• Why Do You Want to Publish a Book?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 73 comments

    Discussion questions: Why do you want to write a book? Why do you want to publish a book? Between process (writing) and product (publication), which is more important to you, and why? Let’s talk about it in the comments.


    I’m thinking of hiring one of our wonderful consultants to help get me back to work on my novel, via book coaching. It’s clear I’m not capable right now of doing it on my own.

    But why?


    When I begin working with a new client, I often start by asking these two questions:

    1) Why do you want to write a book?

    2) Why do you want to publish a book?

    The responses usually tell me which of the two the writer is more interested in. For some, the process of writing a book is what matters, and publication is merely some future consideration, rather than a motivating factor. For others, the writing process is the hulking obstacle standing between the writer and the writer’s ultimate goal.


    Now I’m in a position to turn those questions to myself. So, here goes:

    1) Why do I want to write a book?

    I love writing. Fiction especially. When I really get into a groove and I’m in love with what’s pouring out of me, there’s (almost) no better feeling.

    I love these characters I’ve been manipulating for more than ten years now. I love putting them into weird situations in short stories and the novel and seeing what happens next.

    In the stories, I love watching how these characters resolve these situations.

    When I work on the novel, I love watching these characters stumble toward their question mark of an ending. I hope together we someday get there.

    Writing is fun, and it makes me feel good. And if I can chase that feeling and turn it into a full book, I’ll feel like I’ve achieved something.


    2) Why do I want to publish a book?

    Shoulder shrug. Because I’m not sure I want to publish a book.

    Reasons to do so:

    My better side would quote my friend Drew Smith: “I guess the best I can hope for is that someone will read [my book] and relate to it and connect with it, and feel less alone somehow.”

    My worse side would say I just want praise heaped upon me.


    If a new client said these things to me, I’d tell him or her that he/she cares much more about the process than about the product. I guess that’s where I am right now.

    So why not get writing?


    A few years ago I threw out a question on the blog, and some of the responses were fascinating. Now I want to pose it again.

    Would you rather:

    1) Wake up tomorrow morning with a finished, published book but no memory of having written it?


    2) Experience the entire writing process but, when you’re done, throw your manuscript into a fire?

    Why do you want to write a book? Why do you want to publish a book?

    Let’s get into it below!


    david blogWriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2020 writing project you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. If you have a manuscript that’s ready for some editorial care, check out our various critiquing, editorial, and proofing servicesJoin our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    Thomas Day

    That 2nd question is the one that has stumped me for years. The 1st one two, to be honest, for the last 5 years. I retired from teaching and engineering five years ago and after we settled into our new downsized home, I took a motorcycle trip to Thunder Bay, ON where I spent two weeks in an AirB&B with the intent on rediscovering my writing muse. I set a goal of at least 1500 words a day on a fiction book I’ve fooled with for 20 years. It’s about 3/4 done, now, after that last effort. In the end,… Read more »

    stephen Glick

    Thomas I recommend caffeine. gobs of it .It gets my juices going. Good luck

    Hans De Leo

    Answer 1: When I first began writing, I thought I had a story to tell. It was going to be critically-acclaimed, best-selling, and Pulitzer prize-wining. How little I knew back then. How many of us started out that way? Over the years, writing became therapeutic for me. It was an outlet where I could put things on the page I would otherwise be embarrassed to say. Now I write because I like it. I like writing and reading the paragraphs back and making them better. I like visualizing a setting in my head and describing it to my readers. I… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    I would love to wake up with a fully finished manuscript, but I do want to know that I wrote it and learned how to do it well. I couldn’t never throw it in the fire. It may languish on my computer, but I can’t destroy it. Maybe repurpose it into a different book would be better. I write because I love it. I publish because I want to share it with others who might like it, taking them away into another person’s life out of their own. Part of my reason for reading when I was younger was to… Read more »

    Jennifer Pommer

    I guess I want it both ways. I think, I am mostly a process oriented person. I like finding the story, especially as a new writer of creative fiction/historical fiction; I think the process of finding, feeling the story, listening to the characters develop is satisfyingly absorbing. During the writing, I love finding the right word and metaphor for the whole or part and carrying it through to its natural end. And hopefully, not over doing it. I would hate not remembering what I wrote, or the process that I worked through. Yet, I also love having a completed work,… Read more »

