Stop Rushing to Publication
I was approached by a writer whom I shall call Steve. He had a draft of a memoir about his many decades at the top of a profession that is much in the news these days, and wanted to know if it was “good enough for publication.” This is perhaps the most common question a book coach gets — is it good enough?
There are a million questions behind that question — is it good enough to get an agent, is it good enough to get a publisher, is it good enough to get noticed in all the noise, is it good enough to get a lot of readers, is it good enough to get critical acclaim, is it good enough to make money, is it good enough to prove the time I spent on it was warranted, is it good enough NOT to embarrass me, and, of course, am I good enough to even call myself a writer?
No one has the answers to these questions because no one has a crystal ball, but as a book coach, I specialize in helping writers who are serious about reaching readers. This month alone, I have three clients with books being launched, and I know exactly what they went through to get to this day, and exactly how much work it took — how many revisions, how many rounds of edits, how much attention and effort. There is a HUGE difference between a finished draft and a book ready for publication.
Writing a book is actually pretty easy. You sit down and put a lot of words on the page. It’s particularly easy with memoir because you are drawing on events from your own life; you lived them, you remember them, so it’s easy to write them down. But writing a book people want to read and tell their friends about and talk about at dinner parties demands a whole other level of effort.
My report to Steve was that parts of his manuscript were very good, but the whole was not yet good enough for publication because the whole was not yet great. He needed to do the hard work needed to get it to the next level.
He had every single element needed to write something great — fabulous stories, an engaging writing style, a point he wants to make about his industry and the world that is important and timely and speaks to a particular audience of the book-buying public — but the material was not optimally organized. He was missing opportunities, missing connections. He was, in fact, playing small, keeping his story narrowly focused on his life and experiences rather than on the bigger, universal idea at the heart of his concept. He had written a book that his friends and associates might love — and he has a lot of friends and associates — but he had not yet written a book that would make it easy for a wide readership to love.
I suggested that Steve could spend about six months revising the material to take it from good to great and that this would put him in a strong position not just for publication but for having an impact, and I laid out a plan for him to get there. The plan did not have to necessarily include me — it was a plan for revising the material, not the process of being coached through it.
Steve did not take my advice. He told me that he wanted to finish the work in three weeks. He would address a few of the things I suggested, but he was in a hurry to get the book out there.
I am actually sitting here heartbroken at his news because I fear that in his haste to publish, he’s going to miss the deep satisfaction of writing something that makes a difference to a wide readership. I want to take him by the shoulders and yell, “Please stop rushing to publication.”
I hope he changes his mind.
And if he doesn’t, I hope that I am wrong — that I made the wrong call — and that, despite my warning, the book makes an impact, and Steve can say, “I told you so.”