How Much Should I Write Before Hiring an Editor?

June 17, 2017



I'm an editor on a mission to learn all I can about this industry -- and I'm taking your questions as I go! I'm continuing my series ASK ME ANYTHING: STORY AND PUBLISHING this week with a question on page-count and being prepared to work with an editor. Thank you for all your great questions so far! Keep 'em coming! Contact me and join my mailing list with thoughts on today's subject or any questions about writing, story, editing, and publishing.


Q: “How long should a book for professionals and entrepreneurs be? How much writing and editing should I do before handing it over to an editor to help me organize and truly edit?” — Bill


A: For the short answer, skip to “Your first question” below. I wanted to start out with some thoughts on your genre first, so if you want the long answer, keep reading! 


“Entrepreneurship” is a popular subgenre of “Business & Money." Here’s an exercise: Go on Amazon and look up some business-related books you’ve enjoyed recently. Scroll down and find its genre tree. You can see how each book is broken down into subgenres. The more focused and niche the subgenre is, the better its chance of having a high ranking — which looks good on Amazon, looks good on you as an author, serves a specific audience, and let’s be honest—it just feels nice!


Let’s take the popular book, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber. It’s selling very well right now (particularly the audiobook version). This book has a few different classifications. It’s at #22 in Business & Money > Small Business & Entrepreneurship > Entrepreneurship. You could then click on the Entrepreneurship link itself and go check out the best sellers on that list. This exercise can help you narrow your focus on who you’re writing for (perhaps more than the generic entrepreneur) as well as the overall topic and content. Maybe you want the theme to be Time Management for entrepreneurs like Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time


Thinking about your audience as laser-focused as possible is critical in an age of easy publishing, whether you’re writing nonfiction or fantasy young adult! 


When you publish to Amazon, you select two genres. Those genres and the keywords you use in your descriptions determine the categories you fall into. These are crucial to rankings in Amazon! 


Thanks for going on that rabbit trail with me. Now let’s address your specific questions.  


Your first question: “How long (how many pages) should a book for entrepreneurs be?” 


I asked author and entrepreneur Jarie Bolander about this. His next book, The Entrepreneur Ethos, is slated to release in September. 


He says a book for this audience should be 250-350 pages.  


Jarie shares that his goal is to produce a 65,000-word book—which is about 300 pages. 


Another route: write small, niche, how-to ebooks on a single principle. E.g. Nathan Barry's Productivity Manifesto, which is 20 pages long. My husband, John, who's a software developer, says that it is common in his programmer-sphere for software developers to produce short digital-only books to develop their published presence.


“How much writing and editing should I do before I hand it over to an editor to help me organize and truly edit?”


If you have the material, the ideas, but haven’t started writing, or if you have batches of chapters but no clear structure — wherever you are in your writing right now, draw up an outline of where you want to go. An outline of the material with a few sample chapters of content is a common nonfiction proposal. Make your outline as detailed as possible. With an editor, you can work from an outline to put the book together.


(This can be done with fiction, too. I’m always eager to work with an author who wants to collaborate from the bare bones of an idea, all the way to the finished product! Contact me if interested in learning more about this process.) 


This is called a developmental edit. 


When you already you know the story you want to tell but don’t have the 65,000 specific words on paper, you hire a developmental editor. 


In Jarie’s case, he prepared an outline and a thesis and wrote a couple sample chapters for an editor. He is working with a developmental editor at this stage to help him put the content together and go through batches of chapters at a time, to make sure the book is working and is in line with his thesis. 


He is also working with a line editor, who will handle the complete, finished manuscript, as the last line of defense. A line editor will do a heavy copyedit and query back to you any lingering issues. (A developmental edit doesn’t typically involve scanning for typos, as the editor is focusing on the construction of the story and not on the line-by-line details.)


An editor is a key asset because we look at the book from both a micro and macro perspective. The writer is the origin of the ideas and the creator of the words. As an editor, I don’t write the book for you. But my strengths lie in keeping you, the writer, on the line of your own story. I scope out what is working and not working; what muddies the water for your reader. Entrepreneurs don’t have a lot of time—you have to be so succinct in your wording and clear in your message. The editor finds and cuts what distracts the reader to keep you writing the content that pulls her in. 


Further resources


Once you have a detailed outline (and an editor), Jarie recommends learning the Foolscap Method from Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid to organize your story plan. The Foolscap Method is a one-page, high-level outline of your story to keep you progressing through the promise of your thesis.


Jarie also recommends writing in Scrivener (as I do) and using this great tool called Hemingway App to test your readability. I just checked it out and it is a pretty cool app; it tells you if your sentence is too dense, or if your word choice is unnecessarily complicated.   


Finally, are you blogging on this? Are you already connected with entrepreneurs and professionals? This is your audience! Nurture and grow it. As you can imagine, I’m an advocate of teaching as you learn. Check out what Nathan Barry, CEO of ConvertKit and author of Authority, has to say.  


Next week, I'm going to answer part 2 of your question, Bill -- which was about hiring a ghostwriter! I'm talking with my generous friend Susy Flory, who has co-authored bestsellers such as The Good, the Bad, and the Grace of God with Jep and Jessica Roberston of Duck Dynasty. I can't wait to share what she has to say!

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