Month: September 2018
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There is no formula for writing a book that works for everybody, although there are templates that tell you that a book should be X chapters, include a bonus chapter, contain these and those appendices, and each chapter should contain roughly 2,500 words, accumulating to a total of roughly forty to fifty thousand words.
What it comes down to is this: in writing a book, your job is to deliver your message in the least amount of words possible, not the most amount of words available. Yes, that’s right: the least amount of words possible. This doesn’t mean you have to skimp or take shortcuts or omit details.
Include everything that is NECESSARY.
If you can cut something and it doesn’t affect what you’re trying to say in your book, then it’s UNNECESSARY. It might be the greatest piece of writing ever. You may be sure it’s going to wow readers. Well, tough. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, your book doesn’t need it.
For example, you might have a particularly amusing anecdote. Ask yourself:
- are you telling this anecdote simply because it’s a nice story?
- are you telling this anecdote because it characterises some aspect of your business or imparts a lesson?
A book is as long as it needs to be to communicate its message. If that means it’s 10,000 words or 100,000 words, that’s fine. There’s NO set formula. Just say what you have to say. It’ll take as long as it has to take. Don’t feel short-changed if your book is shorter than others on the market. Consider The Go-Giver, by Bob Burg and John David Mann, which is only about 30,000 words but a global bestseller.
Here are some pointers worth considering …
Your message should be unique
If your book only exists so you can relay what other business and/or self-help gurus have suggested, then you have nothing original to say. Go away.
You are your own person. You have your own message, your own experiences, your own way of doing things. These other people might complement or support what you have to say, but your message should be truly your own. If it’s anybody else’s, then you may as well hand out a pamphlet recommending that other person’s book.
Make sure your book says what only you can say, that you wrote it because you were the only person qualified to write it, and nobody else could deliver the information you have.
What message are you trying to communicate?
What’s your book about? Make sure you have this clear in your head. A book about better business practices isn’t a memoir, although it might use real experiences to demonstrate those practices, whether successfully or unsuccessfully – as long as they have a point. Be clear on your message. Break down how you’re going to deliver that message. Outline it, if necessary, and what chapters will be dedicated to what components to deliver your message.
Cross-reference as little as possible
It’s not building anticipation if, in Chapter 1, you say, ‘In Chapter 7, we’ll discuss so and so’, and if in Chapter 2, you say, ‘But we’ll discuss this more in Chapter 6’. There might be a necessity for some cross-referencing, but limit this AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Too much cross-referencing is sloppy and confusing, and suggests that content is scattered haphazardly throughout the book, instead of self-contained to the chapters where it belongs.
September 20, 2018
Often, this blog is dedicated to writing fiction. This week, we’re going to look at writing nonfiction – specifically, books that are designed to showcase the author’s expertise and knowledge in a specific industry.
Inexperienced writers think it’s easy. It’s no different to writing an autobiography – after all, all the material is there. Just spill it out onto the page, and that’s it. Perfect. Ready for some lucky reader to digest.
As somebody who has written for over thirty years, and who’s worked obsessively to get things as good as possible before submitting them anywhere, this belief infuriates me. I don’t say this to bignote myself. But too many people have the preconception that writing – any writing – is just a dump (and you can take that colloquially).
No other vocation is treated with this dismissiveness. I don’t waltz into surgical theatres and announce that I’m ready to perform brain surgery, because I’ve had an idea about doing a brain surgery for the last ten years. I don’t suggest that I could stroll onto centre court at Wimbledon and take on Roger Federer, because I can visualise myself as a great tennis player.
These – and other vocations – are skillsets that take time, practice, and experience to develop. Writing is a craft. It frustrates me that some writers can be so haphazard with their form. Actually, it not only frustrates me, but I hate that some writers believe that the nucleus of their idea is so brilliant, that it’ll wow every reader into ignoring things like prose, structure, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and everything else that goes into writing.
I would hesitate to see a professional whose book was slipshod. Why would I value their expertise if their book is terrible? If you’re a plumber, and your book lacks clarity and is full of errors, why would I trust you? If you can’t take care with your book, why would I believe you would in your chosen speciality?
Obviously, in these cases these professionals may not be aspiring authors. They may want a book as part of branding. They may want it to showcase their expertise. And that’s fine. But care has to be infused into the product, as well as the efforts that go into the writing. This intimidates some because they don’t have any background that relates to writing.
