. The primary motivation should be our own engagement with the topic and our enjoyment in making sense of it. While a book can provide “cred” blogging certainly is more flexible and satisfying.

  7. Robin
    Robin says:

    I think too often people stretch limited ideas or concepts out simply to make it an appropriate length for books, when a column or blog’s length was sufficient to make their point. A lot of that is because some people are just enamored by being an author (or seeking a payday) rather than having something important to share.

  8. cole
    cole says:

    the average every day moron can write a blog about numerous and pointless topics but only a select few can write a book… so as far as im concerned if people want to write a book then go for it because half the time even they themselves will eventually realize if they have the ideas or not… there’s too many articles and blogs in this popularity contested world these days that it’s tiring and exhausted. quite frankly as ive said many people have great ideas on blogs because theyre at least a few pages at best and anyone can write a great few pages.. if youve got the time and the determination and the passion above all else to write that book then simply find the time to sit and write it. listening to blogs and other “rejected” writers tell you 5 reasons why you shouldnt write a book is the equivalence to wearing aluminum foil on your head when the newscasters tell you the martians are coming. just do it and feel good about it either way good or bad

    • Mary
      Mary says:

      So agree with you Cole. Mmm-hmm, and I sure as heck will be wearing tin foil, but I’ll be writing novels vigorously at the same time! This blog is the most negative, cliched, and discouraging thing I’ve ever come across. So you wrote a book because you thought you’d make some money off it; you failed; and now you want everyone else too, as well. Get over it, we’re not going anywhere.

  9. Brad
    Brad says:

    One day I would love to write a book. It is not about authority or anything like that. I believe that there is something about writing a book that differentiates it from blogging. I think it is the delayed response from people that makes the anticipation build up. Anyway, I think it would be fun.

  10. Jean
    Jean says:

    Writing a book has more to do with wanting to think through a particular idea in a vigorous way. If you have lots of ideas about lots of different topics, a blog is great. If you want to dig deeply into a thought, a story, a truth, then a book may be a good vehicle for this.

    It comes down to the content, not the end game around the content. If the content is good — entertaining, provocative, insightful, etc. — the end game happens.

  11. Bill
    Bill says:

    In my opinion the number one reason why we dont necessarily need to consider writing books is because of blogging. If it is done properly a blog can have a much larger reach than a book. Then you could even package your blog in a book and sell it independently…just an idea.

  12. Jim Aunity
    Jim Aunity says:

    True Bill, but the blog must still be profitable. There are many bloggers out there who don’t make a dime. Also, Seth Godin gives away his written books for free online and he still is able to sell his books in book format for about $20 each (I bought Purple Cow because it was so good).

  13. Kelly Brewer
    Kelly Brewer says:

    I think what youre saying is rubbish!I have logic,and I have practical ideas of the world around me.Why is writing a book better than blogging?Hmmmm let me think….let us pose this question to my mother and father, who for as long as I can remember could be found in there bed sleeping with an open book resting on there chests?How about my children who often find me the same way?I come from a family of habitual readers. J.K.Rowling,ask her why she didnt “just blog”?J.K., amongst countless other writers who made a fortune while having an impact on the world ,submitted there stuff and had it denied time and time again,what if the trend would have been to just blog?How many stories would have been limited to those who stumbled upon,rather than sought out?I think that if you have something in you,that drives you to write and write….there has to be a great story in there somewhere.Its unfortunate that the world has to agree with you in order to have been recognized for it, but thats the way the cookie crumbles!

  14. PH
    PH says:

    You quite rightly point out that writing a book is a very difficult way of making money, however there are many people who can’t help but write!

    Think of something you love, something you are really passionate about. What if someone asked you for your thoughts, or some advice? Many people feel the need to right, to help others and to leave a legacy to the world.

    If you have something you need to share, I encourage you to write a book. Not for the money, for the joy of writing! Or as Penelope points out, start a blog, it’s far easier and more accessible. Or write on our forum, and share your Philosophy of Happiness

  15. Rayvior
    Rayvior says:

    While some of you’re facts are solid, I believe authors like Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyer would disagree. Even author’s who don’t sell that many books, still sell. The revenue stream is constant with books, especailly novels.

    Also keep in mind, that Hollywood directors buy rights to certain novels. Especially with the dry spell now hitting movie studios many novels are being bought.

    Blogging is nice, but its a soapbox, millions have blogs, If you want to sell a book, you might blog, or you might get a Literacy Agent which would be the better idea. New talent is always being looked for. Y

    Lastly, many of the great authors of today didn’t expect much, they just wanted something for themselves, they weren’t looking for online soap boxes.

