Two Best-Sellers That Rewrite the Script for Book Editing

front-coverTwo of my favorite business books—Rework and Remote—promote unconventional ideas about writing and publishing. These books are selling well, which makes those ideas worth considering.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson are the authors of both books. They also write for a vibrant tech blog—Signal vs. Noise.

However, it’s Matt Linderman that I’m going to quote in this post. Though not named as an author of Rework and Remote, he was an active collaborator. He’s also written specifically about the process of creating Rework.

Radical Reduction

For that book, the authors took “less is more” seriously. According to Matt, conventional wisdom is that:

For the price point of our book, it must be at least 40,000 words. Readers want something bulky that’s got lots of content. REWORK: We chopped the final edition down to 27,000 words (from 50,000+). You can get through it in just a few hours.

Short Chapters, Random Access

Many authors strive for long, meaty chapters that are numbered in sequence.

In contrast, the chapters in Remote and Rework are actually short essays with informative headlines. And you can still get value from the book if you read them in random order.

Simple Structure

Check out the table of contents for Rework. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page.) No chapter numbers here. Rather, the essays are simply grouped by theme.

Rework and Remote are actually structured more like a newspaper or magazine than a conventional book. The essays are like articles. And the themes are like sections in a newspaper or departments in a magazine.

“Missing” Front Matter

Conventional wisdom dictates that the copyright page, preface, foreword, and other introductory matter go in the front of the book.

In Rework and Remote, these elements are moved to the back. The result is that you flip past the title page and land immediately on the first chapter.

Crap-Free Covers

The covers of many nonfiction books are getting loaded with blurbs, testimonials, and other sell copy.

Rework and Remote eschew this for minimal, beautiful covers. Matt describes them: “A few key points and that’s it.”

Critics Welcome

If you dig into Rework and Remote, you’ll find that both books anticipate objections from readers and answer them. As Matt writes:

… we’ve been building in an “I object” voice to a lot of the text by directly addressing counterarguments that we hear frequently. Of course, we then go and refute those views. But anticipating potential objections is a nice way to show readers you get it.

This is a traditional device in rhetoric. It can be overused, but in the right dose it’s effective.

Thinking Trumps Tools

The authors of Rework and Remote are Mac users. So they could have used high-octane software such as DEVONthink or OmniOutliner for research and writing.

Matt describes what they did instead. As a process geek, this fascinates me. So, I’ll quote him at length:

Basically I started throwing any relevant content into a Pages document…. Then I started organizing it. I tried to sort content into relevant categories and began shaping it into a recognizable format. Then JF, DHH, and I started teleconferencing and meeting in person in order to edit text. We’d throw out things that didn’t fit. Edited other things so they matched up in tone & voice. Honed it all and kept getting it better, tighter, and more cohesive….

No other tools. I think it was just time and iterations. Things were a mess at first but we kept refining the doc over and over until it started to become more cohesive. It was just a pruning process. Not sure any tool would’ve made it easier.

Matt also quotes Mark Pligrim—developer at Google and author of four books—who reminds us that it’s easy to get sidetracked by looking for the “perfect” writing tool. Actually, what ultimately matters is the willingness to produce words, revise them, and sweat.

For more details, check out the Matt Linderman posts I’ve mentioned:

All the “wrong” things we did with REWORK

Tools for editing REWORK

Writing Decisions: Anticipating readers’ objections