Customer Reviews: Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction and Get It Published
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on April 7, 2007
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. For example, "How to Write a Book Proposal" is a title that will make 100,000 aspiring writers buy your book, regardless of how awful the book is.

"78 Reasons" was good. Some sections are wrong, such as #38 and #39, which correctly advises against paying for a vanity press to publish your book but confuses this with self-publishing. I've successfully self-published two books, and unsuccessfully self-published one book. The correct answer is that if you have a niche book in a niche market you know well, self-publish. Self-publishing mass market books is a recipe for disaster. Some of the advice is excellent, such as #16, about "killing your little darlings" (a scene you think is brilliant, that you build the rest of the book around). While most of this book is sound advice to a novice writer, as an experienced writer I didn't learn anything new.

"The Complete Idiot's Guide" covers the entire process from thinking of an idea through book proposals, book contracts, publicity tours, etc. It's a good overview but each chapter is too short. You'll need to buy another book about book proposals, etc. I'm keeping my copy as a reference to turn to occasionally but it's not the last word.

"The Forest for the Trees" starts with six essays about writing, with topics such as alcoholism, self-promoting poets (starting with Walt Whitman), the childhood of famous writers, writers who are too successful too young, etc. These are interesting reading. The second half of the book is essays about publishing, starting with literary agents. One paragraph describes the plethora of surprise gifts writers include with their query letters. She's received baby shoes, presumably from readers of Larsen's book. She says: "Please resist the temptation to do any of these outlandish things...a simple, dignified letter with a clear statement of your intent and credentials will win more affirmative responses than any gimmick or hype." If you read Larsen's book, read Lerner's book as the antidote. The next essays are about dealing with rejection, the life of editors, what writers want from editors, how book covers are designed, book titles selected, etc. This book is descriptive, not proscriptive, so you'll learn how the world of books operates, if not be told how to write a book and get it published. I enjoyed the author's "voice" and I recommend this book.

The best book is "Thinking Like Your Editor." The first half of the book is about preparing your book proposal. Unlike the other four books, reading this book made me completely rewrite my book proposal. The author begins by emphasizing the three most important things about a book: audience, audience, and audience. Who is going to buy your book? Not who might be sort of interested in your book, but who will feel that he or she must read your book. I'd thought about this before, but reading Rabiner's book made me think lucidly about this. She then walks you through the elements that must be in a book proposal, such as your thesis, or what makes your message unique and new and challenging; why is now the time to publish this book; and why are you the person most qualified to write it. The second half of the book is about writing your book, including the importance of narrative tension in non-fiction writing, and of presenting a balanced "argument" to make your views more convincing. The other four books made me say, "uh-huh, uh-huh" and not do anything. Rabiner's book made me spend several days working on my proposal. (My 2003 paperback copy has the typos corrected.)
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on May 16, 2002
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! Sentences end with a period, followed IMMEDIATELY by the capitalized letter of the first word of the following sentence -- no space! And then the weird word break at the very bottom of page 22: the word "message" is broken in half with no hyphen. The last three letters of page 22 are "mes" and the first four letters of page 23 are "sage" but there's no hyphen!!! What's up with that?
It's just bizarre --- for a book called "Think Like An Editor" one would THINK someone would have caught this stuff in the galleys. Oh, ok, so maybe I have to wait for the sequel: "Think Like a Copy Editor"??? :-)
Note to W.W.Norton: Guys. Please. Stop the presses. Fix the errors. You do your readers and your esteemed authors a great disservice. Reprint the book. Make the world a safer place for readers. They will thank you. I will thank you.
Bottom line (more on why this book is GREAT) --
I will forgive the typographical errors however distracting and embarrassing they are. Because the book is such an INCREDIBLE breath of fresh air. No disrespect Jeff Herman, but your books just never helped me, even though they were about nonfiction proposals. I am inspired, I am encouraged, my confidence is at a new peak because of this new book. Thank you Susan and Albert. My own book proposal will be incredibly stronger because of what I've learned from your book, and because of issues in my own proposal that I already was aware of but didn't want to deal with -- until you explained succinctly why I have to deal with them if I want my book to be successful. Thank you.
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on March 5, 2003
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.
I also read the user reviews before checking out the book, and they make a few good points. This book is full of embarassing typos, which is a sad commentary on the copy editors at Norton. And opening/closing the anecdotes in the intro and conclusion are fairly weak. But those seem like trivial reasons to disregard a real treasure of a book.
A real find.
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on November 16, 2004
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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on April 10, 2006
My husband is working on a book and I picked this up for him to get some insight, the kind you'd expect from the title. However, I should have paid much more attention to the subtitle. You need to be very clear that you're writing something scholarly, or more specifically, academically oriented or you will be frustrated by the approach and general tone of this book.

I think they could have tackled a wider audience, by discussing non-fiction in general, but they didn't. Their focus is narrow, which is probably excellent for someone who is publishing a serious, academic or scholarly book of non-fiction that a niche audience. I'm sure there's a market for that, and if that's your genre, then this book is for you.

