When you hear the question posed in the title—what kind of author are you?—your mind perhaps goes immediately to genre.
Romance. Mystery. Thriller. Sci Fi.
Or on the non-fiction side, you might think:
Memoir. Biography. Science. Philosophy. Spirituality.
(I'm reminded of this amusing video commercial we had fun producing a few years back).
Today’s question, however, is not about genre. Not at all.
It’s about getting at the roots of your motivation as an author:
I propose that there are a handful of primary motivations that drive people to write a book (or another book). These motivations vary person-to-person, and sometimes from book-to-book.
Some writers no doubt will identify with elements of each motivation. Typically, a single motivation stands out as primary.
This question is more than mere musing or philosophical introspection. As we’ll see, knowing our primary motivation will inform important choices related to how we invest in our books.
Stick with me.
Each of these categories may present in various flavors and shades. Try to find yourself in one of them below.
Again, you’ll probably find yourself in more than one, but which is your primary motivator?
The author who is motivated primarily by Personal Satisfaction has perhaps always dreamed of writing a book. They may have begun a work many years ago, or even completed a draft. Or, they may been recently inspired, and are spending hours per day on their work.
Nevertheless, their desire to publish is just something they want to do. They want to cross it off their bucket list (which doesn’t necessarily imply they are a “one book author,” by the way). They aren’t as interested in book sales or collecting rave reviews. They just want to get the darn thing out there!
That’s the dream.
For authors motivated by Prestige, they are excited to lay claim to the esteemed title:
(capital “A” intended)
They can’t wait to add that juicy tidbit to their resume, and to their social media profiles. They can’t wait to tell friends and family about their latest book. And they are just dying for that cute girl or guy sitting beside them on the airplane to ask, “So…what do you do?”
The Prestige motivation may also manifest in a less ego-driven, more pragmatic form.
You see, there’s a cachet that comes along with being an author that connotes credibility and opens doors that might otherwise be closed. In this case, the value of the Prestige is for what it can do for me, rather than how it makes me feel.
Whether emotional, pragmatic, or a mix, the Prestige-driven writer relishes the author identity.
“Art for art’s sake!” cries the Artist. She’s the purist. She creates her work for its intrinsic value, apart from any rewards or advantages. This author most commonly writes fiction or poetry as opposed to non-fiction.
In many cases, the Artist presents as downright allergic to the notion of marketing, which she regard as tainted, dirty, or even immoral.
She may pine for the “old days,” when an author worked in a picturesque cabin in the woods, while the publisher took care of the distasteful business side of things, enabling the Artist to continue focusing exclusively on her craft.
The Mission First author has something to say or something to share. And he wants to shout it from the literary rooftops.
He wants to change the world and touch lives with his stories or propositions. He’ll stop at almost nothing to get his message out to the world.
As much as the Mission First author believes in the cause, their book project may not always appear to them as shrouded in sunshine and light. In some cases, the idea for the book may have “found them.” They may feel they have a mission and responsibility to get the work out to the world. They may not even know exactly why or how they were called to this. Their book project may seem like a heavy burden cast upon their heart.
They are like Frodo Baggins—one day enjoying a peaceful life in the Shire, and then suddenly on a seemingly irreversible journey to Mordor to cast a ring into the cracks of Mount Doom.
The author primarily driven by Profit may derive much pleasure from their work. They may love “being an author.” And they may have high regard for the inherent value of their work, combined with a strong sense of mission. However, at the roots, they look at their writing as a business.
The Profit author often (though not exclusively) “writes to market,” meaning, focusing on genres / sub-genres or niches where there is demand, or where they perceive a market opportunity. As much as this author may authentically love writing, he would most likely not pursue it if it didn’t pay—or if he didn’t believe it had a chance of paying. This author loves to check his royalty report, and tends to be active in marketing his books and writing.
The Marketing Maven is much like the Profit-driven author…on steroids.
You can spot this writerly creature by listening closely to her language. If you hear words like sales funnel, lead magnet, loss leader, and upsell, you’ve likely encountered a Marketing Maven.
Or, you may have encountered one of the other types of authors who has learned from a Marketing Maven…sometimes kicking and screaming each step of the way (especially if it’s an Artist!).
Reading this list, you may be convinced you are more than one type. In fact, you might even be convinced you are all of them. And indeed, that’s undoubtedly true for some authors. If you look again, though, typically one of the motivators will stand out as more fundamental than the others.
Imagine a pyramid with different “layers” or levels, from bottom to top. (Think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, for those who took Psychology 101).
For you, which motivation type lives at the base, the bottom of the pyramid? Which motivation is the strongest?
And which one is perhaps true for you to some degree, but less-so than all the others? That one lives at the top of the pyramid.
You may even feel a sense of guilt as you look at the list. As in, Awww man, I really should be the Artist. Or the Mission Fist author!
Don’t feel guilty if you aren’t the one you think you should be. The one that seems most noble. Or most practical. (Practically everyone wants to be someone they are not. And almost no one wants to be who they are!)
There’s no shame here. Each of the motives is legitimate. And almost no one is so “pure” in their motive that they can claim one and only one type, to the exclusion of all others.
Here are some questions to ask yourself….
Would you be cool if you made $100K in royalties, but never received a single review, email or message from a fan of your work? (Profit)
How about if you received a dozen emails a week from grateful readers…and after a few years, you finally “broke even” with your publishing investment? (Artistic Expression, or Mission First)
What if hardly anyone seems to have bought or read your book, but as a result of it, you got booked for high-ticket speaking engagements? (I’m looking at you both, Mr. Prestige and Ms. Marketing Maven).
What if you could just touch one person, or change one life? (Mission First)
You get the idea.
I mentioned at the start of this post that there is value to identifying your primary motivation that goes beyond the merely curious or philosophical. In fact, there’s value to identifying the rank of your various motivations—your own personal motivational hierarchy.
Here’s how this plays out.
As authors, we are bombarded with lots of ideas and opportunities, like these. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with FOMO (fear of missing out).
However, knowing your motivation(s) will help you make better choices about where to invest your time and resources.
If you’re primarily motivated by Personal Satisfaction, for example, having your book in ebook format might be enough. Or maybe you’d want to hold a copy in your hands, too. So you can pass copies to family and friends. (And don’t forget, that cutie you’re sharing the armrest with).
An audiobook, while it might be nice, is perhaps not a justifiable expense for the Personal Satisfaction author with limited funds. For the Mission First author, who is committed to getting her message spread as far and wide as possible, it might seem like a necessity.
It bears mentioning that your motivation may also change from project to project. You may have written your first book as a Mission First author. And then you attended a writer’s conference, and heard someone say the best thing you can do to market your book is to write another book. Boom—suddenly you’re talking like a Marketing Maven!
Faulker or Socrates or Thoreau or someone said:
Or something like that!?
And I say:
Knowing your primary motivation (and secondary, and tertiary, and so on….) will help you make aligned choices that support your goals.
You’ll be empowered to invest wisely, avoiding investment in services that might look appealing or sound important, but won’t move the needle in a way that’s meaningful to you.
Say, what kind of author are you?
Does this list capture the major motivations that drive authors?
Did I miss any?
Ryan Levesque served as the President of eBookIt.com from the company’s inception in 2010 through 2019. Ryan now serves as a Publishing Concierge, working directly with customers to provide customized services (book marketing, one-to-one “hand holding”, video trailers, and more) which go beyond the core offerings of eBookIt.com. Oh, and he occasionally blogs for us, too.