What dooms a book even before it’s published?


It’s odd that I’m rarely asked such an obvious question, considering that I review non-fiction books before they see light. Or maybe they don’t ask because I will reply—and they are so eager to invest lots of time, money, and prestige into some idea, and my response will probably slow them down.

There are usually a dozen niggling things in a book that need to be corrected or cut, like poor organization, archaic or invented spelling, one-paragraph chapters, humor unfunny, a cramped style that defies the reader to comfortably puruse its pages, and even prose that starts one direction, curls back and away at every opportunity, and ends up somewhere else.

Actually, very few of the manuscripts I read suffer from those flaws so badly that the whole challenge should be abandoned forthwith. There’s usually some second draft redemption once the respective ills have been identified.

But there’s no real hope for a book that goes nowhere, that fails to enlighten or amuse or inspire—by intent. Even if a direction and purpose can later be found, all the structure must be rebuilt and the furnishings must be totally refit. Does that happen often? Not at my level, since I’m sort of the court of last resort and the books I see have been read by many others, and the non-starters died along the way.

But in the larger writing world, the countryside is dotted with almost-books that absorb months of time, are grammatically fine-tuned to nobody’s avail, and give the appearance of being fit for any editor’s blessing. Surprise!

To avoid doomdom, all the person has to do is answer a few starter questions. Like, what is the purpose of this book? What is unique about it; how is it exceptionally different? Why would a knowledgeable reader gladly give it an enthusiastic testimonial, or at least eagerly recommend its reading (maybe even its purchase) to his or her friends?

Determine the singular distinction, or many, of your new writing venture. The rest of the words and pages just make that happen. Replace doom with zoom. But don’t start writing or displaying your book’s structure until the answers to those questions are so clear that they must be shared in glorious print almost forever.

For some, this blog may be a downer. But for many more it’s really a straightforward, do-it-yourself guide to salvation

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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