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An Editor Writes: 10 Lessons I Learned When Writing My Own Book

12 Jun

going_itWhen I set out to write a full-length non-fiction book, I had two ideas in my head:

1. I can just stitch this together from my blog posts – easy!

2. I’m a professional editor and writer, I’m used to writing to deadlines, so I’ll get this done quickly and efficiently.

Wrong!

This article is about what happens when you go over to the other side – when editor and content writer becomes (self-)published author.

Sitting down to write

The first thing I found when writing my own book was that it’s so hard to make yourself do it! I knew towards the end of 2012 that I had amassed the blog posts that I needed to write a book about a year of self-employment. So I picked up all the posts out of my blogs, popped them in a Word document, and thought, “Oh, look: a book”.

First lesson learned: I should probably have organised the book using a software package like Scrivener. This would have made it easier to organise … and reorganise … and reorganise it.

Second lesson learned: I should have set aside time for this process in my diary, like I do for my clients. You’d think I’d have learned this from trying to slot some academic research into my schedule – apparently not!

Emotional blocks to writing

I don’t know whether it’s because when I write for my clients, it’s “white label” work, which means that my name doesn’t appear on the finished piece, and having this appearing under my own name made it feel like I was under the spotlight, but I kept getting blocked. When it’s paid work for a client, I’m as busy as can be, but somehow there were a zillion other things I could do to avoid working on the book (sound familiar)?

I was committed to it; I knew it could actually help people; people had TOLD me to write the thing, but I’d get blocked and veer away from it in my mind and physically when I tried to sit at my desk. This happened particularly at the editing stage.

Third lesson learned: Treat writing like a job. Set deadlines and stick to them. Try to sweep aside the emotions and get on with it, as you would with a job.

How to organise your book in a million easy stages

It all looked a bit messy and unbalanced, so I made some of the posts diary entries and some of them articles. Nope, still looked wrong. This is where I realised that you can’t just turn a blog into a book without some serious editorial decisions. I moved stuff around, added an introduction to each month, and stuck bigger, more general pieces in appendices at the end.

Fourth lesson learned: If you think it’s going to be easy, you’re probably doing it wrong. Nothing good comes without a struggle, right?

How to edit an editor

Like a good writer who’s learnt from others, I was all ready and eager for some beta readers. I recruited two friends initially. Each did a useful read-through for me and gave me some good comments. One of them, and I say this with the greatest appreciation and respect, edited my book like I was editing my book. She’s not a professional editor, but she’s good. She picked out typos (ouch) and weird sentences (ouch) and missing links (ouch) and repetitions (eek) and huge structural issues (argh!).

Ouch, ouch, ouch.

I’ve written in detail elsewhere about my reaction to this edit: suffice it to say that I felt wounded, winded and disconsolate. What a marvellous lesson about how my own clients feel when I edit them! It did put me off for a good while, thinking this book was rubbish, how dare I think I could publish something, let alone publish something good that people would want to read. In fact, I left it for FOUR MONTHS!

Fifth lesson learned: Editing is vital, but it does sting. I must continue to be as kind to my editing clients as I possibly can be. However kind the editor is, it still feels brutal to have your work criticised and pulled apart. I will not make it more brutal for them.

Sixth lesson learned: You can get a blog post out of anything. Mine on being edited was one of my most popular so far!

Getting round to rewriting

I mentioned emotional blocks: this was the big one. I read through the editing comments. No: I skim-read through them, muttering and sobbing. Then I closed the file and ran away from it. It sat there, taunting me. “So, you were going to publish in the first week of January, were you? It’s February already …” I just couldn’t make myself do it.

In the end, I had to force myself. I had to treat it like any other job, open up the file, and start on it. Of course, once I started, I could see a) how good the editing was, b) how to make it better. I was tough with my precious words. One of the major problems with the text was that it was repetitive – every time you write a blog post, you’re expecting new people to read it as well as subscribers, so you tend to reinvent the wheel. Put that in one document and you’re, frankly, boring people. So out came the delete key, and I honed and polished, added some bits too, but chopped thousands of words off the total, to make a much slimmer and better read.

Seventh lesson learned: Be ruthless. If it is at all expendable, out it comes. Chop out the dead wood. If you can’t see the dead wood, get someone to chop it out for you. It will come out better for it.

When it comes to your book, looks are everything

Well, not everything, but …

I was so keen to publish that I started out with a terrible home-made cover. Then a friend tweaked my original book’s cover to make a new matching one, but it still looked a bit too home-made. I then  found a book designer online and got a lovely cover done. I looked into getting the interior of my book designed professionally so I can put out a print-on-demand paper copy, but the book needs to sell some more copies first to be able to pay for that!

Eighth lesson learned: Your book really does look more professional with a professional cover; it will stand out for the right reasons. If you have more than one book, it’s worth getting an overall consistent look. My first book started to sell more when I got its cover updated to match the new one. Get this done first – it takes ages to update the cover on Amazon when you’re embarrassed about your old one!

