Saturday, February 27, 2010

When is your manuscript done?

A coaching client came to me with this question recently. She'd done a number of drafts of her manuscript, was down to moving commas around, and had a nagging suspicion it needed something, but she didn't know what.

So we talked for a while, and I realized she needed to create a checklist for herself. Her work is nonfiction and so that's what we focused on. Here are some ideas for such a list.

1. Have you done your pre-marketing? Do you know where a bookstore will shelve your book (category)? Have you made sure the content makes that clear? Do you know what current popular books are most like yours (selling point)? Can you clearly state how yours is unique? What is it about your format or your take on things that is truly different? Why is your book better than what's already out there? Publishers are looking for books that will sell many, many copies, not just a few. How will they be able to promote yours?

2. Does your book answer all the questions a reader might have about your subject? Writing out the 50 questions exercise (see blog from Feb 17) can just as easily be done after your book is drafted. Is there anywhere you haven't gone sufficiently deep (readers always want to know "how" and "why" some assertion is true)?

3. If your book offers exercises of any kind, are they both familiar (so readers will be comfortable with how to do them) and innovative (so that readers value the newness of what you offer)?

4. Have you secured permission for any quotes or citations that are copyrighted? (Note that reference to another text within your text, or a citation within your text, usually does not require permission.)

5. Have you done as thorough a self-editing job as possible?

6. Have you had 3-4 trusted readers give you specific feedback on ways to improve, add, delete, or clarify text?

7. Have you had your manuscript professionally edited?

8. If #1 was done early in your process, have you updated the answers to those questions with any new books on the market?

9. Have you made all tweaks and changes and revisions from the answers and input from all the above?

10. When you've completed 1-9, set your book aside for at least a month and then read a printed out version carefully, colored pen in hand, and make any last tweaks. Transfer those to the electronic document, run spell check, and you should be good to go!

If you've got other ideas along this line, please share them with us.

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