Editing Self-Help Books

Nonfiction can be about many things. It can be biographical or auto-biographical; like a documentary, it can be mostly exposition–informative and educational. But self-help books need to have more of a directive, a purpose specific to the reader. The author is giving advise, telling the reader what to do, how to solve a problem.

There are a number of ways to organize a self-help book. One way is to construct the book in three acts: Where you are; How you got there; and How you can get to a better place. Another is to take a chronological approach, with the author sharing her or his own story in order of how the events unfolded. And still another strategy is to attack the most powerful aspects of the problem first, and the smaller issues later.

I recently edited a book that set out to define the self-help process scientifically: What is holding you back? Do you really need those things in your life? What do you want your life to look like? What people or activities do you need in your life? And so on, like a flow chart.

One thing that is different about editing nonfiction, especially self-help, is that the editor has to be diligent in fact-checking. There are so many urban myths and bits of misinformation floating around, especially on the web; it’s easy for a writer to forget to check the veracity of every single claim he or she makes.

Here is a minor example: I remember being told years ago that Andrew Jackson and Jimmy Carter were the only two presidents not to earn a college degree. But if I included that in a story or article, I’d have to look into it deeper. It turns out that Jimmy Carter has a Bachelor of Science from the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Jackson was educated, but may not have earned a degree. Still, he passed the bar and practiced law, and this was in a time before there were universities on every street corner, like coffee shops. So, as an editor, if my client was claiming that these two failed to earn degrees, I’d provide him or her with the appropriate information about Carter and Jackson. I would also be curious how common college degrees were in the early days of the fledgling United States. Were apprenticeships more the fashion then? How formal was the education?

An editor doesn’t have to be the expert on a broad range of subjects. My clients are! But I get to make sure everything they claim is backed up in solid research of the facts.

If you want to make your self-help or other nonfiction book sing, contact me at steppenwolfedww@hotmail.com.

Your book deserves an extra dose of awesome!

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Editing Science Fiction

Some say science fiction is a slowly dying genre. But I think there is still a market for it. The challenge with sci-fi is that a lot of writers invest so much mental bandwidth developing a compelling environment, or intriguing fictional technology, that they neglect the two most important aspects of story-telling—character development and story development.

It’s great to come up with an original setting, or the next kind of phaser or light saber, or special super powers that no one has thought of before. But the characters still need to have flaws, they need plausible motivation, and they need to have realistic relationships with each other, bad or good. Good guys need to have a little darkness, and bad guys need a tiny spark of humanity.

Dialog needs to be crisp, sometimes amusing, but always realistic and appropriate for the setting. Too much yippee ki yay and the reader starts to feel like they’ve already read this story. But a lack of humor can also turn away a reader.

The story still needs to follow the Three-Act structure, and a little romance goes a long way in sci-fi. But in this genre, more explosions and fewer smooches are usually a good idea.

I can help you develop your story, brainstorm ideas—outlandish or realistic—and help you keep your characters and dialog sharp and engaging. Contact me at steppenwolfedww@hotmail.com, because your book deserves an extra dose of awesome!