What’s Your Mission Statement?

A lovely woman asked me on Facebook what I thought an author’s mission statement should be. It caught me by surprise because I’ve never given any thought to an author’s mission statement. Having never heard of it, I wondered what that meant. I mean, businesses have mission statements, but authors? Ours is:

Our nonfiction books are about going from ordinary to extraordinary. We publish personal journeys with socially relevant themes: stories about everyday people who end up doing extraordinary things due to a pivotal event that alters their perspective about life.

As a psych/sociology major from back in the early Jurassic Era, I’m intrigued with how people react to challenges. Face it; life is challenging, and I like tapping into stories about people who persevere against all odds. I like stories that make me think, make me a better person, and make me remember their stories long after I finished their book. I call it “scratching my soul.” And that’s what our books do.

It lays out who we are and our general philosophy behind the types of books we publish. When I have my author hat on, I write because I have an idea that’s burning so hot that if I don’t feed the beast, I won’t sleep, eat, will drink heavily, suffer gout and bleeding from the gums, and experience overall crankiness to the point where my family will drop me off at the nearest freeway underpass with a dollar bill pinned to my vest. I admit that my need to write is a wholly selfish endeavor, and I don’t consider anyone else when barfing out my story on cyber paper.

A mission statement implies something else – a contract between you and those you serve. Wikipedia defines a mission statement as:

A statement of the purpose of a company or organization, its reason for existing.

The mission statement should guide the actions of the organization, spell out its overall goal, provide a path, and guide decision-making. It provides “the framework or context within which the company’s strategies are formulated.”

So this lovely woman’s question on Facebook got me to thinking. Should authors have a mission statement and give a nod to those they serve, or is an author’s writing endeavor simply an intersection of create and provide – and that writers owe their readership nothing?

Would you writers have better focus if you had a clear vision of your reason to exist as a writer? Would you write more clearly if you understood your goal (and please don’t use “publication” as your goal because, really, it doesn’t demand excellence – not with the plethora of DIY)? What is your strategy?  Is your reason to exist for the sheer love of writing, or are you using your writing as a form of therapy?

Given the types of books that we publish, I see LOTS of manuscripts that appear to be therapy sessions rather than a book that will change lives and make people think. Maybe these writers didn’t have a mission statement and, therefore, lacked a clear purpose of their book’s goal.

So how ’bout it, dear readers? Do you feel authors should have a mission statement? Have you thought about what yours would be? I know this has given me some food for thought, so thank you, Paulissa, for making my synapses fire a bit harder today.

9 Responses to What’s Your Mission Statement?

  1. Kelly Exeter says:

    Hmm … I am averse to mission statements in business so I reckon I am averse to them as a writer too. I think they are akin to over thinking things a bit and making something simple (write things that people want to read) more complex than it needs to be.

  2. I felt the same way, Kelly, but I have to admit that the whole mission statement thing made me think more deeply about my writing and clarifying my goals.

  3. Pelotard says:

    My only question is “Where in the query letter does it go?” since it never occured to me not to have one. (I might have to polish the wording, but I know what it _feels_ like.)

  4. Anita Neuman says:

    I have a mission statement for myself as a person, which keeps me focused on broader goals in life and helps me prioritize my day-to-day stuff. But a mission statement specific to my writing? Hmmmm…thought-provoking indeed!

  5. Pelo, I don’t think this fits in the query letter, but rather it could help authors clarify their own goals a bit more clearly.

  6. My mission in life (not just, but including writing) is to reveal the real in a way that yields compassion, release, and a change in perception in those with whom I interact. That’s just how I roll.

  7. hollyyoumans says:

    Great question Lynn! For me, I needed to write from the heart on my first draft. If I had gone into my memoir with a plan, it would have stifled my creativity.

    Rewrites are a different story (pun intended). On my most recent rewrite, I dove in with a clear theme. Anything that didn’t relate directly to my 20 year, undiagnosed anxiety disorder, had to go.

    Still, I can’t say that a mission statement would have helped me. If I went into my edits with the intention to help others, I believe I would have written what I thought people would want to hear, rather than digging deep and writing my authentic thoughts, reaction, feelings, etc. It’s those small, true details, that are universal. That is what gives my story the power to heal. I would not have gotten there with a mission statement.

  8. danholloway says:

    Very important question, Lynn. I wrote a piece at the start of the summer asking writers to try to boil down an answer to the question “what do you stand for?” (http://selfpublishingadvice.org/blog/writer-who-are-you/). There are lots of reasons why I think it’s important for a writer to be able to do that. But two really important ones are:
    1. pragamatically, this is a question it’s really good to know right from the start. All kinds of things come along as your writing life develops. Many of them feel like wonderful opportunities, and many feel like annoying distractions. But knowing which of them actually are opportunities and which distractions is impossible unless you are absolutely clear where you want to be headed (because they’re not nouns that make sense in isolation – opportunity *for what*? distraction *from what*
    ?). The thing we have littlest of as writers is time, so knowing what are the opportunities and taking them and what are the distractions and avoiding them are key – but to do that you need to know what you stand for.
    2. in terms of craft, I think (I’d be interested to know whether you, as an editor, agree) there’s an intimate connection between the clarity with which you know what you want to do and the clarity of that elusive quality of voice. Voice for me is about the unique way you look at the world, what you see when you see your characters or a situation, the whole perecptual lens. And words are the way you have of conveying that. Unless the image you see is crystal clear, the already removed verbal representation will be even muddier

  9. Great post – very thought-provoking. Yes, writers need a mission statement, but I don’t think they can state it clearly when they begin. The more books you write, the clearer your purpose becomes. You find it by becoming aware of what moves you to write, and by recognizing recurring themes in your body of work. This awareness helps you clarify what you hope your books will accomplish – your mission statement.
    “Writing books that meet the needs of readers” does not offer much more direction than “to get published”. You’re still left with which readers, which needs? A book of child porn meets the needs of a small (I hope) group of readers – is that as good a fit with what you want to accomplish as “scratching people’s souls”? (Love that phrase, by the way).
    I think “mission statement” scares people in a writer. They think, soap box.
    They should be thinking, a writer who is in control of her craft.

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