    Jennifer Pommer

    I am writing more though not today it seems – holiday mode, albeit at home, has kicked in. When I moved in January, it was to declutter so I could have more of a focus on my writing. I had some goals and writing was the BIG one, but in January the decluttering and organizing seem to have taken precedence (I’ve placed the things in my eyes’ view so I can’t get away from them). Now, many papers have been recycled and books set in a pile to donate when it’s possible so it has freed up some space and… Read more »


    Why do you want to write a book? To speak. To say something. Self-expression that unburdens my soul and, ideally, inspires-informs others. I think that’s at the base of any art done sincerely. Why do you want to publish a book? Second part of the above–inspire-inform others. Certainly, props are a big motivation, especially for the young artist. You reach a point, though, hopefully, where props are not so important. I think art suffers to the degree that the art is done for the sake of props and bucks. I don’t mean to overstate that. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with… Read more »

    adrien leslie

    I want to publish a book for the same reason I want you to taste the blackberry pie I baked or to let you know that ground chuck is 2.99 at Shoprite and most likely, that I found these fabulous jeans 50% off at Burlington. I thrive when I share–that doesn’t make me special. It’s part of our humanness, maybe the grandest part. We’re all sharers. It just that some of us write. Why do I want to write a book? I never do…at first. But, then a ‘what if’ starts buzzing round my head like a blood thirsty mosquito.… Read more »

    adrien leslie


    John Liebling

    1. Starting many drafts, years, and hundreds of thousands of words ago, initially started as my cathartic grief dealing process. Each little step after was, can I do this. Can I construct a plot? Can I create interesting characters? Can I go back and edit (remove) my precious words? Each draft, each year gone by my writing skills improved. Also, because I want to create a series of books, can’t ever do that, if I don’t complete and publish the first one. I was also concerned with what the shell will I do after I retire? I am glad I… Read more »

    John Liebling

    My time table, schedule is still on track. It is a lot to reread, edit, delete, revise, make as good as possible, show more, improve the clarity, that takes a lot of time, when the manuscript starts at 181,886 words. My plan is some time in Sept of this year, to reconnect with Justine and Nick Courtright and submit my finalized product to Atmosphere Press. My goal is to submit a novel, no longer than 130,000 words. At this stage that is a guess-timate. Though for the first time ever, I finally know which chapter(s) I’ll need to cut out… Read more »

    John Liebling

    I am currently taking a writing course at UCLA Extension. Only three weeks left in that class. Teacher assignments target my second book. Because I took a four day, all day work shop with her months before, I outlined book #2, where as I did the entire book #1 as a pantser. Because of those assignments I’ve shifted much earlier when the love interest will take place, and shifted other elements as well. 90% of my focus is on book #1. The biggest difference in my process is that I’ve learned how to edit. In past years I’d write one,… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    This will be a long post. My answers to those questions have changed over the years. Outside of school publications, I started submitting material (including my first novel, written at 15 and appropriately unpublished) when I was an adolescent. Since then my work has appeared in dozens of places. Mainly I wrote because I couldn’t not write. I wrote to explore and to get my mental “home movies” down on paper. I submitted material to share and to be validated; I wanted my stories to connect with others the way others’ stories had connected with me. Even my first rejection… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    Oh, my, that flash drive. I save my old fumblings, too, and I’d be hard-pressed to tell you (or myself) why. It’s like holding onto a pile of unwashed laundry: it’s a bad smell, but it’s my smell. Last night I started a story draft inspired by your second pair of questions, because they put an image into my head and I want to see if I can recast a thought experiment into an I-don’t-know-what. It’s the kind of story idea that keeps pulling me back to it again and again, with copious “what if?” journal notes, and I always… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    More good news: I managed to pull off a poem draft from the idea. Writing a poem had been the first thing that came to mind but I thought Nah, trying to fit the idea into one would be too unwieldy. Then, after two failed story starts, I revisited the poem idea, tried a different format, and <em>voila!</em>

    Elissa Malcohn

    Well done on your writing, too! I did both today’s 366 installment and then the poem in the wee hours. You might have been writing while I napped yesterday, after an insomniac stint of playing with the format in my head instead of sleeping. The poem is 48 lines of blank verse with two alternating speakers and I’m very pleased with how it came out. Much better focused than the fiction attempts. I’ll let it breathe and will revisit it later with fresh eyes, but am refamiliarizing myself with markets in the meantime. It’s been years since I’ve submitted poetry to a zine.

