On Your Letterhead
First of all, thanks so much for entrusting me with your manuscript, and
congratulations on writing so much and so well.
Let me start by saying that your book is potentially great, but you’re
not done yet. As a self-help book, it offers a new and fresh approach--the
whole concept is dynamite… a potential industry.
You write well, but you already know that, and the book needs a major
rewrite--I know, that’s not what you wanted to hear, but … I suspect you
know that too. Rewrites can either be a drag or a creative experience… and
you know that!
Please, understand, there’s a ton of good material here, well presented,
so take heart.
Now, here’s my sense of the manuscript as a whole: It’s too long, which
is another way of saying it needs serious tightening.
This is always tough to describe and help with, so here’s how I suggest
you approach all this.
Before you do anything else, I’d like you to do write two things:
- A 10-word purpose for the book. Something like this: The purpose of
(Book Title) is (insert your 10 words here.)
The purpose statement is also a summary of your vision for the book
- A detailed definition of your ideal reader. I think you’ve got one in
mind, but I’d like to see it written down. Include sex, age, education
level, where they are likely to buy the book – things like that. Ideally,
you’ll create three ideal readers, but one is a good start.
These exercises will accomplish a couple of things. First, they will help
you focus the rewrite, giving you something to measure against or with, and
second, down the road, they will help you shape your marketing.
Give some consideration too, if you haven’t already, to how you want to
publish this… yourself so you can market it yourself and keep more of the
profits, as an ebook, or with a trade publisher… or maybe all three. You
don’t have to decide this at the moment, but as you work with the
manuscript, keeping the eventual finished product in mind will help.
Next, realize your book really has three parts:
- What I elegantly call the “guts” of the book.
- The conversations between (proprietary characters).
- The exercises.
On the phone, you mentioned something about drawings or illustrations…
just from a practical point of view, one or two per chapter is probably what
you’ll want, unless they’re really small.
If I were going to do a rewrite/ghost edit on this, I’d actually break it
apart and work first on the guts… the main body of text. The book could, at
least in theory, stand on the guts alone.
One trick is to go away from the computer and, with printed manuscript
and pen in hand, start reading out loud to yourself. (I was so embarrassed
when I started this, but I got over that quickly enough.) Your ear will hear
redundancies, inconsistencies, and organizational problems that you won’t
see just reading. I usually keep a notebook close at hand too… notes to
myself about ideas, concepts, notions that don’t fit in the part of the
manuscript I’m reading at the moment.
I suspect that while your listening to what you’ve written, you’ll also
begin to see patterns that can be used in the way you present the
information. You’ve got a great start with the quotes at the head of each
chapter… keep those. (These also are great to sell the actual as an Amazon
affiliate from a website, etc.) You’ll also find things that need to be
added, but mostly, things that should come out… not because they aren’t
great info, but because they don’t fit the purpose/reader.
By pattern, I mean a loose organization of, maybe Problem, Problem turned
into Solution… you’re close, but it needs to be firmed up. I love the
material and I found it dragging… because you’re actually saying more than
you need to… as you read aloud, you’ll hear those places.
Consider if the famous quotes in the body of each chapter really do what
you want… some of them seem to, some not. You’ve got enough authority that
you don’t need them so you can be ruthless. Anything that gets left out can
be referenced in a Resources section at the back of the book.
Figure out a standard way you want to handle your example people… the
real ones, not (proprietary characters) – they are another issue. You’re
mostly integrating them into the text, which can work well, but, again, they
aren’t tight enough or clear enough to really pack punch. Again, your ear
will inform you on this.
I keep thinking that the list of 11 Important Things on your pages 11-12
could be some sort of organizing outline… maybe for the book, maybe for
(proprietary characters)… or maybe not at all… but it keeps coming up for
me, so there you have it.
Don’t be afraid to throw a ton of material out… at least on your paper
editing copy… we aren’t going to delete it from your computer, just from the
manuscript. In fact, when you get back to editing on the computer I’d save
the whole manuscript a second time in a file just for editing.
This way, nothing is lost and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find it
easier to delete passages you know you’ve worked hard on if you also know
you’ve got an easy way to get them back. The aim is a trim manuscript so the
healing really sticks out and is totally accessible for the reader.
Now, about (proprietary characters)… cute concept but I hate the way they
talk… stilted and always in awe of you what they’ve just learned… their
conversation feels sticky-sweet. There’s no tension or reality or sense that
it’s anything but a rehash of material in the chapter… when the chapter gets
tight and lean, you won’t need them to rehash; in fact, you won’t want them
to. There are at least a couple of things to do with them:
- Consider if you really want them… they are cute, maybe too cute, but
unless they move the reader toward healing, that’s all they are, and they
- If you want to keep them, and if it were my book, I’d really want to
try to keep them, they’ve got to show some real humanity, which means
you’ve got to develop them as characters. Developing characters is fun,
and a ton of work. Essentially, you’ve got to get to know them as well as
you might a best friend… what they look like, age, sex, race, religious
background (and it would be fun to make one maybe a recovering Catholic),
their jobs, their dreams, and, of course their problems and resistances.
(Consider how many more women are Religious Science Practitioners than
men, for example.) Favorite foods, cars they drive, exercise patterns…
just a ton of rich detail that will let you really write in their voices.
The goal, I think, with their vignettes, is to help the reader not feel
so alone in the growth process. So their resistances, wrong paths, fuzzy
thinking, misguided experiments are all possibilities. The trick will be
to keep them from becoming another book. (Maybe they will want to be their
own book… early days to tell, or maybe they end up upside down like One
Finally, if we can make them powerful and interesting, they become a
whole new marketing angle.
You’re on the right track with the exercises… in fact, I love them all…
but I’d like to see these tightened up too. It would be nifty if they could
end up in a firm pattern, each with three rules or some such… plus, if you
make the exercises shorter in the book, you can then offer a second
book/booklet of expanded exercises. I think the goal should be, more or
less, two pages each, ideally pages that face each other… but don’t lock
into that… it’s just an idea. I find that organizing this sort of thing
comes to me in the shower when I’m in the middle of a manuscript.
(Name), I’ve outlined a ton of work here… I truly think it’s worth doing.
I know from the quality of your writing, which is excellent, you’re totally
capable of doing this yourself. That said, you don’t have to do it alone.
One effective method is a good writers group… another is some sort of a
partner whose ear you trust. These would be free options.
A writing coach might work well here… that’s something I do, but there
are tons of other good writing coaches out there too. Cost varies depending
on what you want from the coach and how you set up the relationship…
And you can hire a rewrite/ghost editor. This is probably the most
expensive option. Again, this is something I can do and I’m certainly not
the only one. You do have to be sure whoever you hire understands the
material and can duplicate your voice.
I suspect you’ll have questions… mull this over for a few days, then fire
them off or we can do it by phone.
Love and blessings,