The hidden ingredient in all great nonfiction books: love

If you don’t love your book, it’s going to suck.

What do I mean by love?

People write books for all sorts of reasons. Some are self-serving (“This will make me famous!”). Some are mundane (“This will get me tenure.”). And some, of course, are written for love.

Without the love, the book is unlikely to be great.

What does it mean to love a book?

It means you are fully wedded to the main premise — the big idea — and feel passionate that everyone needs to know about it.

It means that you care deeply about the audience and want more than anything else to help them.

It means that you want to change the way people think.

These are the ingredients in a book that matters.

Why love makes a difference

What happens when you write and publish a book?

You need to do research to find stories, data, and arguments to back up your premise. That is a lot of work, but if you love the book, it’s work you’re willing to do.

You need to organize all the content and struggle with how it fits together. That’s uncomfortable, since it requires remaking your concept over and over.

You need put in the effort pitch it to a publisher, or carefully vet self-publishing options: emotional work that only feels worth it if you’re in love with the concept.

You need to write. You need to put tens of thousands of words together. Only love can fuel that kind of work.

That’s the hard part. But it’s followed by the other hard part.

Rewrites are hard.

Going through copy edits and painstakingly determining how match up your vision with the rules of grammar and consistency is hard.

Scrutinizing page proofs without losing focus is hard.

How about narrating the audiobook? Reading the book aloud for a dozen hours or more is pretty tough to do unless you’re in love with your own prose.

Going on tour to promote the book? Love fuels that.

Giving the speech about the book idea . . . a hundred times. Unless you love that idea, that’s going to get pretty tedious.

Love is what makes all of that worthwhile. It is, quite literally, a labor of love.

Love your book or don’t do it

Think about love relationships among humans.

Would you marry that other person — put up with their bad habits and the pain you’ll feel when they’re suffering — if you had an idea of the work it would be? Relationships are work. Love is what makes that work worth doing; love is what makes it possible to do that work.

To be a parent is to experience pain. I think childbirth is painful so it can make parents aware of all the pain they will experience in caring for a person who is too young to take care of themselves or make good decisions, at least at first. But it’s worth it. Love makes it worth it. Without love, who could get through parenthood?

A book is not a lover or a child, but it demands attention. You have to care about it. You have to care when you conceive it, care when you write it, care when you’re having it published, and care and care and care some more once it’s out in the world.

If you love your book — every idea, every story, every word, every footnote — you can make this worthwhile. If not, it’s going to be a long slog.

So if you think you want to write a book, ask yourself if you could love it. It not, either make it better, or give up. Because without love, creating that book is going to be a very long and joyless slog.

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