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Can Your Book Really Change the World?

Updated on May 12, 2019
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert, author of 21+ books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.

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Quick, think of a book that you think has changed the world. But it can't be the Bible, Qur'an/Koran, or any sacred text of an organized religion. I’ll give you 10 seconds. Go!

I’m waiting. (Jeopardy game show music plays.)

Time’s up. Did you have trouble thinking of one? I know I did. Off the top of my head, I could only think of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. But, honestly, I think it was her non-book work that helped bring about changes in thinking about the environment. The same could probably be said for whatever book you thought of as a world changer.

(P.S. I’m curious what you did come up with as a world changing book. Please let me know in the comments.)

Books can be a slow way to bring about change, especially these days with less book reading and more multimedia and online content consumption. Yet it's amazing how many authors still say that they want to write and publish a book to change the world.

Different Authors, Same Question, Same Problem

I receive a number of inquiries from authors, primarily from those who write nonfiction, who want to change the world in some way, and who are anxious to get mass distribution and/or exposure for their books to spread their messages.

I’ve found that if authors have to contact me about getting distribution or exposure for their books, that usually means they have few (or no) followers and fans, no significant online presence, no media connections, no idea of how to sell and market their work, and, more importantly, no idea of how to bring about the change they seek. They believe that a book expounding on their ideas will be the watershed act that will turn the world to their worldview. But that’s not how the world works.

Superheroes Versus Circles of Influence

The mental error that authors can make is to believe that if enough people will read their books, those who read will immediately believe or behave differently. But changing people’s minds and actions is a monumental task. It's a bit of a god/superhero conceit to believe that this one book will be the one thing that turns the world around.

Additionally, these authors often don’t provide any road map for readers to follow. What do they want readers to do to help bring about change? True, some may only be seeking a change in attitude, not immediate action. But these books can often slip into being an extended opinionated rant without providing anything actionable.

The real problem is these authors haven’t built a likeminded author platform (fan base) that believes as they do. Those followers and fans can then influence people in their own social spheres. Visualize it as concentric circles, with influence starting at the author’s fan base center, slowly working outward toward the world at large.

Pay Me to Change

If authors so want change, why do they think that just publishing and selling books is the way to make that happen? It’s as if they’re saying to the world, “You should change and you should buy my book so I can tell you why and how.” Although that might sound ignorant or arrogant, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if they don’t do any outreach such as blogging, podcasting, social media, speaking, networking, volunteering, online or offline community participation, collaborating with others, etc., they shouldn’t wonder why no one is interested in hearing, or buying, what they have to say.

You also have to remember that book reading is competing with all other forms of content including social media, videos, gaming, broadcast and streaming shows and movies... the list is exhausting. So selling books to spread a message is tough.

Measuring Your Book's Impact on the World

Here’s where it gets even more difficult for change-seeking authors. How will they measure the impact of their books to foster change? That is truly even more difficult due to these authors’ missions being one or more of the following.

Vague

Often people who want change express that change in the most vague of terms. Here’s one of my favorite examples, “I want to empower (fill in your target group of people here).” Okay, and that means what? It’s a great soundbite with nothing specific to bite into.

Not Easily Measurable

In addition to being vague, authors’ lofty world-changing goals cannot be measured in any specific way. Let’s go back to the empowerment issue. How would anyone measure “empowerment?”

Enormous

Let’s again look at the “I want to empower such-and-such” mission. Except for exceptionally small groups, many subgroups of the world's population number into the millions. Would a single author’s work be able to empower that many people? Probably not without an unimaginable investment.

Realize that producing a landmark book that seems to change the world is a gamble. The operative word here is “seems.” Your book is really just one piece of a larger effort that helps build a committed community that bands together to change the world.

So Should You Write and Publish Books with the Hope of Changing the World?

Absolutely. Why not? Just remember that change is achieved through collective, cumulative, and collaborative efforts. Understand that your book may be part of the change, not the sole maker of change.

Just remember that change is achieved through collective, cumulative, and collaborative efforts.

— Heidi Thorne

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.

© 2019 Heidi Thorne

Comments

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  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    4 months ago from Chicago Area

    Brian, thank you so much for the beautiful commentary on the issue!

    All of the books you mention are prime candidates for world changing, all in different ways. (P.S. After I posted this, I thought of Darwin's work, too... or maybe Einstein.) And, as you note, all of them are truly culminations of a lifetime of work, not just the work of writing the book.

    Your advice of being an example truly wraps up what it means to be a world changer. So many people talk (or write), but don't do.

    Again, thank you for your thoughtful response! Have a great day!

  • B. Leekley profile image

    Brian Leekley 

    4 months ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

    Excellent points and advice, Heidi, from an amateur writer who would love to write books and shorter works that help to create an even better world.

    Regarding your opening question, I thought of THE PROPHET by Khalil Gibran and THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

    Given a few more minutes, I would have added, in no particular order: ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF THE CELESTIAL SPHERES by Copernicus; ORIGIN OF SPECIES by Charles Darwin; CAPITAL by Karl Marx; DIVINE COMEDY by Dante; THE JOURNALS OF LEWIS AND CLARK; MR. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S COMEDIES, HISTORIES, & TRAGEDIES [1623 first folio], and, like you, SILENT SPRING by Rachel Carson. And additional titles keep coming to mind. In most of the examples, the book is the fruit of years of devoted, enthused work.

    To your advice, I'd add: when creating yourself or any other work, such as a book, include conscientiously choosing your ideals and doing your best to live up to them. Example is the best teacher.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 months ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Linda! I had a tough time coming up with a list of world changing books, too. Yet, that's a common goal for many writers. I think we'd agree that memorable doesn't always equal world changing.