  16. Alexander
    Alexander says:

    Who ever wrote this, You sound like my neurosurgeon, when he told me Id never walk again from a spinalcord injury. (very neagitive) Well Your false comments about writing a book is wrong for the most part, and part 5 is the worst one yet. People can most definatly find there way to go from a book, by gaining insight on how other got there, providing them with the knowledge to overcome some barriers in life they have not seen before. For Example i am a T11 complete injury, i a stamp in a book that i would never walk again. Well I AM. Through Stem Cell treatment, and thearpy i am. Im sure people would love to read this journey, and if you want to know more about it feel free to email me at amartayan@hotmail.com . Even though writing a book might not help you so much finacially, but someone might want to write, just to help others.

    Truthfully you have to stop being neagitive, and encourage people to write more. Believe me you can acoplish anything in life, and just because you did not publish a top seller, does not mean we cant. Its people like you and that mind set, that it cant be done or there is no reason it should be done, then look at books like Harry Potter and wonder ”Wow” I wish I did that.
    Well injoy your Blogs. and have a great day becuase anyway your ideas are Golden……………

  17. Klassresa
    Klassresa says:

    Writing a book has more to do with wanting to think through a particular idea in a vigorous way. If you have lots of ideas about lots of different topics, a blog is great. If you want to dig deeply into a thought, a story, a truth, then a book may be a good vehicle for this.

  18. Guides
    Guides says:

    This article is quite interesting, although there maybe some debates there, it still give us some information about “change”. We have to change our mindset as world is moving.

  19. Kylee
    Kylee says:

    I felt that your post was rather depressing, actually! I am in the middle of writing my first novel (mind you, I am only twelve years old) and this is my reason for doing so:

    -I write, not because I want to make supposed big bucks, but because it is something I wholly enjoy doing. Although I may never be published and have a . . . speaking career that will lead to nowhere, I feel that writing is what I want to do with my life. I write not because I feel lonely, but it is because I want my ideas to be shown to the public, even if twenty years from now you still never have heard of my name. Now, I know you have your opinions and beliefs, and I do as well. But if you didn’t believe novels should be written, you didn’t have to tell an aspiring novelist just that. There was really no point in doing so . . . I guess my work here is done.

  20. lifesucksass@hotmail.com
    lifesucksass@hotmail.com says:

    Think, personally, this advice is only useful or sobering to people who see the book itself or act / art of writing as a means to an end and not an end in itself.

    • Mary
      Mary says:

      Thank you for your comment! I AM depressed, suffering from PTSD and unable to work; I have been considering writing novels, and am just now getting to work on my first – which, by the way Penelope, already rocks. I am only twenty years old and do NOT need this sort of awful blog post coming up on google!

  21. Elise Lopez
    Elise Lopez says:

    Your post is utterly demoralizing. God bless the poor soul who is struggling with depression and is looking for answers in writing a book. If they search it in Google, your link is amongst the top find they will find, and will most likely be the last thing they do.

    And with all do respect, I am a lawyer and you should harbor your opinions before you offend anyone else. There is already far to much negativity in the world. I hope that anyone that reads this looking for help and compassion will look at it as a challenge instead of crushing their dreams.

  22. Heather
    Heather says:

    yeah i thought this was a negative article. i am in the middle of writing a book myself and when you said you can make $50,000 just as easily at a desk… that doesnt pertain to everyone. im old enough to have a job, but still too young to have as good of a job that pays like that. i know that writing a book is not a guarenteed success, but i like to write and figured id put it to good use and maybe have a book published one day…. the blogging thing didnt make sense to me either. why would someone want to put all their effort into writing something that may actually be REALLY good, only to put it up online for the whole world to see? that just gives them the opportunity to copy and paste it and say they wrote it! atleast with a book, youve got your ideas down on paper, copyrighted and everything. im going to act like i never came across this and keep going with writing my book :D

  23. Ellen Violette
    Ellen Violette says:

    I have to differ with Penelope, 81% of people want to write a book, less than 1% ever will. So there is still a lot of credibility and expert status that comes from writing books-even ebooks done well.

    And the word “author” comes from the word authority-we look up to author’s because they’ve accomplished something special-and taking the time to write, does make them authority!

    And as far as books leading to speaking and speaking leading nowhere-that’s only if you use an old business model. In the new model, you also get online and build your business there-one of my clients was asked to speak at one of the top conferences in her niche BECAUSE she had written an ebook!

    When you take advantage of all the opportunities on line they become synergistic with your book and it’s all good!

  24. limo
    limo says:

    I loved reading it. I necessitate to study a lot more on th is topic..Thanks for sharing a very good information.
    Any way I am going to subscribe for your feed and I hope you submit once again quickly.

  25. trick
    trick says:

    I think a blog is very limiting. A book allows people to read electronically on their computer (like a blog), as well as on an ereader with e-ink or a physical paper book for easy readability, less eye strain, and portability. For me reading on a computer (or any backlit system such as the ipad) is eye-strain city and I have to greatly limit it. Reading paperback or books on my kindle, however, I can read for hours. A book gives the best of both worlds.

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