Soft launch aka the obsession starts …

A read-through from another friend and it was ready to go! I’d already tried the process once (with a book that was much shorter and easier to write!) so I knew the mechanics of publishing for Kindle on Amazon. I’d read up about the process and I knew about the choices, and decided to go for Amazon exclusive, as I could then enrol the book in KDP Select. I get quite a few loans on my other book, and somehow I make more royalty on loans than sales on that one, per copy. I priced the book carefully – as low as I could make it while still getting the higher royalty from Amazon. I also knew to soft launch, build some sales and reviews, and then do a bigger launch.

So I published the book, and I did the social media thing, and I told people about it, and I sent out one or two review copies. And then I was reminded of the obsessive nature of authors – I’m still constantly checking for reviews, sales, likes, comments … It’s like it’s your baby and you have to watch over its every breath.

Ninth lesson learned: Reviews will come, whether you hassle people or not. I knew a few of my first readers. I put up pleas for reviews. It takes longer to read and review a full-length book, and the reviews will come in time! And if you read a book by an indie author – do review it, it means the world to them!

What next?

Once I had a few five-star reviews (finally!) I’m making more of a noise about the book. I picked up this tip from The Creative Penn and it worked with the last one – give people something to look at when they’re making their buying decision. And here it is, out there, selling and helping people (the main thing) and I’m proud of it and all the hard work.

Tenth lesson learned: Do it. At very least you will find out something about yourself and other authors. At best, you’ll have an income stream and you’ll see some lovely reviews and know you’ve helped and/or entertained people! Go for it!

Resources

The book that I’m talking about here: Going it Alone at 40 – and the book’s own web page with links to worldwide Amazon sites to buy it.

That blog post about being edited: On Being Edited

Book designer: I actually used someone on www.fiverr.com  for this, on the recommendation of a writer friend: I don’t normally like low-cost sites like this, but my designer offers lots of extras that pay them better, so I felt it was OK.

 
14 Comments

Posted by on June 12, 2013 in Blogging, Copyediting, Ebooks, New skills, Writing

 

Tags: , , ,

14 responses to “An Editor Writes: 10 Lessons I Learned When Writing My Own Book

  1. lindyb

    June 12, 2013 at 8:58 am

    For the Eritrea book, I used the cover-making widget on the Kindle page and I’m really (really, really) happy with the result. It helps that Ahmed had taken such a lovely photo back in December 2007, which I knew straightaway would be a perfect cover.
    I think we faced similar issues in converting a blog to a book, although I think repetition was less of a problem (perhaps because the original blog posts had originated in letters?) for me. The blog itself was c.35,000 words and I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough extra to make it book length. However, this worry was baseless because by the time I’d added letters and journals, and then written an intro and inserted a few of my own blog posts from that time, we were at 75,000 words! The job for the second edition is a conclusion. I only remembered that I hadn’t done one *after* I’d published…. much like when my examiners pointed out to me in my viva that I’d omitted to write a conclusion for my PhD diss. I think I have a genuine mental block about saying “this is the end and this is what this book/diss. has achieved”!!

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    • Liz at Libro

      June 12, 2013 at 9:03 am

      Thanks for sharing your recent story, Linda! That’s interesting about your “issue” with conclusions! You can always add to the file and republish it, although it’s quite hard to get Amazon to accept that it’s got enough new content to re-send it to the people who’ve already bought it. I had that issue with my cholesterol book when I rewrote it to include information for American readers.

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  2. tankonyves

    June 12, 2013 at 11:38 am

    A great post, thank you. About chopping out the unnecessary, one is reminded of Maxwell Perkins who managed to persuade Thomas Wolfe to cut 90,000 words from his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel. A mutilation, brrr!

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    • Liz at Libro

      June 12, 2013 at 11:48 am

      Thanks – I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yes, that’s a lot – I didn’t have that many to cut out. Then again, I’m not of Wolfe’s calibre! Is there an unedited version out there, I wonder!

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      • lindyb

        June 12, 2013 at 2:26 pm

        Sure to be! Even if it isn’t published, there must be a ms out there in a library somewhere.

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      • lindyb

        June 12, 2013 at 2:31 pm

        although, having said that, we all remain grateful to Ezra Pound for slashing vast quantities of the The Waste Land!

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        • Liz at Libro

          June 12, 2013 at 2:34 pm

          Indeed. I like the discussion of Eliot and Wolfe on my post about my book, by the way … exalted company!

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  3. Bojana Barltrop

    June 13, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Too much lessons learned. In fact, only tenth makes sense.

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    • Liz at Libro

      June 13, 2013 at 10:45 am

      I’m sorry that you didn’t find the article useful, but thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. Maybe one of my other posts will be more to your liking.

      Like

       

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