Writing on, and about, an island

Posts Tagged ‘Writing a book’

7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Write a Book

In Books, Tasmania, Writing on February 7, 2012 at 10:49 am

Yesterday, I met with a Tasmanian client who is thinking about marking a career milestone by publishing a book. She came to me for advice on whether she should, or could, do it. So, I asked her these questions…

1. Do you have something to say (and can you say it)?

I know – truly revolutionary stuff.

But an inordinate amount of people want to write a book without actually having anything to say… Or, without being able to write. It’s okay to not be a brilliant writer, if you can work with an excellent ghostwriter or editor, but you must recognise the fact first.

2. Is there another way you should be saying it?

By this, I mean think laterally about your message. Does it have to be delivered in a book? Would you be just as satisfied/achieve your goals by publishing your writing on a blog, in a newsletter, in a series of magazine features etc. Lots of people decide, vaguely, that they want to publish a book, but don’t take the time to consider if that’s the best medium for their message…

3. What is it you want to achieve?

  • Fame
  • Fortune
  • Helping others
  • Self-satisfaction

Be honest with yourself. If you want to make money, you’ll need to approach the book differently than if you want to produce something for family and friends.

4. Who is your audience?

Unless you want to vanity-publish, your book needs to talk to other people. Who are those people? If they’re X, then producing a book for Y but hoping X will buy it, just won’t work. You don’t have to please everyone, but you do need to respect your audience.

5. Does this book already exist?

There is enough crap out there already. Don’t add to it. You need to write something that hasn’t been written before. Or, if you’re writing about a topic that has been covered in-depth, you need to approach it from such a stunningly new angle that it seems new. Fortunately, there are so few people out there with real originality and individuality, and so few people speaking ‘the truth’, that it’s strangely easy to be different. Just work hard to find that difference.

6. Are you prepared to put in the effort?

Publishing a book is bloody hard work. Even if putting together the initial material is not difficult (ie it exists somewhere already), the actual production and all that goes with promotion is hard. Be prepared to be persistent and prolific.

7. Do you understand that you need to entertain, educate, inform and inspire?

If you can’t do all – or at least one – of these things with your writing, then you probably shouldn’t be writing.

If you have any aspirations to write a book – in whatever format, on whatever topic – you should consider these questions.

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How to Edit Your Book

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Freelance, Writing on February 1, 2012 at 10:55 am

It’s D-Day. Today’s the day I start editing the first draft of my crime novel. I had a nightmare last night that involved packs of Tasmanian Devils attacking me in a dark garden. Coincidence? I think not.

After having done nothing but the prologue of my novel for years, I wrote my 70,000-word novel in winter 2011 – in 3 months, while working full-time and managing a freelance business and a family.

I make these points (which I will turn into posts at some date) because they mean that, while I got a novel written quickly, it’s in a state you’d expect of something written in a flurry.

It will need countless revisions, but this first thorough edit will be mammoth.

I’ve worked as a magazine and book editor for about 15 years. So, therefore it follows that it will be near-impossible for me to edit my own book. Sort of in the same way that chefs don’t like going home to cook for their family…

But, as I plan to self-publish, I am committed to doing this thing. All I can do is approach my book in the same way I approach a stranger’s manuscript.

The 7 Stages of Editing

  1. I read the entire manuscript in one go – straight through, without stopping or worrying about obvious errors.
  2. I start structural editing – onscreen, in Word or InDesign if it’s an illustrated book – tracking my changes as I go. I love, love, love structural editing.
  3. After the structural editing, I do a copy edit (for grammar etc) – all the way through, making a Style Sheet as I go.
  4. I do another structural check, and cut the clutter (unnecessary words and sections), as well as make a note of anything that needs to be padded out. I know the book pretty darn well at this point, and I find this stage easy, and exciting.
  5. I do another copy edit, making sure I’ve adhered to the publisher’s specific requests.
  6. I do another full read through, ignoring minor errors, to make sure the story makes logical sense (I remember one crime novel I edited, where a murderer killed the victim on a Sunday, when it turned out later that the victim was still alive on the following Monday… Actually, that author mistake is not such a bad idea for a book…).
  7. Final tidy up – a proofread – and it’s off to the author and publisher.

I spend a while on stage 4, especially as I need to liaise with the author on what I recommend be removed, and also what I need from them.

Of course, every book is different and I don’t necessarily follow this exact recipe with each – an illustrated book, for example, often requires work on the appearance and the typesetting, and the writing of captions; I also do a lot of ghostwriting for authors at the editing stage – but it’s my tried-and-tested method for most of the author books I am privileged enough to work on (I get paid to read books!).

Hopefully it’s a method that will work with my book.

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