MS2BK: Manuscript Development

My book project Perfect Bound: How to Publish a High-Quality Book That Sells (previously Manuscript to Book: How to Avoid the Potholes on the Road to Publication) has recently undergone a major shakeup. That is part and parcel for the manuscript development stage. It’s an exciting time! After taking the book apart and putting it back together in a new format, I now have a structure that is tight, dynamic, and compelling.

How did this happen?

After some consideration, I decided to enlist the help of beta readers. I could have hired a developmental editor and saved time. However, by using beta readers, I was able to save a fair amount of money. I felt this was the right option for me because I knew most of the pieces of the book were in good shape. As an editor and practiced workshop leader, I had a firm grasp on how I wanted to present my information, but I also wanted to hear from my target audience, others not so familiar with the publishing world, and someone who could vet my information. I found four people who fit those varied roles.

From all four beta readers I received excellent feedback on the quality of the information and the writing. Mostly the organization was also well liked. There were a couple of glitches — too many cross-references, a bit dense in parts — but nothing that required a full rewrite. And then one of the reviewers gave me the bad news: “This book needs a tighter focus.” That is one of the key evaluations that manuscript development entails and it is something that can’t be accomplished with a few recast sentences.

It was tough to hear, but if I was honest with myself, all of the criticisms were problems I had noticed at one point or another but had brushed aside. Now I needed to figure out a way to solve them.

How can I move forward?

After rereading my beta readers’ notes, I realized that by satisfying the larger criticism about focus, I could also resolve the minor points that were irking the other readers. I was invigorated by the prospect of making a better, more dynamic book and couldn’t wait to get started.

As part of my revisions, I shuffled and combined chapters, cut material that was too dense for the book I wanted to write, and avoided the numerous cross-references by placing like with like. The result: Eight chapters that describe the complete book production process, from deciding your route to publication all the way to printing and e-book conversion. Each chapter also contains a subchapter highlighting the relevant potholes that so often send a good book idea skidding off the road at that stage. Throughout the book, interviews with published authors and other industry professionals keep the book grounded with real-world advice. The new format is focused, compelling, and easy to read.

I continue to revise the manuscript to ensure I have resolved the types of problems that can arise after a major shakeup. Issues of flow, incomplete information, and duplicate material are all under scrutiny. When I have completed this revision, I will be ready to move on to copyediting.

Like this blog? Look for Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, coming Fall 2014

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3 thoughts on “MS2BK: Manuscript Development”

  1. I support your choice to use beta readers, even though I make a living as a developmental editor.
    What I think was particularly smart was your strategy in selecting the readers and in focusing their feedback. What you need at this stage is criticism. If your feeling too fragile for that still, give it to your mother and soak in her love. You deserve that too.

    It can be overwhelming to tackle the kind of restructuring it sounds like you did — not to mention disheartening. (Writing is such hard work.) That is another way paid help can be a relief: in doing the heavy lifting for you. But, as you said, that costs moola. You can get an idea of how much moola by using the instant estimator on my blog. And time: it will also give an idea of how many hours each edit will take. And, boy, does it take time! Not to mention the time the writer puts in at each stage.

    This year I am coaching a few friends in writing their books, which I am posting on my blog. I look forward to sharing your blog — and your book — with them. I would love it if you’d stop by my blog and lend your two cents on what I am advising them. I have DE’d roughly 100 books, but I don’t have your insiders perspective.

    Thanks for sharing! Looking forward to your next post.

    1. The revision was a lot of work, but honestly I found it energizing! I knew that with the new setup the book was going to be so much better than what I had originally planned.

      You make a good point. I think many authors need a developmental editor in addition to beta readers, especially if they are not able to find top-notch readers. I am involved in the editing and writing communities and have DE’d a number of books myself, so I felt more confident in finding the readers I needed. One thing I was grateful for was that even though I have been an editor for 15 years, I knew I could never edit my own book. I just didn’t have the perspective. I will be hiring a copyeditor next.

      I will definitely stop by to read about your coaching. I enjoy learning about other editors’ approaches and styles. I often discover a tip or trick I never would have thought of on my own.

      Good luck, and thanks for reading!

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