The Book In A Box Method by Tucker Max and Zach Obront is filled with insights that no nonfiction author can afford to ignore.
My previous post was about the method’s approach to stating your personal goals for a book, delivering benefits for your audience, outlining the content, and finishing a first draft.
In this post, I highlight five equally valuable things I learned from the Book In A Box folks about editing a book manuscript.
- Craft introductions and conclusions with care
Introductions and conclusions are often the poor step-children of the writing process. Some authors dash them off in a cursory way or neglect them altogether.
Tucker and Zach say that this is a big mistake.
The introduction is your chance to hook readers’ attention and forge an emotional connection with them. Start with a story, example, or fact that makes people take notice. Then orient readers by diving directly into pain and pleasure:
The orientation material should not just be factual, but also personal, and should start by showing the reader the massive pain that accrues from not taking the advice or lessons in this book. Once you’ve established the pain, then the orientation material should show them pleasure that comes from taking the action. Show them why the results are so amazing and the goal is worth the pain.
Finally, state your thesis—exactly what people will learn to do from reading your book. Then close quickly, because an introduction that never ends turns readers off.
In the conclusion, give readers a summary of your main points and a call to action: “now that you have all the tools, go out there and use them!” This delivers clear value to the reader, makes your book memorable, and promotes word-of-mouth publicity—the best kind of book marketing.
- Edit by rewriting your speaking for the page
This aspect of The Book In A Box method surprised me the most.
Keep in mind that Book In A Box editors create the first draft of a book by recording interviews with the author and sending those recordings to Rev.com to be transcribed.
After receiving the interview transcriptions, the editors create a separate Microsoft Word document for each chapter of the book. This document contains copies of the chapter outline and the corresponding section of the audio transcript.
When you get to this point, Tucker and Zach recommend that you:
- Read through the chapter outline to refresh your memory of its main points.
- Read through the entire audio transcript for the chapter.
- Go through the transcript paragraph-by-paragraph, rewriting each one from scratch for the page rather than the ear.
That last point was a revelation for me. When working with interview transcripts, I’ve tried to edit the author’s spoken words. Tucker and Zach urge us to use a different process: write whole new paragraphs rather than edit the existing ones.
This overcomes a big problem posed by the difference between the spoken and written word. Speech is often rambling and incoherent, but what appears on the page must be focused and clear. Rather than polish the raw transcription, use it simply to remind yourself of what you intend to say. Then put it in writing.
- Edit with Orwell in mind
While editing your book manuscript, ask the following questions about every sentence, paragraph, and chapter:
- What point am I trying to make?
- Is it clear?
- Is it as simple as possible (without losing meaning)?
- Is it as short as possible (without losing meaning)?
- Are there unnecessary words that could be eliminated without any effect?
- Are there phrases that serve no purpose other than draw out sentences, like “in essence” and “basically”?
- Did I leave out anything necessary to understanding my point?
These questions are based on George Orwell’s classic essay, Politics and the English Language—one of the best things ever written about how to revise prose.
- Edit out loud
Edit your manuscript again by reading it out loud—not just mouthing the words—and hearing how it sounds.
“By reading it out loud, you will catch dozens of things you would have otherwise missed,” Tucker and Zach write. “Does this sound like me talking naturally? Does it feel right to me, and to my audience? If it’s at all possible, have a friend or loved one sit with you and read the book to them.”
- Get feedback but don’t take advice
Should you ask people to read your revised manuscript and offer feedback? Yes, but keep two things in mind.
First, professional writers and editors can make good readers. But choose people who truly are skilled—not just those who boast about how good they are.
Also seek out readers who are members of your target audience. They can pinpoint where your manuscript has problems with clarity or accuracy. But take their suggested solutions with a huge grain of salt. Chances are that they’ve never written a book and have no idea how to solve problems with a manuscript.