In this post, I’m going to give you a glimpse into the OCD / perfectionist tendencies that inevitably come with the editing process.
I started this book in September, 2013. I wrapped up editing at some point in December.
The number of major revisions made during that time… Two dozen? Don’t know, it’s a blur.
The book started out at 12,400 words. Now, it’s about 25,500 words. Not a long book by any stretch (the average book you’ll find in a bookstore is between 60 and 100,000 words), but it’s packed with all of the information my ideal reader would need. And thankfully, the feedback I’ve received affirms that the book is short and compelling enough to read in one sitting.
I wanted Play It Away to be succinct, clear, and practical. I didn’t want to waste a page or fluff it up with information that wasn’t useful. For instance, I put the copyright info at the end of the book, so people previewing it on Amazon wouldn’t feel shortchanged (Amazon allows readers to preview 10% of the book). I also took the endnotes out and put them online, so all of my references were a click away.
Every time I made a major revision to the book, I put in an order to have FedEx print it off (black and white, double-sided, coil bound), read it out loud while walking around, and made edits by hand. I read out loud to ensure the book sounded as conversational as possible, which is surprisingly difficult.
Once I reached a point where I wasn’t embarrassed by the book, I asked a handful of my smart writer friends if they’d be willing to give it look and provide feedback. Then I asked for beta readers through my blog and mailing list (more details about that process here). About 100 people applied, I chose a quarter of them, and they all sent me their feedback…
Then the whole process started over. I incorporated the best feedback, revised the book, and printed it off a few more times. And each time, I read the book out loud with a pen in hand, marking the bad spots and writing down notes.
The evolution of one page over several revisionsHere’s a 17-minute video of me showing all of the files I was juggling:
Once the PDF was done, I uploaded it to Gumroad. They’ve been fantastic — really great interface, super easy to use (for me and the customer), and only take a 5% cut of all sales.
Then I uploaded my 5″ x 8″ PDF to Createspace (for paperback) and .mobi file (for Kindle). Createspace and Amazon take a much bigger cut (20-40%), but the value they provide — distribution, marketing, ease of purchase, ease of production, etc. — is worth it.
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I’m happy with how the book turned out, and really glad I entrusted some of the creation process to my readers. Their feedback was honestly invaluable, and it gave me a chance to connect with them on a deeper level.
The book isn’t perfect. Even though there’s a lot of honesty in my writing, I still feel like I could have gone deeper and really torn back the emotional curtain. That’s been a struggle for me, because I’ve gotten a fair number of comments that certain sections were pretty raw and vulnerable. I’m working on going even further — being more honest, more naked. Because each time I do that in my writing (and in my life), people respond so much better.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. My improv teacher mentioned that I come across as self-assured in a lot of my characters — that I consistently project that I “have it together,” even in moments of distress or weakness. And I started noticing how much I polish my own surface in real life, every day, showing the good and hiding the bad. You can see it in my ‘About’ page on this blog. It’s ridiculous when I think about it, only showing my best accomplishments over the last six years, like that’s all that happened. No one gets to see the failures and embarrassing moments, which far outnumber the glorified ones that are proudly on display. And I’m guessing that — for a lot of people — to only see that side of me must be un-relatable, or even insufferable. I don’t know. All I know is that I really respect writers who talk about how much they struggle, not always painting this perfect idealized version of themselves. And I want to work on getting better at that.