    david lemke

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    david lemke

    Watched the Buddy Holly Story yesterday. What motivated him start a band, write, produce and perform music was there was little out there on the airwaves that that he like and nothing that matched his vision. When I was writing my first book Intrusion,” that was true for me as well. I’ve done that. Not enough people are reading it to change the world…maybe someday after I’m long gone. “Cult of Devay” came from a dream. It needs to be finished. “The Cat Complained” is a story about a newbie writer writing a close encounters novel, but the two worlds,… Read more »

    david lemke

    Originally called Novel novel and then LCD, (latitudinal continental divide) There is a myth that Brookfield sits on the LCD, so I put in a humorous request to chang e the name of the Senior Scribler to the Latitudinal Continental Divide. When I started the story, LCD became the name of the writer’s group and Daye Trapper, the leader, a millionaire author with the group meeting Saturday mornings at his English Estate transported to Calhoun Road. Mr. Tripper is a no show and it takes some time to search the house find the body. The members of the writers group… Read more »

    Last edited 4 years ago by david lemke
    Caron Caraway

    I never started writing to publish. I wrote to shed angst and to quit smoking. I made 3 rules, stuck to em, and got 210 short stories. I recognize 3 writing patterns in my life. All my life has been a game of 3. Find the magic number for you and right write. My other observation is blockage offers the third option.


    Hi, thanks for asking. Here’s what happened, 6 weeks of intensity… I set my quit smoking date. April 26, 2019. Started writing furiously and smoking more….I realized that I was smoking to stop my voice. I used the 6 weeks to yell and cry on paper, smoke in hand. My deadline was looming. I wrote 150 short stories, cried and smoked through all of them. April 26, 2019, I quit, never re succumbed…and it’s been over a year now. So, to write helped reset and reclaim my mind and my voice. They belong to me again. Hard as it is… Read more »

    Bonnie West

    I love the writing… when I do it. I like rewriting even more. and Wow getting a story published is the best. I want people to read what I wrote, although I am not sure why. I guess I like it all. But if I had to pick one or the other I would throw it in the garbage. I did that with my only novel and even though I loved writing it for 5 years when I read it all I though UGH. I would NEVER buy this book. (thrown in the garbage figuratively you can bet I have… Read more »

    Bonnie West

    Ha. The eleventh time. You must be a rewriter rather than a love the first draft type too. I hate the first draft. I am a terrible writer and it all is just horrible. I used to be in a writing group and would share it, get feedback, take everyone’s feedback so no one would feel slighted and make a huge mess which sometimes entailed switching pov or tense in the middle just to do what everyone said. haha. Then I got better about rewriting and keeping my own voice. But I do, what so many must, I rewrite the… Read more »

    Shirley Lopez

    Publishing a book is easy, it is the writing of the book that presents the problem. Many of my clients want to be writers, I am writing agency so they come to me. Problem some of them have NO knowledge on how to write nor enough imigination to produce good materials. My quest is how to let them down easy or just put it together and publish. Because after it is published they expect it to sell and be the next hottest piece on the market.—I can publish alright! But how can I get writers that are worth their salt?… Read more »

    Shirley Lopez

    First I read their material and try to determine if it is salvageable. I offer them some lessons in writing if their big problem is grammar, and organization. If it is content I try not to be to harsh but do try to let them see that they need more/less and better organization. When all else fails I just bluntly tell them that I don’t feel what they have written is publishable at least not by me. I have had very few (2) to be exact but most all my clients can be helped, retrained, then set in spot to… Read more »

    Bonnie West

    I love this! Well said.