But that’s where a simple thing called learning kicks in. You wouldn’t decide to work on your car’s engine without first learning something about it. Sure, you could go in and experiment, but success is unlikely. You’d probably just ruin the car. Then where do you go? Figuratively and literally?
There are practices that writers can learn. A simple question to ask yourself is, In one or two simple sentences, what is my book about? If your answer turns into a rambling discourse and your audience begins yawning, you don’t know yourself what your book is about. You’re trying to find the way yourself – and that’s fine, but as preparation. When you sit down to write, you should have a good idea what you’re going to write about. In fiction, you can feel your way. In this sort of nonfiction, you need to know.
This is one of the primary reasons we’re running our Book-Writing Boot Camp, a two-day workshop in October. Now you might be thinking, Well, here was the point of this blog – here’s the hard sell. Well, I would be lying if I didn’t admit to an element of that. But a bigger part of the truth is that we care about the book you want to write.
There are others out there who don’t. They’ll tell you they do. They’ll flatter you and seduce you with sweet whispers of how the market needs your book, how what you have to say needs to be out in the world, how this can lead to greater fame and fortune. Well, you know what? (And this comes from somebody who subcontracted for such places in the past.) They’re full of shit. They’ll tell you what you want to hear because they want your money. Watch how many of these places will be open and friendly before you’ve paid any money, and how they’re unreachable once they have it.
Another issue is that lots of these people have little-to-no-idea about how writing – and publishing – works. They may understand on a superficial level – enough to help you produce a book. But that’s really just about achieving their objective: getting your money and giving you a product. They don’t care about that product. They don’t care about its quality. They’re fast food vendors: in, out, next!
We care here. We care because we’ve seen authors burned and gouged of hard-earned savings, we’ve seen people manipulated and lied to, and – as artists ourselves – we hate it. We hate that people can be treated like that. We hate that people are going in with good intentions and being screwed into spending thousands upon thousands of dollars on things they don’t need and exorbitant print runs, while also surrendering royalties and rights that should be rightfully theirs if they’re self-publishing.
At Busybird Publishing, we’ve always been about wanting to help you tell the story only you can. We want to try and help you find it. We want to arm you with as many tools as we can – and fast-track your development as a writer – so you can do justice to whatever vision you’re nurturing. And, at the end of it all, we want you to walk away happy, content, and educated, and proud of what you’ve done.
Give it a thought if you want to tackle the prospect of writing a book.
You have a message only you can share.
Let us help you.
September 6, 2018
I’ve edited all sorts of books. And I’ve dealt with all sorts of authors. Like any good editor, I’ve had to adjust my approach depending on what and who I’m editing – that’s part of the skill-set: reading my author and finding the best way to connect with them, and working out the sort of editing they expect.
Some editing rules, though, are universal. They overlap and intertwine until they become inextricable, and form the basis of good editing and good editing practices.
So here are those rules, from me to any prospective editors out there …
8. Be diplomatic and courteous.
I shouldn’t have to write this. I really shouldn’t. It should be a given. But I will write it: be diplomatic and courteous at all times.
This can be difficult when deadlines are pressing and your life impacts your head space. You might have relationship issues, debtors might be calling, your health might be bad – none of that matters when dealing with an author. Even if they don’t deserve it, even if they’re tremendously antagonistic, diplomacy and courtesy must prevail. The moment you’re not diplomatic and courteous, you risk souring the relationship, and that can make proceeding with editing impossible.
Being diplomatic and courteous doesn’t mean you need to be a pushover or sycophantic. It’s simply a level of behaviour to maintain when you’re discussing editing and what needs to be done.
If you’re a writer, think about how you would like to be treated if the positions were reversed.
7. Be constructive, not destructive.
Comments such as You should fix this, or, This is stupid, or the ever-popular, I don’t understand what’s going on aren’t helpful, and will just confuse, insult, or antagonise an author. You can think as many of these things as you like. Just don’t articulate them in any form to the author. These are destructive comments.
Think about how you can be constructive. Every issue has a solution. So if a character commits an action that is unbelievable, instead of writing, Like this character would really do that! it would be something like, Perhaps you could consider strengthening this character’s motivation. If possible, provide an example how that can be done that demonstrates what you mean.
Or you might think the plot is absurd. So? You haven’t been retained as a critic. You’ve been retained to help make the plot as sound as possible. Think about how you can do that.
