The most important client conversation you will ever have

This week I’ve been working on the structural edits for the two projects I’m working on, and here’s a little secret for you: no one likes this part.

Everyone thinks that the draft is the hardest part of writing a book, but that’s actually the fun bit! You get to ideate, and research, and experiment, and it feels like a huge achievement when you write the last line. It feels like the work is done.

But really, the end of the first draft is just the start.

That’s why the second stage, structural editing, is where ‘the dip’ happens.

This is the part when everyone gets most discouraged, and it’s where so many books die, because the authors just run out of steam. They know that there are parts that are confusing to read, or where there are holes in the research, or that they were a bit lazy stringing particular arguments together…

And the thought of going back over it and fixing these issues just stops them dead in their tracks.

This is the moment you see The Gap, as Ira Glass calls it — the difference between what you imagined the book will be, and what it currently is. But editing is the opportunity to close that gap, to spend some designated time working on the flaws.

Because here’s another secret: no one, ever, writes a perfect book in one go. Nothing is ever as good as it can be on the first pass.

Most books go through 5, 6, 7 rounds of editing before they’re published (and the only reason some books ever go to print is because a brave editor physically wrenches the draft pages from the author’s clammy hands).

There’s no great work without rework. Editing is both painful and priceless. It’s essential, and it’s why about a third of the time I budget for each project is dedicated exclusively to editing.

You need that much time, at least, to close The Gap.

And that’s just when you’re working on your own stuff.

When you’re editing collaboratively with clients, editing is the moment you must be most careful.

It’s the moment you need to lead the project with as much clarity and compassion as you can muster, because The Gap is scary as shit for clients.

They’ve paid you all this money, they’ve spent all this time, and there’s still a lot of work to do on this thing. If they haven’t been warned about this, they can easily fall into the assumption that you’ve just done a rubbish job, don’t care about quality, or think they’re an idiot and won’t notice the problems.

Not a good time.

If you’re working with clients, setting expectations BEFORE this stage is probably the most important thing you will do for the entire project.

Tell them that a couple of rounds of editing is standard and essential for projects like this, and that you will need their clear feedback on…

– Where the information doesn’t flow well, is jarring to read, or confusing- Information that needs to be developed more or isn’t correct
– Areas that don’t ‘sound’ right and the voice needs to be adjusted to be consistent with their brand
– Places where they could feature other experts or sources to make the material stronger

Telling them this up front shows that you, as the expert, know there are going to be things to improve When they know it’s not the finished product, they’re still going to feel good about the project (and you) when they want to make changes, because they’re expecting this part of the process.

Once structural editing is done, you get to line editing, and that’s a whole other can of worms. And since it’s Friday, and it’s sunny out, we’ll talk about it another day.

Hope you have a delightful weekend, and if you need something to listen to, this episode of the Business of Writing Podcast with Liz Talago was a really interesting chat about using psychology in your writing, backing up your creativity with data, and some real talk about trust and ethics in marketing. Good stuff.