    Thanks so much for joining and conversation and have a beautiful day!

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    5 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

    I love the topic of this article. It's very thought provoking. I have to admit that when you gave me ten seconds to think of a book that's changed the world my mind went blank. I've never forgotten some books that I read and enjoyed a long time ago, but they didn't change the world. Thanks for creating such an interesting article, Heidi.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 months ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Mary! As you've noted, I do think it's a great idea to have a book to offer for the "oh, by the way..." situation. And that's how it should be used, as a next step to further engage one's followers.

    So glad you added that angle to the conversation! Hope all is good. Have a great week!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 months ago from Chicago Area

    Bill, I think you and I both know that change is really accomplished one person, one small group, at a time. And, yes, I think it's interesting we thought of the same book. Not surprised you thought of it with your interest in urban farming.

    Thanks for chiming in and have a terrific week!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 months ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Pamela! Animal Farm was another world-changing book I thought of later. What makes that book so intriguing is that it wrapped up the worldview in a story. I wonder how many people actually got the veiled message when it was first published. A true case study in world-changing literature.

    To Kill a Mockingbird is still a classic that impacts the world now.

    But don't you find it interesting that both you and I had to go back several decades to think of some books that changed the world? That's really something to think about! :)

    Thanks for chiming in and have a beautiful week!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 months ago from Chicago Area

    Flourish, the "preaching to the choir" situation is especially tricky for authors that want change. While it can help solidify common attitudes in one's community, the problem is that it's an echo chamber.

    I think in this situation, authors need to provide more actionable information to help the "choir" influence their own communities and networks.

    Thanks for adding that perspective to the conversation! Have a lovely week!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 months ago from Chicago Area

    Liz, like you, I had a tough time coming up with even the title I did as a world changing book. But I agree that movements in thought, brought about by groups of authors, artists, and thinkers, could be said to bring about change. Prime examples would be the Enlightenment and Renaissance.

    Thanks for adding that angle to the conversation! Have a great week!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 months ago from Chicago Area

    Adrienne, you are so right! If you don't have an online presence these days, it is very difficult to impact the audiences you want to reach. And, yes, it's a lofty goal to try and change the world.

    Thanks for joining the conversation and for always sharing your knowledge and insight with us! Have a great week!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 months ago from Chicago Area

    MG, it is truly sad when great books don't get to their place in the light of day while so many so-so books do. I agree that personal satisfaction should be a key driver in deciding whether you wish to write a book and self publish.

    Thanks so much for sharing your perspective with us! Have a great week!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 months ago from Chicago Area

    Thanks, Val, for sharing your perspective and for your kind comments!

    True, I don't want to discourage anyone. But hope authors will be realistic with what's possible.

    Have a great week ahead!

  • Blond Logic profile image

    Mary Wickison 

    5 months ago from Brazil

    I agree with you. Books seem to be a difficult avenue to change the mindset of people. If they have an online following, I can see a book helping to bolster their cause.

    Once someone has chosen to jump on your bandwagon, you can say, 'oh by the way, I've written a book'.

    A good look at the reality of achieving a life changing book.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    5 months ago from Olympia, WA

    LOL...you and I thought of the same book. As for me, I'm content if I reach one person at a time. I'm not sure if that is realistic or terribly pessimistic. At least it's attainable. LOL

    Happy Monday to you!

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 

    5 months ago from Sunny Florida

    I really liked this article Heidi. I can only think of books that impacted me. When I was quite young we read 'Animal Farm' as an assignment, which made us think about socialism, and here generations later it is an issue.

    I really liked 'To Kill a Mockingbird', which was so popular and they made a movie, so I think that impacted many people. Thanks for an article that made me think!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 

    5 months ago from USA

    I completely agree with you regarding the rant thing. Too often I find that authors repeat themselves or lapse into illustrative stories and preach to the choir instead of providing a toolkit for making actionable inroads of change in one’s own world. They don’t enhance the reader’s skills or help them set SMART goals, thereby proving pretty useless.

  • Eurofile profile image

    Liz Westwood 

    5 months ago from UK

    This is a thought-provoking article. I could not come up with an answer to your question. But, as an English Literature student many years ago, I can recall bodies of work by various authors that together could have been said to have had an effect.

  • alexadry profile image

    Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

    5 months ago

    You have made some very valuable points in this article. An online presence if very important nowadays and social media entails, to a great extent, influencing others and building a following. It's a big aspiration writing a book with the intent to change the world!

  • emge profile image

    MG Singh 

    5 months ago from Singapore

    I think this is where destiny comes in. Good books may lie close to dustbin and an innocuous book can garner limelight. Irrespective of the result the personal satisfaction is immeasurable.

  • ValKaras profile image

    Vladimir Karas 

    5 months ago from Canada

    Heidi --- So true. Personally, I never believed that any individual -- other than another nasty idiot who would start a major war -- could affect cultural changes with an eye-opening wake up call.

    I think it's all a matter of a very gradual process of collective consciousness evolution, with, again, not a single smart ass who will ignite that process by publishing a "Personal and Collective Evolution Manifesto".

    If I ever publish my poems, which, truth be told, do have some messages of potential personal benefits, I would never expect them to make a cultural splash. Actually, being a meditator for decades, while working on myself with a bunch of mental and physical disciplines -- I am aware how naive would be the notion of not doing any of it and then changing someone's life in a hocus-pocus manner through reading something. My poems carry a subtitle of "ones to possibly inspire" -- not to "change".

    But, let's not kill anyone's dream. Mine have mostly been some sweet awakenings.

    You, my friend, never stop amazing me with your brilliant insight into these matters of self-publishing.

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