Content is King!

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Content is King

 Are you getting a little sick and tired of cheerfully being told again and again that if you want to succeed, you better have good content? This is what I have been telling writers day in and day out for quite a while. But for the first time, I’m realizing it ain’t easy. As I launch Project Publish, I am constantly reminded that if I want to promote it successfully, I better make sure my content is charming, informative, intriguing, helpful, honest, fresh, engaging and otherwise entertaining. Hey, no prob!

Now that I’ve had to swallow my own pill for the last few months, I thought I might come at this from a different angle: It’s a pain in the ass. It’s hard. It requires relentless pursuit. I’m sick of it. Crabby about it.  But. I. Have. To. Do. It.

And so do you. For me, I focus on bringing content to writers that helps make their job easier. I knew I could never be a REAL writer, which is why I’m an agent. But I know I have the objective skill to appreciate fresh work and edit it to the point where it is ready to be seen by a publishing house. For an aspiring author, the most important content is, of course, your manuscript itself. I promise you, starting the publishing process before your work is polished to a spit shine is a waste of your time. I worry that this might often be the weak link in many a writers formula for book publishing success.

It’s no wonder, when you think about the daunting task of writing a book in the first place, and the fact that you have so much work ahead of you promoting yourself, finding an agent, or dealing with the 700 things that need to be accomplished if you want to self-publish. It’s darn easy to skip this step and just get GOING already. I think a lot of folks are skimming over this crucial part of the process and it’s a major reason they aren’t getting published. Don’t be that person!

Back Up and Take a Good Hard Look At Your Manuscript

While it’s just one little sentence of advice that you hear from me, and from many other publishing people, it’s probably the most important one. I know, it’s the one that takes the most time, but if it’s done well, everything else will flow. I can’t implore you enough not to overlook this. If you have the smallest inkling that something isn’t right with your manuscript, then something isn’t right with your manuscript. If you’re not already part of a writers group, get thee to one immediately! Even in the smallest towns, these are posted at coffee shops, libraries, and bookstores.

This is an example of what happens when the content is good:

“With The Night Circus, I knew from those first few chapters that [this] book was unlike any other first novel I had read. My heart started pounding, and every time the phone rang or my email chimed, I was annoyed to be pulled away from the pages, which is why I went to the cafeteria. Once the distractions were gone, I flew through the pages as fast as I could both because I was enthralled by the story, and propelled by the fear that someone else in another office in town was doing the same thing and would beat me to it.” –Alison Callahan, editor, Doubleday Book Group

Should You Hire An Editor?

All of this begs the question of whether or not to hire an editor, even if you are submitting to agents, who will edit your work a bit, and then it will be edited again by your acquiring editor. I know it’s an investment that carries no guarantee, but I’m going to say, “Yes.” There are a myriad of things you simply can’t see when you’re that close to the work.

Here are just a few things editors are great at sussing out:

Weak character development: This is an issue that I see frequently. One or two characters are flushed out, and everyone else is two-dimensional (or single dimensional!) Editors are very good at taking a look at each character and making sure you are giving the appropriate weight to their development based on their importance to the story.

Tone of voice is unappealing: This can often be easily fixed with some light editing, but if your “voice” sounds condescending, flip, angry, too serious for the work or visa versa, a reader won’t stick with it. Again, this is something you, as the writer, might not see but is crucial to the success of your work.

Plot flaws: Simple mistakes (if your character is pulling on a blue shirt in the morning, and spills something on their white shirt that afternoon, you’ve got some work to do). Editors are great at catching this kind of thing.

Historical checking: As with the above plot flaws, it’s always good to have a set of professional eyes looking at your work for hard-core factual content. There’s nothing worse than unrealistic hospital scenes, erroneous geographical information, incorrect historical events, etc.

These are just a few examples of how a professional editor can help polish your manuscript, remember, content is king!

Of course, I’m wondering if is THIS good content. Sheesh.

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  • Deborah

    What if you can’t get anything but a publishing firm that wants you to pay for most of the costs to publish the book? Then wouldn’t you have to either self-publish or throw your manuscript away?

    • Helen Zimmermann

      If a publisher is asking you to spend money up front – beware! If you are going to pay all of the initial costs, you may as well self publish, that way you reap all the profits.