If you're writing any other kind of non-fiction book - historical non-fiction, general non-fiction, etc. - you will find the beginning of this book somewhat helpful in its discussion of how to go about the process of getting an editor, drafting a proposal and so on. Again, all of this is structured to be more useful for scholars, but good information nonetheless.

The later part of the book is for those who are engaging in serious research, setting up hypothesis and arguing them, etc. I found this particularly unhelpful for the book I'm writing, which would be considered more popular non-fiction.

The authors suggest paying someone to professionally copyedit and proofread your proposal. But ironically, as someone else noted, this book was not well copyedited or proofread. There are numerous grammatical errors, typos and even a 'wrong' word here and there which detracts from the overall reading experience.
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on May 28, 2006
In my quest to learn more about the book proposal process, my literary agent recommended Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction--and Get It Published.

If you're interested in writing serious (or not so serious) nonfiction, this is a MUST READ! The Authors don't just go through a step-by-step process of writing a book proposal, but instead get into the "editor" psychology behind why book proposals succeed or don't.

The book is presented in a comfortable format that goes through the big picture process in a narrative format that reminds me of a good lecture. The voice of the author's comes through in a very straight forward, personable way. It's like sitting across the table from your agent or editor, cup of coffee in hand, listening to them tell you how the business works.

I don't think this is the only book you'll ever need on book proposals. If I hadn't read a few other books that discussed proposals from a step-by-step basis first I wouldn't have understood all that the authors say in this one. No, this is more of a next step type of book. Learn how the actual writing process goes first and come to Thinking Like Your Editor with a little knowledge. This title will add an extra and excellent layer on to the information that you already have in your head.
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on February 4, 2005
There is good information in this book. Much of it concerns

unwelcome but important realities of book publishing. For example, the fact that readers tend to favor strident, opinionated nonfiction over those books that are more objective and milder in their tone would not have occurred to me right away. The authors go to some trouble to explain many common problems nonfiction writers run into.

I felt that Jeff Herman's work on book proposals was superior to

the discussion in this book.

On the whole, the book is not well written and often difficult to wade through. I was put off by the tone at times, which had me thinking of someone's daffy old aunt scolding a child by using convoluted examples and stories that only served to cloud the simple point she was trying to make. I didn't notice typesetting problems, but the lack of competent editing for clarity was evident. I ended up giving the book three stars instead of two only because serves as such a good example of how not to write a nonfiction book.

My sense was that the authors thought at first this would be a fun and relatively easy project, then despite years in the publishing business found out first hand just how hard writing is-and didn't rise to the challenge. This is too bad; with the quality of the existing information and the substitution of a more adept writer, it could have been outstanding.
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on April 25, 2002
This is, hands down, flat out, the best book out there on this particular subject. Ignore the review by "Memphis." It's clear that she "blew through" (her words, not mine) the most important parts of the book--and so missed the entire point. I have read all the books already out there; I have an agent; I've succeeded in getting published, and I STILL learned tons from this book. Like the reviewer named Sissalou, I've done very well, but my proposals have not gotten the enthusiasm I would have liked (well, okay, maybe no one's do!) Now, thanks to Susan Rabiner, I see where I've gone wrong. My agent, I might add, has only worked as an agent; she never worked in publishing, and I think that's why she's not been able to give the insight needed to move my proposals from good to great. I am deeply grateful to Rabiner for sharing her wisdom, and I recommend this book in the strongest possible terms. Buy it. Read it. Then read it again. You won't be sorry.
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on April 21, 2002
As both a professional book editor and a professional writer I found this book to be filled with good advice that I can recommend to authors I am working with -- and new insights that as a writer, I found very, very helpful. Especially helpful are the authors' advice about what to expect from the publishing business. Writers: Read this wisdom carefully. Although it may be geared to academics (not the only people capable of writing serious non-fiction) it doesn't matter: the advice applies to anyone involved in the study or practice of a subject or profession who wants to write about it. I think "Miffed" misses the point of the book. In addition, the comment Miffed makes, "Getting it placed on Amazon is marketing genius" indicates that Miffed may not know that much about the publishing business: it doesn't take genius to get "placed" on Amazon -- that's what is so great about Amazon - they list most books that are published because they want to sell them.
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on December 5, 2004
If you plan to write a nonfiction book, you should first read this guide by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato. It is useful because it talks you through the process of submitting a book proposal to a publishing house and tells you what to expect during the writing and publication process. The authors disabused me of some mistaken notions that I had about how books are published. This is why this book is most useful before you begin to do anything with your project.

The book's key point is to pin down exactly who your audience is and to then write for that audience. It sounds simple enough, but it actually turns out to be a much more profound idea. Without a clear audience that can be captured, you won't get a book published. It also teaches you to determine what question your book is answering and to then write a story that answers the question. Again, this seems like common sense, but we have all encountered books that are bad because their point is unclear or because their is no narrative.

For first-time nonfiction authors, this quick read is full of good advice. It is very honest about what you can expect, and helpful in reaching your goals.
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