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Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction and Get It Published [Paperback]

by Susan Rabiner, Alfred Fortunato
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 17, 2003 0393324613 978-0393324617 Reprint

Distilled wisdom from two publishing pros for every serious nonfiction author in search of big commercial success.

Over 50,000 books are published in America each year, the vast majority nonfiction. Even so, many writers are stymied in getting their books published, never mind gaining significant attention for their ideas—and substantial sales. This is the book editors have been recommending to would-be authors. Filled with trade secrets, Thinking Like Your Editor explains:

• why every proposal should ask and answer five key questions;

• how to tailor academic writing to a general reader, without losing ideas or dumbing down your work;

• how to write a proposal that editors cannot ignore;

• why the most important chapter is your introduction;

• why "simple structure, complex ideas" is the mantra for creating serious nonfiction;

• why smart nonfiction editors regularly reject great writing but find new arguments irresistible.

Whatever the topic, from history to business, science to philosophy, law, or gender studies, this book is vital to every serious nonfiction writer.


Frequently Bought Together

Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction and Get It Published + How to Write a Book Proposal + The Essential  Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully
Price for all three: $39.56

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Two years ago, Betsy Lerner's The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers offered an editor's-eye guide to aspiring writers of nonfiction. Now come Rabiner, former Basic Books editorial director turned agent, and her husband, Fortunato, a freelance book editor and writer, covering some of the same territory, but also breaking new ground. Wannabe authors might be shocked to hear that a fine writing style usually plays only a tiny role in whether a proposal becomes a book. Instead, according to the authors, the freshness of ideas and the size of the potential audience drive the process the first three rules of book publishing, as stated here, are "audience, audience, audience." In part one, on submissions, the authors discuss how to put together a book proposal and, without sounding self-serving, whether to work through an agent or go solo. In part two, they move to the writing process. Especially welcome here is their discussion of research undergirding all writing: authors and publishers, they note, sometimes become too lax about accuracy in nonfiction. Part three discusses how authors and editors (both in-house and freelance) can work together well. They offer a necessary tonic in advice about the importance of establishing a good relationship with the editor from day one that includes an author understanding that the editor's world doesn't revolve around one book. A sample proposal accompanied by a sample chapter round out the book nicely. Hopeful writers will be the primary audience for this title, and they will find useful advice on every page, but a secondary audience could include avid consumers of nonfiction who want to understand why some ideas reach book form while others do not.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Rabiner, a former editorial director at Basic Books, and freelance editor Fortunato are now partners in the Susan Rabiner Literary Agency. Their book (like their agency) targets those who write serious or scholarly nonfiction but hope to reach a wide audience. They begin with the usual fantasy sequence, leading readers through a discussion about which publisher they should select for their work university press or other. The book then explains in detail why authors must do research and present balanced arguments in their writing and why they must also have tangible credibility but write with a sense of narrative to appeal to a wider audience. These are basics, stress the authors, that must be mastered before an aspiring writer can hope to start speculating about how to spend the advance. The authors advise writers to approach editors first and give tips on how to do so; agents, they explain, are readily acquired in the wake of success. Better than average, this title mostly avoids feeding fantasies in favor of detailing necessities. Robert Moore, Parexel Intl., Waltham, MA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (September 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393324613
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393324617
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #125,834 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
181 of 183 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comparing five books about writing book proposals April 7, 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought five books to help me write a book proposal:

"How to Write a Book Proposal, 3rd edition," by Michael Larsen

"78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published & 14 Reasons Why It Just Might," by Pat Walsh

"The Forest for the Trees," by Betsy Lerner

"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published, 4th edition," by Sheree Bykofsky and Jennifer Basye Sander

"Think Like Your Editor," by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunado

The worst was "How to Write a Book Proposal." This book felt like a bad date, like I wanted to wash my hair after reading it. The intent is to teach you to be an "Authorpreneur (r)." Yes, Larsen has registered this word. You'll learn such gems as everyone has 250 friends, and each of them has 250 friends, so you can "spread the word" about your book to more than 62,000 people by e-mail. I think there's a word for that -- spam. Larsen also says to include your promotion plan in the book proposal, including pushing "the paperback edition as hard as you can" when it's published a year after the hardcover edition. I'm not an agent or editor, but I'd think that an agent would giggle quietly to themselves if you were so presumptuous as to include a marketing plan for the paperback edition. (To the author's credit, he doesn't say you should suggest which actor should play the main character in the movie version of your book.) Then there's the chapter about including illustrations and cover art. Excuse me, I thought the editor and art director develop the cover art? I can't imagine creating the book cover to include in the proposal. And the author recommends including a "surprise," such as a baby shoe with a note saying "Now that I have a foot in the door." The book has one good piece of advice: pick a good title.
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232 of 247 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to give this 5 stars, I really did. May 16, 2002
Format:Hardcover
I have a very specific reason why I can't give this book five out of five stars.
First, why it DESERVED five stars:
This is clearly the best, most inspiring, book I have ever read that's specifically targeted at serious nonfiction writers and the challenges they face getting their work published successfully. I just got the book today in the mail, and wasn't able to put it down (except to jot down notes!). Every page has good ideas. Every page. Now I don't have to attend some cheesy ...seminar to get an insider's view of What Works and What Doesn't. This book explains it and does so brilliantly.
Now why it DOESN'T deserve 5 stars:
I cannot give this book five stars because, honestly, this is the worst book I have ever read --- from the standpoint of copyediting and typesetting!!! I am simply **appalled**! Guys -- I know you're going to read this, Susan, Alfred, and Ed Barber --- didn't anyone copy edit it before it went to the printer? Didn't anyone check the galleys?!? I have never seen so many problems with a book before. Glaring typos -- here are but three I'll mention offhand: in the middle of page 249 ("Way was Beecher so important to his times?" Um, I think you meant "Why") or the middle of page 23 ("you prefer not to factor in them in" -- huh? one too many "in"s, yes?) or on page 30 ("because they wanted something beyond money as settlement for their terrible loses." Um, isn't it "losses"?) Aaaauugggh!! And then, throughout the book, something else: first I thought it was a single occurrence, the second I opened the book up for the first time, randomly, to page 73 and noticed the typesetting error on line 9. But then I noticed this problem occurs THROUGHOUT THE BOOK!
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57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely helpful November 16, 2004
Format:Paperback
As a published author, I picked up _Thinking Like Your Editor_ hoping to find a few ideas I could use for my next book proposal.

