A client recently sent me a business book to edit that was disorganized and full of repetition. It jumped back and forth between topics. It was in this shape because he had written it piecemeal over a period of years. If he had begun with an outline (or table of contents) and had written to that, the book would have evolved very differently and been much better structured. A nonfiction book that doesn’t start with an outline is like a house that is built piecemeal, room by room, without an overarching blueprint. It usually ends up in trouble.
This author was discouraged and felt overwhelmed by what he had written. Once his book’s problem was diagnosed, and we restructured it around a logical outline, he was excited with the results. But in the beginning, he says he felt like he had failed in his project. I explained that not knowing you need an outline before you start writing is not a mark of failure. It only means you’re a new author, learning as you go.
Most self-help book authors and business book authors are not writers by profession. They are—by vocation—life coaches, psychologists, and business people. They can’t be expected to have the same kind of developed writing skills as a Stephen King or a John Grisham. Their expertise is in their subject matter. Writing is a side-line for them. And usually, for most, it’s a new skill they come to rather awkwardly—as is the case with anyone developing a new skill.
If you know there are problems with your manuscript, don’t be discouraged about your writing ability. You are on the way. It takes guts to put yourself out there and write a book. More guts to go through the work of revising and editing. (Some writers call it “having to kill your darlings.”)
Congratulate yourself on your initiative and on your commitment to bringing the book through the stages required to make it great. Keep at it, until you hit your target. If you stall out, get coaching from a professional book editor. That’s what we’re here for.
Jessi Rita Hoffman … book editing by an industry professional