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.