What do you do when you realise your book has turned into a version of ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ or ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’? Every time you think about it, horror strikes. Oh no! It’s all gone horribly wrong, now what? Here’s what to do if your book turns from heavenly to horrible in a few moments.
Here are five of the biggest disasters that can hit your book:
- There’s a hole in your argument! You realise half way through your book that the whole (or at least a significant part) of your message, solution or method is flawed. Panic! What now?
- Someone stole my book! Someone much more famous, better connected (in business or marketing terms), funkier or more impressive publishes a book on exactly the same subject as you and even has the exact same title (or near enough). Aaarrgh!
- It’s all fallen apart! Your perfectly worked out book structure falls apart when you realise three chapters need t be 4000 words long and the other three are just 1000 words – and the other two chapters don’t have any content at all because you’ve covered it elsewhere. Eeek!
- We need your book NOW! You get an exciting email asking you to speak at a prestigious conference in TWO WEEKS’ TIME. Great! But, they ask you if you can bring your book along too as they want to sell copies IN VOLUME at the back of the room. The only problem is that you haven’t started writing it yet. Gulp! Do you accept?
- It’s awful, don’t publish it! You ask a couple of trusted contacts to give you feedback on your book just before you send it off to the copy editor (who you’ve booked for next week). Their feedback isn’t positive. In fact, it’s extremely negative. Your heart sinks. What do you do now?
All of the ‘disasters’ listed above are solvable. Agreed, they are challenging and they are scary but they can be overcome and even used to your advantage. Over the next few days, I’m going to deal with them one by one so you can see that disaster can be averted and you can be a hero to your own book.
There you are, tripping along writing your book, whistling happily to yourself as the words rattle onto the page when “uh oh!” – you realise there is a problem. A BIG problem. You stop, look around and wonder if anyone has noticed. There it is: the huge hole in your argument.
At first, you’re a bit dumbstruck. How could you not have noticed this earlier? How could you have ever let this happen? Your whole book is flawed. What do you do? Ditch the book and start again? Rewrite it? Suddenly, everything is up in the air.
When it comes to book-writing nightmares this is up there at the top and that’s mostly because it is the most common disaster to strike any writer – and the hardest to fix (sorry!). However, there are solutions and you can rescue the situation if you remain calm and are prepared to make some changes.
The Problem: Gaining a new perspective
When you see a flaw in your book what you are really experiencing is a new perspective. We all have realisations and it is common for them to come about when we are knee-deep in explaining our own method or message.
It starts with ‘what if?’: Sometimes it is the writing process that brings new ideas to our attention: we’re bowling along when a little ‘what if…?’ pops into our mind and then shatters our argument. We disappear down the ‘what if?’ rabbit hole and suddenly all we can see is flaws. It’s an unwelcome perspective.
It starts with new information: Sometimes we read or hear something that offers a completely different interpretation to the one we have been used to and suddenly what we are saying seems old hat or pedestrian in some way.
The scenario goes something like this: you’ve been telling your readers to go up the mountain and take the path over the peak. You have all sorts of advice about how to get over the mountain. Your whole book is about doing that. Then, someone else comes along and says ‘Heck, don’t climb the mountain, just go through the tunnel underneath it’. You read this and think: ‘Tunnel! What tunnel?’ Of course, your book about climbing the mountain now seems redundant and maybe a bit silly. Suddenly, you know how people felt when they found out the world was round, not flat. It’s all a bit too much to take in.
What is the solution?
1. Acknowledge and explore
Acknowledge and examine the new option, method or approach. Consider it carefully. What does it involve: cost, time, expertise, a particular personality type? Sticking with our mountain example, maybe lots of people hate tunnels, maybe it is expensive to go through the tunnel, perhaps the tunnel is not safe, and maybe the tunnel meanders all the way under the mountains and brings you out somewhere you don’t want to be so you have to make another journey to correct your route. Phew! This tunnel thing isn’t looking as great now.
2. Decide how to proceed
Once you have considered this new perspective you can decide whether to include it in your book or not. Here are your options:
- Ignore the tunnel (not recommended).
- Mention the tunnel in the introduction to the book or as part of another chapter but don’t spend too long on it, except to mention the problems with using it.
- Create a new chapter on the tunnel and discuss it as a serious alternative to the mountain climbing route. Give advice on when it is a better option and offer some resources for those who want to find out more.
Ignoring a problem does not make it go away. If you are tempted to pretend it doesn’t exist, you are likely to get tied up in more knots than if you deal with it.
Of course, the new solution you encounter may not be as devastating as the one in my example, but it could derail you if it challenges your established thinking and methodology. Give yourself time to calm down then look at the new idea rationally, not to dismiss it but to work out if and how much you want to adapt to include it.
3. Do the work
Once you have considered the new idea and decided how to handle it, there is only one thing left and that is to do the work. This work may require some re-writing, some cutting and some playing around with your structure. However, once you know what you need to do, the work should be fairly quick and easy to do. My advice is to set aside a limited period of time and make the necessary changes so you can move on.
Of course, once you’ve seen one flaw in your book you are going to be nervous about finding another one. In truth, you may find more flaws, (although a good book plan makes this less likely) but when you’ve dealt with one issue you can have the confidence to know you can handle another – and after all, that’s half the battle.
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