As Guest Post day for WordCount’s 2012 Blogathon, I’ve exchanged posts about writing with Ann Logue, one of my Freelance Success colleagues.
If you’ve always wondered how Dummies books reach the bookstore shelves, here’s an insider’s view into the process for writing one..
Writing Dummies Books: The Marathon!
by Ann C. Logue
I’m the author of four books in Wiley’s . . .For Dummies series, so I know a little about writing fast! On a typical book, authors have four months to come up with material for 20 chapters and the book’s marketing materials. I found it that each book took up about half of my time for those four months. It’s not as horrible as that might seem for three reasons.
First, the books have a strong structure. The Dummies books have a similar style and voice, whether the topic is Bathroom Remodeling, Buddhism, or Emerging Markets Investing. The chapters move from basic to detailed, and the book concludes with its “Parts of Ten”, lists that summarize key points. Each book has special bulleted sections (known as icons) to highlight technical information, warnings, and interesting facts. I wouldn’t say that the books write themselves, but they do pull together nicely.
The second reason is that the editors who work on the Dummies series are really good. They understand how the series works, what the readers want to get from the books that they buy, and how best to explain complicated information. I’ve been able to learn a lot from working with them.
Third, the deadlines are so tight that there is no time to panic or dither! You just have to sit down and write.
I’ve been able to apply these observations to other writing projects. I use outlines. They don’t have the orderly I, A, 1, a, i format that you may have learned in school – they may simply be long lists of ideas that need to be included in a particular story. It’s a great place to start, though. Looking at that list will show me where I need more information, where something is out of order, and what the important part of the story really is.
I also rely on good editors. A good editor is someone who understands good writing and who understands what the audience wants to see. Editors tend to be picky, but a picky person isn’t necessarily a good editor. It may take some asking around to find someone who is good at looking over your work, but once you find that person, be very nice to him or her!
And, finally, deadlines matter. I have an idea for a non-Dummies book project that may never happen because there’s no deadline. The more something has to be due at a certain time, the easier it is to sit in your chair and crank it out. Using deadlines creates commitment.
I’ve really enjoyed working on the Dummies books, and I think they have made me a better writer overall. They’ve certainly made me appreciate outlines in a way that no high-school teacher ever could.