What You Dare to Become Known For as an Author

Thomas Alva Edison. Abraham Archibald Anderson (American, 1847–1940). Public domain.
Thomas Alva Edison. Abraham Archibald Anderson (American, 1847–1940). Public domain.

Think of the areas of life in which you would like people's respect. On what topics do you wish people would listen to your opinion? Better yet, why does it matter to you that the world takes you seriously here? Influence is power. If you care about something, you should seek influence around it. Your place in society should be one of prestige and importance, but only if you can earn acceptance from your peers in your era.

You know you want to write a book, and you probably have a few good ideas about what you know enough to write about. However, do you know what you are comfortable speaking publicly about and aligning your identity with? Authoring a book is a powerful statement about who you are and what you stand for. For first-time authors, narrowing the options according to this new variable will be the most difficult part of the entire publishing process.

Most people cannot easily decide what kind of character they want to be in the eyes of the world. Newbie authors want to tell their entire life story in a single tome or share every valuable thought they've ever had for fear of leaving out a single fact or interesting experience. They regard their books as the only lasting consequence of their life on Earth. It is a testament to their existence, so it must not omit anything of note.

As soon as you choose what to say in your book, you collapse all possibilities into a single path. Every word following the first is increasingly limited in the directions it can go. If you struggle to refine all your ideas into a topic viable for your first book, it's time to reframe what your book will be for you. The purpose of your book is not to capture every thought that has ever passed through your head or every detail of your personal history. It is to curate relevant elements of what you know and have experienced, then arrange them into a factual narrative around a well-defined goal.

Do you know what you care enough about to put your name and face on it, even if all the world may see it? This is easy to answer if you've already committed your life to a professional path. Your trade should be a reflection of your deepest values, filtered through your skills and abilities. If that's the case, you already have a template for your message—or at least one possible message. Turn your experiences and lessons into a guide for others who face similar struggles.

Whatever you write, the message always comes first. Do not fall into the trap of just wanting to see your name on a book. Do not let this communication medium become a tool for glorifying your ego over getting important information out. Resist the urge to title it something named after you or your business or slap your face on the cover. That's what your author bio is for. The book is not about you, except to the extent that your identity helps communicate the message.

Future Associations

What you value now may not be what you always will. Someday, you may come to believe the exact opposite of what you currently do on some very important topics. Once published, your book's influence and your connection to it are hard to make disappear completely. Even if no one buys your book and you remove it from publication, archives of its existence will persist on the internet, and used copies may still turn up on eBay.

If your book sells well, people will start talking about it in places and contexts you could not have predicted. Its influence will spill out into the world, leaping between minds, and you will no longer be able to control it. What will happen if the person you are a decade from now no longer wants to be associated with the message you release in the present? Consider the possibility that your religious, political, or philosophical beliefs could evolve with more life experience. Consider that you may enter a line of work that conflicts with the values you want to express now.

The cake, once baked, can never be unbaked. In the age of information, whatever's out there remains out there. More than anything, this is why you should aim to write beyond momentary market fads or passing personal interests. You are investing in the world's perception of you throughout the remainder of your life (and, if you do things right, even after your death). If you are clear about the role you wish to play, choosing the topic and tone of your first book should be no chore. Write something that won't sabotage your future self.

I'm not saying that what you write must be perceived as innocuous by all people for fear that you may face social backlash for your unacceptable opinions. What I mean is to write your message in a way that is consistent with your timeless, internal values. All your interests fall into a gradient of permanent and passing. A decade from now, will you still feel good that you put all that energy into writing your book about the politics of modern Russia? Or is it just an obsession that has caught your eye for now?

Authorial Perception

I'm not exaggerating when I say that becoming a successful author, with thousands of happy readers and recognition for your message, will change your life. The social effects of authorship cannot be ignored. When people know you have written a book, they will assume many things about you. Once they have read your book, they will have glimpsed into the workings of your mind. The reader will have already gone on a lengthy journey with you as their guide.

If you have ever lamented that other people couldn't understand you the way you would like, a book offers the opportunity to set the record straight. You can write your own persona into the world through your tailored communication. If you write under a pen name, it will not be long before more people know your made-up label than the name your parents gave you. You will face a rapid social evolution guided in the direction of your written words.

Should you feel apprehension about what to write for fear of becoming an imposter, search within yourself to discover why you believe your knowledge may be inauthentic. If your book's new social role clashes with the role you play now, you will resist the evolution. Similarly, people in your life who have grown accustomed to knowing you in one way might not welcome a departure from what they have come to expect of you.

You don't have to be the perfect embodiment of your words to write a compelling book, just competent and consistent with their place in your life. I will never claim to be the world's leading authority on writing or self-publishing, but I will stand by my passion for the topic and the accuracy of my claims as long as I must. You are allowed to admit the limits of your knowledge or abilities.

Lifetime of Interests

If you've been alive long enough to have something worth saying, your experiences are broad and unique enough that they could be arranged in many ways. Even exceptional teenagers, with their lesser quantity of experience, may have experienced things worth writing about that would shock and enlighten older people. Someone who has spent 50 years working in one industry has acquired unique perspectives that would be valuable to newcomers to that same industry.

When you look at your life through this lens and realize that there are many things to say that could be worth listening to, you face a burden of choice. The determining factor for which of the many possible topics you could knock out a few dozen thousand words on will be the one that offers the greatest emotional reward. You will learn to pluck the right details out of the larger story of your life and arrange them in a complementary fashion.

Every marketer knows that the benefits of a product must appear at the forefront of its presentation while its various features take a backseat. Look at your life and message this way. What are the benefits that come from knowing and talking to you? What is the information you find yourself repeating across countless conversations? The details of your life can make for an entertaining part of reinforcing the value of your message.

Gregory V. Diehl is the founder of Identity Publications and author of several popular nonfiction books on business and personal development. His book The Influential Author is a lengthy, in-depth guide to crafting and publishing meaningful nonfiction books at or beyond the standards expected from traditional publishing. 

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