How to write a book for multiple reviewers without going bonkers

If you are writing a nonfiction book in a corporate setting, it’s likely you’ll have multiple reviewers for everything you write. This applies regardless of whether you’re the author or a ghost writer. And if it’s not managed carefully, this situation has the potential to significantly multiply the workload, reduce your final quality, and blow past your deadlines.

This post is a refinement of what I’ve written earlier, based on more experience.

How to manage multiple book reviewers

Here are 11 strategies that will keep you from going nuts. Implement all of them.

  1. Nail down the main idea and title early. There’s little point in writing unless everyone is agreed on the objective. Work collaboratively with all the stakeholders to define the title, subtitle, and a treatment describing the book’s main idea.
  2. Define and settle on a table of contents. Without a table of contents, you’ll be sharing bits and pieces of text without context: a prescription for misunderstandings and waste. So settle the table of contents, including the reader question that each chapter will answer. Secure agreement on that before writing anything. (You can revise the TOC later during the process, but it’s far better to make tweaks based on a solid plan rather than just generating content without knowing how it fits together.)
  3. Iterate on the easiest possible chapter. Choose a chapter that’s fairly simple, draft it, and see how reviewers react. Revise based on those reviews, several times if necessary. While it’s inefficient to do constant revisions on all the chapters, it’s helpful to do so on your first attempt. This allows you to settle issues like sources of chapter material and tone as well as learning about your reviewers’ strengths and challenges. The results of this first experiment will help define the process for the rest of the work.
  4. Start each chapter’s work with a content brainstorm. This is a collaborative meeting where you generate ideas, frameworks, case studies, and other source material — the fuel you need to write the chapter. Use this material to generate a fat outline, and use that outline to get quick approval to write the chapter.
  5. Include footnotes in drafts. Wait. Aren’t footnotes an annoying task you can manage at the end of the process? No! Including footnotes now makes it easier for you to go back and verify sources in later drafts, avoiding inadvertent plagiarism. The footnotes in the early drafts needn’t be more than URLs for Web content.
  6. Use a collaboration tool that allows reviewers to see each others’ comments. This allows reviewers to settle issues as they review, rather than giving you contradictory suggestions. Google Docs is the easiest way to accomplish this, but I’ve recently been working with Microsoft Word’s online version of track changes, which is also effective.
  7. Be clear about whose reviews are most important — and the role of other reviewers. You’re far better off if one person has the final say. In a ghostwriting project this is the author client. Everyone should be aware of who is the primary client and usually, to defer to that’s person’s ultimate judgment. Other reviewers may have responsibility for issues of technical correctness or corporate image, for example.
  8. Eliminate extraneous reviewers. Some people may just be curious about the content, but if they don’t have a specific reviewing role, they don’t belong in the review cycle.
  9. Be disciplined about deadlines. Whose reviews are essential? When are they due? Without agreement on this, you’ll spend a lot of time waiting on reviews, which will slow the project to a crawl.
  10. Complete nearly all chapters before revising. In point 3, I suggested iterating one chapter multiple times. But once that chapter is in good shape, draft all the rest of the chapters before revising any of them. This strategy has two benefits. It allows you to keep making progress even if an essential reviewer misses a deadline. And when you finally go back to revise, it will allow you to benefit from reviewers’ evolving perspective on the whole book.
  11. Define and stick with a limited number of drafts. Ideally, your chapters will go through stages: first draft, revised draft, final manuscript, copyediting, and proofreading. More stages than this will drive both you and your reviewers crazy, even as it balloons the amount of time spent on the project.

Process matters

Writers like to worry about content. But if you fail to design a worthwhile process for reviewing, you’ll be running in circles and cursing your clients and collaborators — an the content will suffer. Defining a sane process is what allow you to concentrate your efforts where they make the most impact: on writing that’s awesome and solves a reader’s problem.

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