    Janet S

    When I first saw this post, I thought that is a couple of challenging questions, but then when I typed the question, the answers were obvious and immediate. Why do I want to write a book? To remember. I like fiction so remembering is about maybe a better version of what happened or maybe a worse version that turns out better. Why do I want to publish? I want to share with people so they do not have any regrets. Recognizing that the choices we are making may haunt us is not obvious because we don’t have hindsight. I want… Read more »

    Doug MacCullagh

    I write when I feel a compulsion to get something out of my head. My first effort, which my then girlfriend now wife read, was never finished (because I never figured out where the story was going). After Hurricane Katrina, I wrote weekly letters to friends about what our life and community were like, and what had changed during the week. When the lock down hit, I felt a need to write a story that had been bouncing around in my head for over a year. I knew where the story ended, and figured out where it began, and enjoyed… Read more »

    Doug MacCullagh

    David, you just almost touched on a question I have. In outlining a story, is it better to use the outline style I learned in school (a bullet list of major headings and topics) or to use a more narrative style? (Telling the story, but with a lot of dialog, detail, and minor events left out.) Does it help to do that before writing the story, or to use the outline to summarize it later?

    Doug MacCullagh

    Like walking through a jungle with a dull machete. I love it! That is a vivid metaphor I can really identify with. (And living in the Philippines for three years gave me a chance to actually try that.) The few times I tried outlining, I did feel like I was weaving the vines together around me. The method that finally worked for me was to type out the story as fast as my fingers could keep up with it, then go back and fill in what I missed, and then go back looking at revisions. Yes, three passes through the… Read more »

    Doug MacCullagh

    David, I just read your lead in to both discussions. I guess maybe I did have an outline of sorts? My story covers a period of about 14 months or so. So, I started with a sort of calendar, giving dates and major events. I also started keeping notes on the characters, starting with their names and role in the story, then adding in details as they came up. Then, when I needed to redo a couple characters, I used those notes to figure out who to change and how. I also made notes of mosquito-borne diseases, and other notes… Read more »

    stephen Glick

    I write because I am disabled and was taken from the working world too soon. I treat each day as if I am working .I read for three hours and write for four or five With the hopes of 1,000 words a day.I publish because I pray nightly that my books will sell and also to become a very good writer.


    I want to write a book because a story needs completion, tension needs resolution. I think I started to write when I was young because the world never made any sense to me, and most of the messages I was getting about what’s what and who I was supposed to be, etc., didn’t make any sense. Only stories and poems made sense to me–and music. That’s where the beauty was, and I like beauty. Then in the process of writing I discovered that creativity is healing, and if you are lucky it is healing not only to yourself but to… Read more »


    I had always had the hope of being able to write full time by earning enough money with a few successes to quit the day job, but…well, life gets in the way. Maybe you and I could collaborate on a book Promoting and Marketing Your Fiction for the Shy Writer with an Aversion to the Word ‘Novel’. I suggest maybe wearing a mask to interviews, or cover your face with hair, like Sia. You could probably hire my cousin as a stand-in too. He is very gregarious, funny, and smart (oh, just like you) and sells a lot of books.… Read more »


    My nickname in my family is Anne of 1000 stories. My grandfather was the person to whom I told my stories. After he passed away, when I was 14, I started to write the stories down. Until this question, it had not occurred to me that I might not want or need to publish at all. I am just writing to Papa. I am going to sit with that for a while. Thank you, David.


    While I have not published these stories, I still have them stashed somewhere in storage. I remember two stories vividly, Levy the Leaf and Shoe Boat (the musical). There is even choreography! Thanks to you and Susan, I am now out of the well.


    I love that, Anne of 1000 stories. I think you just gave us a beautiful suggestion for one way to overcome writer’s block–just write to one person. I know one of the things that trips me up is wondering, “Is this going to be good enough to be published?” as I write. But I bet if you just aim to write a story that Papa would love, you get a better story.


    Thank you so much, Susan. I was down a well with this realization and could not see what a gift Papa gave me by asking me to tell him a story.

    David Fried

    The first. Definitely, definitely, definitely. I love performing, and I love having written, and I even love editing once I’ve written the first draft, but the first draft itself has always taken a lot of effort to get down for me.

    Christine Rhodes

    The second set of questions first: My completed, published work, which I could feel the weight of, and the texture of, and read. Even though the memory of writing it is lost, I could experience the process through the book. I would choose this rather than a perfect memory of writing a manuscript, but nothing to show for it but ashes. Re: First set of queries: This story… The reason for wanting to both write and publish seem to be intertwined in my reasoning. I can not help but develop this tale, with or without my conscious attention, it grows,… Read more »

    Last edited 4 years ago by Christine Rhodes

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