Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Writing business books : the role of an editor

Your know how you meet people at networking events and of course they always ask what you do?  Telling people you write for a living is easy.  Most people can relate to that.

Even if their reactions range from awe (thinking I'm a superhero which is to be encouraged) to dismay (thinking I'm about to criticise their grammar).  Most people have had a go at writing something, particularly if they have websites and had to produce text for their web developers.

What's not so straightforward is explaining what my role of editor is when helping people write books.

Do I write the books for them?

Not directly but I can add in text that helps their work flow.  But the most important job in that respect is to make sure that their voice comes through loud and clear.  Not mine because it isn't my book, my life, my topic.

Do I plan the books for them?

Yes that's a large part of the skill I have because I'm good at working out structure and layout.  It's not that people don't know what they want to say.  It's more that from the inside they're not always good at presenting it in as clear a way as possible.

One major tendency for business writers is that they want to cram too much in too small a space. 

That's never a good idea because it's offputting for readers. 

Are you dumbing down by providing text in short paragraphs?  Not at all.  Remember that people absorb information in many different ways and you have to address that when laying out text.

Text will drop into logical formats and sequences.  Varies from book to book and subject to subject.  But the bottom line in thinking about it is always...

'How can I make it easier for the reader?'

Do I proof read the books for them?

Yes but you have to realise that there are several stages in what many people think of as editing which includes proofreading.

There are major editing issues which normally happen when you've avoided thinking about structure.  Then you're left with acres of text and no divisions of it.

There are minor editing issues which happen no matter how well you structure the book.  Often when you finish your book, then and only then do you realise that some text, perhaps examples or resources might fit better in a different part of the book. 

There are proofreading issues;  always, all the time and right up to the last possible moment before publication.

What's the advantage of using an editor for any or all these stages?

First and most important, you need someone outside you to monitor what you're doing.  Having written my own books I can tell you that at some  point you'll be sick to death of your writing. 

Yes honestly.  You will.  No matter how much you might enjoy writing, there comes a point where you don't want to see it ever again.

Which means you need someone else to point out, professionally, where your book can be improved.

They need to point out what is working and what can be strengthened.  And if something really needs to come out they have to be detached enough to say so and tell you why.

What else do I bring to my work?

Encouragement, laughter and perspective.

Being an editor is like being a combination of coach, mentor, grammarian and professional friend.

Make no mistake, writing a book consumes you.  It nags away at you.  And it exhausts you.

You need someone to cheer you on, stick up for you and remind you that someone out there needs your unique insight on your subject.  You need to remember that you can transform someone's life with your writing.

You have to show up as a writer and be vulnerable.  But being vulnerable through the medium of your writing can bring you as the writer so many gifts too. 

You may not realise till later how much writing the book changes you.  But change you it will. 

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