Anatomy of A Book Revision

Jul 122010
 

I thought you might like to know how a book revision works, and in doing so I’ll discuss how I approached a large writing project and how I interview.

It seems that hard and fast rules about what constitutes a book revision don’t exist. Usually it’s because the author or the publisher feels the information needs updating. And that’s how it happened.

Last year I decided to update Will Write for Food, mostly because of advances in blogging and social media. I couldn’t go back to the editor I worked with and discuss it, because a new publishing company (Perseus) acquired the original publisher of my book (Avalon). So I met with my new editor at Da Capo Press, an imprint of Perseus.

A girl needs to be prepared, so I brought her a list of what I thought I could enlarge upon from the first edition.  I wanted a big new chapter on food blogging. I wanted to incorporate information from bloggers in other chapters such as freelance writing and how to get started. I had co-written a cookbook in 2008 and wanted to say more about the process of writing and production, photography and collaboration. Self-publishing had changed, particularly when it came to e-books and print-on-demand. And freelance writing had changed, some of it drying up. There had to be a positive way to approach that.

She said a revision had to be 25 percent larger than the original book. That meant adding 20,000 words, about 80 pages of 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper, double spaced. We spoke in pages, though: 50 pages on blogging, 7 more pages on freelancing, 9 more pages on cookbooks. Fortunately, our meeting was enough, and I didn’t have to write a full book proposal. The manuscript would be due this spring, the book to come out in the summer. That’s considered a rush job, doable because it’s a paperback with only type, no photos.

The editor hoped I would make all changes on a hard copy, to save time in production. Soon a huge envelope of 8 1/2 x 11-inch pages arrived by UPS. I tried. I really did. I would write in a sentence in pencil, erase it, write it again, erase it because my writing was hard to read, then change my mind about what I’d written and erase it again. It was torture! I begged her to let me edit my original Word file using Track Changes, a mark-up program, and she agreed. What a relief!

I tackled the chapter on food blogging first, since it comprised the majority of the update. I read books on blogging, scoured Internet sites such as Problogger and Copyblogger for tips, and interviewed many of the biggest names in food blogging for insights. I interviewed by phone or by Skype, wearing a headset, typing into a Word file. This system works a whole lot better than sending questions by email, where people typically respond with  as little information as possible. Just about everyone I approached was open to being interviewed.

About halfway thorough my research, I wrote an outline based on what I thought made sense for a beginning blogger and, as the chapter progressed, for experienced bloggers who still wanted to learn something. Because I had started a blog that summer, I had many questions and issues to answer for myself too:

  • Why blog?
  • Choosing a software service
  • Deciding on a title
  • Creating an About page
  • What to write about
  • How to make people care
  • How personal should you be?
  • Developing a distinctive voice
  • How to come up with and structure a post
  • How blog recipes are different from print
  • How to write book reviews
  • How to take great food shots
  • Accepting and reviewing products
  • How to get noticed
  • Increasing your readership
  • Can you make any money?
  • Going from blog to book
  • How to stay inspired.

Organizing the chapter halfway through gave me a chance to review my research and see where the holes were, and to decide who else I needed to interview. I also figured out which sidebars to add and where to put them.

It took about a month and a half to write the chapter. Once I broke it down into the sections above, I filled in the information in each part. That’s a secret of big writing jobs: breaking it down into small steps. Otherwise it gets overwhelming. I let myself write whichever sections I wanted, just to keep writing. In the old days I’d force myself to start at the beginning. I’m more relaxed these days — I know I’ll get there, and it doesn’t have to be in order. I made a point to keep my tone consistent with the rest of the book: be helpful and inspiring, but realistic.

As for the rest of the book, I decided which info — and people — needed updates. Some info was dated, some less relevant. People had left their jobs, some had new titles. I worked the advice and experience of bloggers into other chapters. Molly Wizenberg’s reflections on writing memoir and how it was different from blogging, for example, went into the section about memoir.

I could have kept going and kept revising, but at some point, I had to decide I was done. (Having a deadline helped.) My editor had a few comments, and then the chapter went off to the copy editor. From there we worked on a cover (a whole other story I’ll share soon) and a new index, and then…off to press. It was much easier than writing the whole book, but a big project nonetheless.

So that’s my story. What about yours? If you’ve worked on a big writing project, what’s your secret to managing it all?

Thanks to LoAnn Mockler for the suggestion.

  12 Responses to “Anatomy of A Book Revision”

  1. I have the original version of your book, which I find very helpful. As a blogger, however, I am very interested in picking up the revised copy when it is released. Your tips on breaking large jobs into smaller manageable ones is spot on. Any project seems far easier to accomplish when viewed in this way. I will be watching for the new book. Congratulations!

    • Thanks Dara. Definitely easier to accomplish than trying to attack the whole thing at once.

  2. I like that you allowed yourself to take the small sections in whatever order you wanted. It’s not like a road, but more like a puzzle.

    • I guess you have to believe that it will all turn out, even if it doesn’t go in order. Thanks Nate!

  3. Hi Dianne…….
    I really love reading your blog….it is always so informative and I learn from every one of your entries………….
    I am looking forward to getting your book as well next month………
    I love to write and have written my childhood memories having lived in refugee camps in Austria for seven years. It is a book of stories of our home in Croatia and how I was always interested in food as a small child……yet I was always a very fastidious eater. Then the war happened and we had to flee from our home and we lived in refugee camps for seven years. There too my mother never gave up to teach me about food when there was very little available.
    I started a blog……but, am not sure that I should put my stories for the world to read – if I decide to put them into a book – eventually.
    I am looking forward to read your book and hope it will give me some answers to the questions I have concerning blogging.

    • I think it’s terrific that you started a blog. It will give you a regular reason to write about your life. Maybe it will be a book and maybe not, but at least you will get the stories out.

  4. Hey Dianne, great post and you’re welcome! I found it very enlightening. My husband works in sales for a division of Perseus so I’m a little familiar with the chase the editor/publisher part. I’m looking forward to getting the book soon!

    • Oh you must hear all kinds of stories. Would love to be a fly on the wall. Thanks, LoAnn.

  5. Breaking it into chunks definitely helps. I couldn’t imagine powering through in a straight line. Just the thought of it makes me want to shrivel up and die.

    I would love it if you did one of these for the cookbook writing process as well! So many people are writing proposals, but I don’t think anyone know what happens after you get an agent or once a publisher buys it.

    • I’ve only written one cookbook, but I imagine it’s the same process of breaking it down. Good idea for a post. Thanks.

  6. Congrats. I’ve got it pre-ordered on amazon.
    An idea for the world’s best giveaway just occured to me. I was working on a post for my food blog and was dreaming of how marvelous it would be to have a critique from you given the posts you done about editing blogger’s recipes lately and now the expanded and updated book. I know I’ve gotten a little lazy at times and it would be fabulous to get a quick look and your feedback. For the likes of me, I would not hesitate to jump though a series of giveaway hoops for a half hour or hour of your time. And I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone.

    • I’m so honored that you feel that way! I have given my time as a prize before, for a writing contest. I’ll be sure to do it again.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.