What motivates you to write, and how do you know when you’ve achieved success?
The world offers writers all kinds of proxies for success:
- For book authors, sales numbers and best-selling labels
- For bloggers, the number of subscribers, amount of engagement, or reshares of posts
- On social media, likes and follows boost our sense of success
These basic metrics are important to understand, but we often get caught up in them.
What if you measure success based on the what happens in the reader’s world, rather than yours? Instead of clicks or sales, you might look for:
- The impact your writing has on someone’s personal life or the way an organization functions
- The behaviors or beliefs that shift in people who read your work
- The person who shares your work with others they think will benefit from it, amplifying your impact
Sure, these things are harder to see and count. But aren’t they the real reasons you write?
How would a focus on these results change your approach to writing?
Servant authorship—let’s make it a thing
There’s a term in leadership circles: servant leadership. First coined in an essay by Robert Greenleaf in 1970, the phrase describes a style of leadership focused on “the growth and well-being” of the people being led and communities to which the leaders belong.
Wouldn’t you rather work for someone who embodied this leadership ideal?
We can apply that same philosophical bent to writing nonfiction books, blog posts, emails—anything that someone will read not purely for entertainment, but also for edification or growth.
Wouldn’t you rather read a book by someone motivated by a desire to serve you with what they know?
I can detect this approach to writing in many of my favorite authors. They are excited about sharing discoveries and do their best to make sure their words land with me in a way that makes an impression. They don’t focus on themselves as experts, but on me, as a valued reader.
Most writers are already motivated to serve
This concept isn’t foreign to most nonfiction authors. In fact, over 80 percent of the hundreds of nonfiction authors I surveyed chose “serving others” as one of their motivations, and 40 percent chose it as their primary motivation.
The motivation is already there, but might need nurturing. It’s easily swamped by all of those messages about “being a best-selling author” and writing that “fat business card” book.
While it sounds altruistic, a servant authorship mindset helps authors at every phase of a book project.
- Planning: A sense of purpose gives you a guidepost for making tough decisions, like what to include and what to scrap.
- Drafting: When we focus on ourselves as we write, we may become self-conscious (if not overly self-absorbed). We write better when picturing our reader.
- Book marketing and promotion: This mindset supports you during the long phase of authorship that extends beyond publication day—everything you do to get the ideas out into the world.
Most of all, a servant authorship mindset keeps you going when the work is arduous or the end seems far away.
This is the subject of my latest book, Get the word Out: Write a Book that Makes a Difference. It looks at how to focus on your greater purpose and serving your readers at every phase of a book project, from formulating the initial idea to doing the work when the book is out in the world.
The value of servant authorship extends beyond writing books.
Nearly everything we write should, at some level, serve the reader, or else why will they care?
If we’re not serving others, we’re simply adding to the noise.
The Nonfiction Author Survey, which covers the findings about people’s motivations for writing. Find the survey results report and webinar here.
Find the book Get the Word Out: Write a Book That Makes a Difference.