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Should You Write a Book If You Don't Plan to Publish It?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Tips for writers who intend to publish.

Tips for writers who intend to publish.

During a conversation I had with a nonfiction author, she told me that she was working with a writing coach for her fiction novel. This is probably not a bad idea if fiction is out of her writing comfort zone because it could help her switch gears.

She emphasized that this was more of a personal project. However, she was going to be investing hundreds of dollars every month with the coach. Again, if that helps her and she gets some enjoyment out of the experience, that's a good investment.

Honestly, I was encouraged to hear that this writer seemed to have the right attitude towards a hobby or personal development effort like this. She said she wasn't too concerned about whether the book sold or not. But, then, as we wrapped up that portion of our chat, she said that it would be nice if she was able to sell it or land a book deal. Uh-oh. It sounds like she could slip onto the path to becoming a hopeful hobby writer.

What Is a Hopeful Hobby Writer?

As I've mentioned in other places, I am absolutely stunned by the fact that many writers have no idea who the market will be for the books they're writing, whether they're writing fiction or nonfiction. That is the classic symptom of hobby writers, people who just want to empty what's in their heads onto a page or screen. And if they realize that's what they're doing, no problem. Have fun with that! Where these writers run into problems is when they hope that this self-expression, initially done for the benefit of the private self, will become a public publishing and financial success.

This hope may be spurred by two types of loss they may feel as they conclude a hobby book manuscript draft: The loss created by the realization that they might have invested too heavily in the book, as well as the emptiness of having nothing but maybe a very long Word document to show for the time, energy, and maybe money they've spent. There will be no sales, no royalties, no awards, no reviews, no reimbursement of dollars spent on writing coaches and workshops . . . unless they publicly publish it.

Writing Therapy

For some hobby writers, writing is therapy, whether it's pursued with the help of a life coach or psychologist, or on their own. It's a cathartic exercise that allows them to sort out or purge all the thoughts and emotions going on inside their heads and hearts. This type of writing is typically never meant to be published.

Sadly, some of these writers go about this by participating in regular writing workshops or coaching programs that have a completely different purpose. These workshops and coaches get backed into playing the role of therapists. If these writers gain the desired peace or clarity as a result of their experience, great. But the danger is that these programs are geared to improve writing skills or help get a book published, not provide therapy. Any therapeutic benefit derived would be purely coincidental.

The other caution is that, in an effort to show support, fellow workshop participants and coaches could inflate these therapy writers' egos with overly positive feedback. The manuscripts have now received a bit of approval from the coach or the group. Could it be worthy of publishing? Maybe, maybe not. I've read manuscripts that I've known or suspected to be the product of this scenario. Some of them should never go public!

Questions to Ask Before You Write a Book You Don't Plan to Publish

I've never understood the urge to write something that isn't publishable because I think of writing as communication between people. But I do understand that for others, writing is a hobby or therapy. So if this describes you, take a moment to answer these questions to avoid turning it into a frustrating or disappointing experience.

Do you have an interest in being recognized for your writing?

Being honest with yourself. Do you have an interest in being recognized for your writing? If so, be clear about what writing you'll be doing for public consumption and what will be for your private expression and development. Don't mix the missions!

Are you willing to hold it up to scrutiny from editors, reviewers, and lots of strangers?

If you've finished your private book manuscript and later you're interested in going public with it, are you willing to hold it up to scrutiny from editors, reviewers, and lots of strangers? If not, you shouldn't publish. Remember the Latin root of the word publish means to make public. Critical, even negative, public feedback on your personal-gone-public book could turn what was a positive private endeavor into a disheartening or heartbreaking one.

Does your personal book manuscript explore extremely personal issues that should not go public?

If your personal book manuscript is of the memoir type that names or delves into events and situations that are confidential, you'll need to seek legal guidance on how to handle these issues if you decide to publish. Or you might just want to keep this to yourself.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 24, 2017:

Dora, agreed, not everything has to be published. Do what's best for you. Thanks so much for stopping by and chiming in! Have a beautiful day!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 23, 2017:

Heidi, thanks for this article which gives some solid food for thought. It makes me feel okay that I do not feel the need to publish everything I write.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 23, 2017:

Larry, that was very brave of you to trash a 60K word novel that didn't meet your standards! So many authors grind away at something that doesn't work. I'm glad you're finding being here on HP helpful for your writing adventures. Thanks so much for sharing your experience here and have a terrific week!

Larry W Fish from Raleigh on October 22, 2017:

I enjoyed reading this, Heidi. I have had four books self-published, but I never did promote them much to increase sales. They were read by family and many friends so I guess I could be classed into the hobby writer. I once wrote a novel of 60,000 words and it didn't meet my standards so I deleted the whole novel. I am particular in what I write, that is why I joined HubPages. Here I can write short stories, get feedback from my readers and take the criticism. I am retired so it gives me something to do and it is something that I enjoy.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 22, 2017:

Suhail, difficult for me to comprehend, too. It's so easy to publish these days. But there are people whose writing ambitions don't go beyond themselves. Thanks for chiming in, as always! Have a great week ahead!

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on October 22, 2017:


The idea is difficult to comprehend.

I can think of myself as writing a book for a very niche market, getting it published through 'Blurb' and asking my friends and relatives to buy it for me ha-ha! At least there is no cost associated with it.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 22, 2017:

Bill, neither can I! But I've heard of it being done more than a few times. So it's a thing. Guess they're waiting to be published posthumously. :) Thanks for taking time to stop by and have a terrific Sunday!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 22, 2017:

I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that some people write books with no plans to publish them. LOL It's a foreign concept to me. Not that it's wrong; I just can't fathom the concept. :)

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 22, 2017:

Flourish, I can always depend on you to give me a writing prompt for a future post! :) Thank you for your support!

And, yes, I've attended some writing workshops where everyone was worried about saying something negative to the writer for fear of hurting feelings. In some cases, all I could think is please make it stop.

I think part of the over enthusiasm for bad writing is because participants know how hard it is to actually read in front of a group (and because they know they might be reading next!). I think a more helpful way to do it would be for people to exchange their manuscripts and participants could anonymously write comments on it.

Again, I truly appreciate your comments and inspiration! Have a lovely Sunday!

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 21, 2017:

People are often overly positive in workshops and other forums, believing they are supporting and encouraging. Instead, they might be giving false hope and depriving the author of the chance to genuinely improve (or at least temper his/her expectations). Not everyone is ready to hear that the plot is grossly underdeveloped, the characters lacking in depth, and/or there are logical inconsistencies in the story. You might consider writing an article on the top 10 (or however many) reasons your book isn’t selling. You’ve touched on so many of these reasons, but that may be a nice article to connect them.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 21, 2017:

Hi, Nell! I think a lot of writers have a "red box" (or at least a computer file folder) full of ideas and dreams that just have never materialized. If it's just for personal fun, who cares if it's self indulgent? But if it's going to be published, then a harder look at its viability is in order. Thanks for stopping by and have fun going through your archive!

Nell Rose from England on October 21, 2017:

I have tons of hobby writing. a whole red box full! lol! I do totally understand what you mean. in face my book was a bit self indulgent, but at least it was based on funny stuff. I am going through my stories just to try to remember writing them! lol!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 21, 2017:

Happy Saturday, Sally! Definitely one situation where waiting and being patient is probably the best course of action. Once you know your why--and even if you have a why!--the decision to move forward or not will become clearer. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us! Have a beautiful weekend!

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on October 21, 2017:

Interesting piece of writing as usual Heidi. I have long held an ambition to write my own story. I am glad that I have sat on it for so long since I can now question the importance my doing so.