Instead, I found a whole new level of understanding about what goes into a first-rate and marketable book, what editors want and need, and how to craft a proposal that is as cogent, well-written and persuasive as the book it represents.

Rabiner and Fortunato have distilled their deep expertise into an extremely helpful and useful book.

I recommend it strongly to anyone contemplating writing a book or book proposal. Read it before you write another word.

Robert Adler, author of _Medical Firsts: From Hippocrates to the Human Genome (Wiley, 2004); and _Science Firsts: From the Creation of Science to the Science of Creation (Wiley, 2002).
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book out there on audience and structure March 5, 2003
Format:Hardcover
I've read or skimmed several of these books, which have been highly uneven, and typically covering the same turf so I wasn't expecting to find much new here. But I'm embarking on my third book proposal (having failed once and sold the second to a major house) and I thought I'd see what was out there. I was intrigued to see the PW review said this one broke new ground, and compared it to Betsy Lerner's book which I loved, so I gave it a try.
It greatly exceeded my expectations, particularly in two areas:
1. The lengthy chapter 1, "Thinking Like an Editor" really drove me to focus my book. She uses a variety of approaches to focus you on who the audience will be for this book--and why they will want to read it--but also why you want to write it. It really forced me to step back and think about what I wanted to get out of my book, and re-evaluate its central narrative structure. Page after page of her book helped me re-evaluate mine. At one point, I actually decided not to proceed, but I kept reading and drew new inspiration about the central question driving my book.
2. Chapter 7: "From Introduction to Epilogue: Writing Your Book Chapter by Chapter ..." really takes you through the nitty gritty of honing down your structure. (The previous chapter, "Using Narrative Tension" was also great in introducing key ideas, but this one takes you through step by step, hitting one problem after another, and challenging to keep considering alternative structures (with lots of anecdotes and examples) until you find the best one for your book.
The real test of this book was that it had me writing madly. I kept putting it down every several pages and scribbling new copy, marking up my proposal intro and my outline.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A real book about publishing . . . from someone who's worked with...
I'll just say one thing. This agent, who was a major publishing executive, told me that no one would publish my book because it was different and no one in publishing would get it. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Rico
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Helpful Book
This book is very well-written and contains very helpful information for whoever is planning on publishing their academic work. Read more
Published 3 months ago by blue
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read for aspiring authors
A very helpful and practical guide to getting your manuscript ready for an editor's review. I especially liked the sections on proposal preparation and the writing sample as part... Read more
Published 4 months ago by MBK
5.0 out of 5 stars An important book for authors and editors of serious nonfiction
The authors of this book have many years of experience as book editors and literary agents. Some of the information reinforces what I know and do as an editor, but much of it is... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Bobbi Linkemer
5.0 out of 5 stars Got a book contract on my first attempt
I have always wanted to write a book, but have had difficulty in finding a subject for which I was both knowledgeable and passionate, and which has not been covered by other... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Jonathan H. Ward
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
This was a great book. I definitely recommend it to others. It was exactly what I was looking for, it was very helpful, and it came in great condition. Thanks!
Published 6 months ago by Tiffany D. Goetz
3.0 out of 5 stars Needed a "thinking like your proofreader section"
There were so many spelling and grammatical errors in this book, I was stunned! The agent's perspective was helpful..the formatting and spelling mistakes were amateurish.
Published 8 months ago by Mary T. Waldron
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!
Clear. Credible. Authoritative. Thorough. Interesting. Invaluable. This is a superlative work in the publisher-to-writer canon. I will reread it, I'm certain. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Pajaru
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent guidelines
This book is easy to follow and has fleshed out examples throughout to make the points as clear as possible. A great resource for non-fiction writers.
Published 9 months ago by Kay S. Hooper
5.0 out of 5 stars From an Editor
Since I edit nonfiction professionally, I wanted to recommend a guide to a new author with whom I'm working for the first time, and this is excellent. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Yours Truly
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