The extra work that authors don’t expect

Ben-Hur (Galley Slaves)

I hear it so often, it’s almost a cliché. “Wow, writing a book was way more work than I expected it to be.”

I’ve almost given up on explaining why this is. Almost . . . but not quite. So if you want to know what unexpected work you really should have expected — and in some cases, how you could have avoided that extra work — read on.

Refining the idea

“I know,” you think. “I’ll write a book on xxxx.”

No matter how brilliant your idea, it’s never that simple. You need to research who else has written a book on that topic, and how yours is different.

Even if your idea is unique, you’re going to need to explore it for 40,000 words or more. That doesn’t happen unless you think a lot deeper and put in a lot more research.

Writing a proposal

Ready to pitch your idea to agents and publishers? You need a proposal. That’s 40 pages or so including a detailed table of contents, a sample chapter, an analysis of competing books, and a full marketing plan.

That’s a lot of work. It’s useful work for planning the book regardless of whether you get a publisher, but it’s still effort that many authors never realized would be necessary.

You can avoid this by lining up a hybrid publisher instead, but that’s going to cost you.

Lining up research interviews

The best, most interesting books include primary research. That means interviewing people who’ve done what you’re writing about.

You’ll need to find them, contact them, line up interview appointments, conduct interviews, and review your notes. That’s time-consuming.

You can get administrative resources to help manage this, but you’re making a mistake if you don’t plan for the effort — and lead time — it takes to conduct primary research.

Rewriting, rewriting, rewriting

Don’t publish your first draft. It needs to be much better.

That means you need help from a developmental editor — and you need to expect to do rewrites.

The authors that complain most about rewriting are the ones who failed to plan out their book in advance. They’re creating random bits of text and then wondering how they fit together. That’s truly tedious — and avoidable.


Keep track of your sources. It’s your job to make sure you cite them properly — and avoid inadvertent plagiarism.

If you wait until the end of the project to add in your source citations, you will be in for a world of hurt. And you’ll probably make mistakes.

Keep track of your sources in every draft. Then wrangling the footnotes at the end will be manageable.


Perfection is not attainable. But is is approachable.

If you plan your writing so the first draft is completed a week before the publishing deadline, you won’t have time to polish. And your book will be worse for it.

What is polishing? Eliminating repetition. Tuning turns of phrase. Filling logical gaps. Eliminating repetition (oops!). Fixing annoyingly repeated words. Ensuring consistency.

Plan for this work. Expect it. Build it into the schedule.


Graphics can make your book a lot clearer. But they’re a pain in the ass.

You may need a graphic artist to make them look better. You need to carefully identify sources and, if you use a graphic from somewhere else, get permission. Graphics often need multiple revisions, which you can’t easily make yourself. And once the book is laid out, you may need to change the fonts in the graphics to match, rerendering them once again.

Just don’t plan to use your PowerPoint slides. Please. Because your graphics will suck.

Fact checking

Did you estimate the number of petabytes of online information properly?

Did Teddy Roosevelt really say what you quoted him as saying?

Are the quotes you included from your primary interviews accurate?

Is that person you identified as a senior vice president now an executive vice president, and is she still working at the same company?

You need to check the facts before you publish. And you need to set aside time for that (or hire a fact checker to help).

Dealing with copyedits and review of page layout

Once you turn in the manuscript to your publisher, you’re done, right?

Not so fast.

First, you’re going to have to respond to copy edits. Don’t lose concentration at that point, or your writing may lose some of its personality.

And after that, you’re going to have to review pages and look for layout problems: bad formatting, widows, orphans, poorly placed graphics, and so on.

That’s essential work. Plan for it.

Promotion: endless, endless, promotion

By far, the biggest unexpected task that authors fail to plan for is book promotion.

Outreach to podcasters, bloggers, and reviewers. Promotional speaking opportunities. Social media promotion. Making and sharing videos.

Planning that effort takes months (and if you hire a publicist, thousands of dollars). Executing it takes more months.

It’s not obligatory, of course, but if you fail to promote, all the work you put into your book will be wasted, because no one will notice it.

It’s a lot of work. So be smart about it.

You read this post. So you can no longer say you didn’t realize how much work that book was going to be.

If you plan for that work, you can be efficient.

If you don’t, you can whine about it later. The book will suffer, and so will you.

If writing and publishing books was easy, everyone would do it. And it wouldn’t be so special to be an author.

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