Archive for June, 2015

SO YOU WANT TO WRITE A BOOK

Sometimes it seems that almost everyone I know or meet wants to write and publish a book. With the development of e-books and self-publishing, achieving the dream has become much more  possible than in the past. In fact, anyone can generate a bunch of words, feed them into an online publishing system, and create “a book.” But especially for an inexperienced writer, it can be difficult to figure out if the material you want to communicate is of interest and value to anyone but yourself.

A while ago an acquaintance approached me, almost timidly, saying: “I heard you have been helping someone edit a book. Would you be willing to look at a manuscript of mine?” The man was a retiree, distinguished in his professional scientific field. Some twenty years earlier he had worked for two years in an exotic but politically explosive country, thousands of miles from his home in North America.
“While I was there,” he told me, “I kept a journal of my experiences. I had some adventures, and I’ve always wondered if the journal might make a book.” We discussed possible audiences for such a book, ranging from the general public to professional colleagues and friends. Admitting that he was not an accomplished writer, he said that if the prospects for publication did not seem strong, he could always give the journal to his children, “so they could understand what their dad was doing over there.”
I read the entire manuscript and took notes on it. The manuscript was truly a journal, consisting of about 300 dog-eared, type-written pages. To me, the document was appropriate reading for an audience of one–the writer–or possibly two, including his wife.

 

The problems were numerous. The purpose of the overseas journey and the work he was doing did not become clear until almost the end of the journal. The text assumed extensive personal familiarity with the writer, his family, his friends and acquaintances and his work colleagues. People were not identified, and their roles were not explained.
The writer had faced tremendous frustrations trying to set up both his work equipment and his personal living situation in a Third-World country. Much of the text was devoted to telling stories over and over again about the daily challenges of securing a telephone or a computer, or transportation. And the “adventures” he’d mentioned to me, it turned out, were mostly experienced by his colleagues, not by him. (I mention the issues raised by this manuscript here because most of them represent common obstacles for inexperienced writers.)
Revising the journal for publication would have been a massive project of reorganizing and explaining technical terms, as well as many anecdotes that did not stand on their own. I outlined exactly what the steps would be in such a project. The prospective author reviewed my comments, admitting that he was not surprised. It took him about five minutes to decide that as a retiree who was enjoying a life of family and travel, he did not want to commit to what clearly would be a long and tedious endeavor.

 

I wrote this post to illustrate one of the most important services I offer as a book editor: Serving as an objective observer who can help you determine if your proposed book is worth the trouble it will take to find a publisher and an audience, and specifying the steps for achieving that goal.

For more information on my book editing, please see the Editorial Products section.