Editorial review: How to bring out the brilliance in your book

Do you think the bigger picture of your book needs some work, but you don’t really know where to start? My client Keith was in the same boat when he found me. Until he hired me to do an editorial review, that is.

As I always try to do, I offered Keith a choice between two services I thought might help him: a developmental edit (the more expensive option, in which I take your book and restructure it for you) or an editorial review (the low-budget version, where I give you a detailed report that will help you restructure your book yourself). What I came to learn over the next few years we worked together on various projects, is that Keith is a hands-on kind of person when it comes to their writing. So it shouldn’t have surprised me that he decided to go with option 2.

In this post, I will tell you how my editorial review helped Keith take his bucket full of sand and turn it into a magnificent sand castle. (And turned me into a fan in the process.)

Editorial review: This book's challenges

Keith’s nonfiction self-help memoir had fantastic potential to help a lot of people… But he knew his book wasn’t quite there yet. Still, he decided it was time to start developing a book proposal, which is what he hired me to do. But when I read the materials he sent me, I confirmed what he’d already thought: the book itself needed work before we could write a strong book proposal. 

You see, both a book proposal and a manuscript are made strong by one particular ingredient: purpose. Only when the purpose of the book is clear can you make the book make sense to publishers and potential readers. And it’s this purpose that was missing. Like many manuscripts I read: this book was trying to do a lot of things, without one unifying idea to bring it all together. 

One analogy I like is that writing a first draft of a book is like filling a bucket with sand. In subsequent drafts, then, you can take this sand and sculpt it into a beautiful sandcastle. The initial bucket looks nothing like the final castle, but if you don’t collect the sand first, you have nothing to build with! 

In my 14-page editorial report, that’s exactly what I told Keith: you have a bucket full of beautiful sand here, but we have yet to give it shape! This report, therefore, was one of the longest I’ve ever written. The report started with general notes, then gave notes per chapter, then an analysis of his Table of Contents, and finally a suggested plan of action. And all of this feedback, he managed to use to restructure his book into one that an agent described as “really strong.”

Navigating the Developmental Edit together

When he had had time to process this lengthy editorial review, Keith immediately hired me to do two things: draft him a new Table of Contents (ToC) and coach him in weekly video calls. During these calls, we started talking about the project ahead of him, and every week talked him through the next step to take to restructure his book. 

For the first few months, this weekly guidance was instrumental in keeping Keith’s project on track. We could talk through any choices he had to make, trouble shoot issues that came up for him, and keep him feeling accountable instead of working in isolation. 

Pretty soon, however, the topic of Keith’s ADHD came up, and we also started talking about other writing projects he wanted to complete, specifically focusing on prioritizing when you have ADHD. Though he finished his developmental edit 6 months later, our relationship deepened and expanded. So that at the time of writing, we’ve worked together for two years!

The power of purpose in editing

As I said above, in order to write a strong book, you need to be very clear on your purpose. i often phrase this as the following question: 

If there’s only one thought that your reader can walk away with after reading your text: what would it be?

Once you know what that one message is, you can start constructing an argument or a story that builds up to it. Every chapter in your nonfiction book’s Table of Contents, then, represents a step the reader needs to take from where they are now, to believing that one thought you want to leave them with. And that is how a ToC ends up reflecting the purpose of your book. 

So if you were in the same position that Keith found himself in, here’s your plan so far: first, you figure out the purpose of your book (this blog post can help). Then, you create a chapter structure that builds up to that purpose. All of this can be done relatively quickly. 

But the big one, the one that took Keith six months to complete, is to then go into each of your chapters to weave your purpose into there as well. Every chapter needs to serve your one overarching message. And honestly? Keith’s 6 months was pretty quick! This sort of developmental editing of your own work can easily take a year! (Which is exactly why so many of my clients choose to hire me to do the developmental editing instead: I can get it done for you in 6-8 weeks.)

Keith's experience with my editorial review

So how did Keith experience this editorial review and the subsequent collaboration on his developmental edit? He said:

[It] was everything I hoped it would be and helped me transform by book into what I knew it could be. My advice would be to work with Susanne as soon as possible in the writing process – yes, she is excellent at fixing, but it’s a lot easier to get it right as you go along.

And I do believe he enjoyed his experience. Not only have we been meeting up regularly for coaching sessions since; when he was done with his developmental edit, he hired me to do the content edit, or line edit, on this book. He said: 

As you would expect from a great editor, if something isn’t working she will tell you why and give guidance on how to fix it, but not in a way that leaves you thinking you should never have left the day job. 
Susanne is one of those special people whose talents are complimented by her genuine interest in what she does, her clients’ welfare and their work.

Which, I think, is high praise! And I may or may not go back to re-reading his testimonial every time I feel bad about myself. 

Concluding thoughts on Keith's editorial review

So that is what an editorial report can do for you. Not only does it tell you what to do to make your book better, it can help you build a lasting relationship with your writing coach or editor without having to spend a fortune up front. It can save you time if you want to do the developmental editing yourself, or money if you want someone’s input on your book’s structure. I really think that the editorial review is one of the best services that editors have ever come up with. 

Are you wondering whether an editorial review can help you? Use the form below to schedule a free strategy session!