6. Don’t rewrite.
This is not your job. You’re an editor. You may be a writer in another life. You may have ten books published, and five screenplays adapted to film, but in this role you’re an editor. You haven’t been retained to go in and rewrite, ghostwrite, or overwrite the text.
Sure, you can offer examples. You should offer examples. These can be detailed. But just remember it’s the writer’s job to write their own story. You are being retained as navigator, albeit one who is trying to get the author to the destination they – not you – want to reach.
So when suggestions occur to you, ask yourself, is it the editor in you speaking or is it the writer? If it’s a writer, thank them politely, then dismiss them – they’re not welcome here.
5. Never assume you know what the author’s trying to do.
Simple, huh? No. Not really. And it’s because this would seem so simple that assumptions happen.
Check with the author what their intent is. Sometimes, they don’t know, so a conversation helps them work it out. This isn’t as uncommon as you might think. An author might start a novel that’s meant to be a love story, but it might morph into something else – or a number of different things.
Other times, they might think it’s one thing, not realising that it’s become something else. A good author will confess if they have it wrong. A discussion will help you both clarify what the author is trying to do, and how to bring the writing back into line.
Then there are those other times that, well, the author knows exactly what they’re doing and is working hard to get there. Assume they’re doing one thing while they’re actually doing another, and take a guess how the editing is going to work out? If you’ve inferred it’s a love story and they’re writing a contemporary drama, it’s likely they haven’t successfully communicated their intent, the weight of their story is wrong, or you’ve simply misinterpreted it.
At least now, you can both work to the same vision.
4. Get in sync with the author’s voice.
It’s imperative to identify and recognise an author’s voice. JRR Tolkien wrote languorous prose that spanned pages in description and sounded very formal and noble, with just the hint of mischievousness. Cormac McCarthy’s is succinct, sharp, and a little bleak. You wouldn’t edit McCarthy by telling him that he needs to expand on his description and to sound more like Tolkien – that’s not his writing. But if Tolkien wasn’t doing justice to some vista, you would’ve asked him to expand on it.
An author’s voice is their best weapon. Don’t believe me? How many times has voice rescued a bad story? And how many times has a lack of a voice mauled a great story? You need to help the author tell their story in their voice – not yours, or some neither-here-nor-there mishmash of yours and theirs.
Again, the danger here is that lots of editors are also writers, and that writer-side butts in, wanting to phrase things in their own voice. You should be practising telling it to shut up. That writer-side isn’t welcome here. It should have its own forum to sing, rather than invading somebody else’s concert.
3. It’s okay to say nothing.
What? you might think. But I’m meant to say stuff! Well, yes, if stuff is there to be said.
Blank margins scare editors. Editors fear that a blank margin will suggest they’re either not reading the text, or they’re reading it and missing stuff. So they comment. But the truth is that the copy might be okay. In fact, it might be good. It’s okay to say nothing. Or, if you really need to, say something positive – compliment the author. Authors love compliments. And it helps the editor build a relationship with the author.
Don’t be afraid of the blank margin and scribble in it for the sake of scribbling.
2. Don’t continue arguing a point.
A piece of writing might legitimately have an issue the author either refuses to address, or rationalises away as being fine. It happens. So what’s the solution? Continue arguing your point?
You could. Will it get you somewhere? This has to be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Persuasive arguing might flip Author X to your viewpoint, but antagonise Author Y until they grow defensive not only about the point you’re arguing, but everything else.
You need to decide. Sometimes, that’ll mean making the call that, no matter how right you might be, the author is not going to concede.
So instead of continuing to argue, let it go and move on.
1. It takes a strong editor to admit they’re wrong.
Everybody is fallible. Editors are no exception. Sometimes, you might get it wrong. You might misread a scene – and not because the scene itself isn’t clear, but because you misinterpreted it. Or you might suggest something that doesn’t work. Either way, there’s no reason to bluster ahead. Or to rationalise why you got it wrong. Concede the mistake. It’s okay.
Most authors (and I write most, because I’m sure that there’ll be authors out there who take the mistake as a sign of ineptitude) will appreciate their editor’s honesty and humility.
But a strong editor will acknowledge any errors of their own.
As you can see, these rules should apply regardless of what and who you’re editing. They’re all about preserving the author’s intent and helping the author get to the destination they’ve chosen.