So, you’ve finished writing your nonfiction book. Excellent! I congratulate you!
But you're not done yet – for the greatest success, it is imperative that you make sure your book is the best it can be before you either 1) send it out to agents/publishers or 2) publish it yourself.
How do you do that? You take the effort to professionally edit your book. You can do this yourself by following the plan outlined below.
These seven steps are simple and straightforward, and you will be surprised and delighted by how much more professional your work is after you do them.
STEP ONE: CREATE A TABLE OF CONTENTS
STEP TWO: COLOR CODE TOPICS
Now, this next part will take a little bit of time, but it is well worth it.
STEP THREE: REVERSE OUTLINE
Write a full outline from your book, topic by topic (this is not the outline you created before you wrote the book, this is a new outline based on what you actually wrote.)
STEP FOUR: READ THE WHOLE BOOK OUT LOUD
Take the time to read your entire book out loud and record it into a program such as Quicktime, or into your cell phone. Don’t skimp on this. Reading your book out loud will show you many things that you miss when reading it silently. Listen back to the whole book with your highlighter ready. You can print the whole book out so you can circle problem areas and make notes, or you can make notes on your computer, if you prefer.
As you listen to your work, you will be astonished at how many problems you catch this way, even if you’ve reread your manuscript several times already!
Here’s what you will be looking for, and you must be ruthless with yourself to remedy these problem areas:
As you listen, do you notice that you already said this same thing several times before? It’s a very common problem. Notate where this occurs as you go along and, later, go back and choose the strongest writing and keep only that. Excise the places where you said the same thing several times. Only keep them if you are going deeper into the matter and need to reiterate an important point to remind the reader of what you are talking about.
This is a term that means writing in unnecessarily flowery, ornate, wordy, or dramatic language that doesn’t really serve a purpose. Look for run on sentences and places that you stumble over when reading through out loud. Are all those big, fancy words really necessary? Can you be more precise and concise? Always look for the shortest and most clear way of saying something.
Avoid using big words or long, fancy sentences because you think it sounds smarter. You will only annoy your reader. You certainly don’t want to over-simplify or talk down to your reader, but don’t write as if you’re trying to prove you’re a genius either. Write closer to the way you would speak.
If you can’t breathe while you’re reading your work out loud, your sentences are too long.
Will every reader know what you’re talking about? Are you using terms that assume a certain level of familiarity with the topic that most of your readers won’t have? Are you talking in circles, but never coming to the point? Clean up any writing that seems to wander about but never get anywhere. Ask yourself what you’re trying to say and then say it. Sure, you may need to include some background information and some explanation, but make sure they stay on topic and then gets to the point in a clear, useful manner. If you can’t get to the point, ask yourself if this section is really necessary and consider cutting it.
Overused phrases or words
We all have favorite phrases and words that we tend to use over and over again. As you are listening back to your book, you will hear repetitions that you didn’t notice when you were reading through silently. Make a note of them on a separate piece of paper. When you’re done listening to the whole book, use your word-processing Search or Find tool to look for all the instances of that word or phrase and find appropriate substitutes.
Topics that are underdeveloped
Notice the times that you introduce a concept but don’t fully follow through with it. Note it and decide if it really belongs in the scope of this book. If it doesn’t, excise it. If it does, then do the necessary writing to explore the concept more fully and relate it to the other topics in the book.
Topics that don’t really belong in this book
You may discover that you introduce and work with concepts and topics that are beyond the scope of the book. You may even have whole chapters dedicated to them, but they just don’t feel right. You might be trying to stuff too much material in one book and you may need to develop it separately in its own article or book.
STEP FIVE: INCORPORATE YOUR CHANGES
Look back at all your notes and take the time to incorporate the changes that you see are needed. Yes, this can take some time. In fact, sometimes the rewriting process takes as long or longer than your initial writing. If you believe in the value of what you are doing, however, you will take the time to do the rewriting necessary to make your book the best it can be.
STEP SIX: SEND THE MANUSCRIPT TO READERS
Now is the time to ask a few trusted people to read your manuscript and give you their unbiased feedback. I would advise you not to ask family members or intimate partners to do this unless you know they are capable of giving you honest feedback. Most often, they will say they liked even if they don’t.
Find at least 3 or 4 people who are avid readers, who are interested in the topic you are writing about, and who will give useful critiques. Then, take their feedback and really think about it. Incorporate the ideas for changes that make the most sense to you.
STEP SEVEN: COPY EDIT
Once you have your book in the best shape you are capable of, then you need to go back over it one more time with a fine toothed comb. You’ve had a few weeks or months away from it as your readers have looked at it, so you can now reread it with fresh eyes. This time you will focus on finding errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Nothing looks more amateur than basic problems in these areas. Be sure to take the time to carefully copy edit.
I know this is a lot of work, but it will absolutely elevate your book above the others out there who are not making the effort and it will definitely by noticed and appreciated by agents, publishers, and readers.
Unless you have a publisher’s strict deadline, take the extra months to polish your work. You have one chance to sell your book to an agent or publisher. Make sure it’s the best it can be.