“He is a writer for the ages – the ages of four to eight.”
— Dorothy Parker
When people ask us about the books we are working on, they usually say something like: “That’s nice, but you should really get <insert name here> to write a book. That would be awesome.”
I can tell you most definitely that book is unlikely to be awesome.
After 25 years of writing, ghostwriting and editing authors of all skill levels, I can say that your world-class woodworking skills have little to do with the quality of book you might write. Many people are incapable of organizing their thoughts into words. Their prose is a diarrhea of overlapping and aimless ideas. They prefer to say something in 1,000 words when 10 would do. They never get to the point.
I’ve worked successfully with these people. I interviewed them (sometimes for days) and distilled their thoughts into a magazine article in their voice. It took about a week to create 2,000 words that way. Books are usually about 100,000 words. I don’t even want to do that math.
Even worse – and there is worse – are people who want to write a book yet have no idea what it should be about.
“Can you give me a topic?” they ask.
Truth is most authors at Lost Art Press are burning up inside because of an obsession with some aspect of woodworking. They are already writing a book, but they don’t know the mechanics, or they think that only four people would read it.
Here’s what we ask of these people.
- Come up with a title. If you cannot summarize the book into a compelling title, you should be worried.
- Write a “high-concept” sentence that can describe the book in one sentence of no more than 12 words. Here’s the high concept for “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest”: Buy better, but fewer, tools. Build stuff that defies consumerism. Disobey.
- Write a “Table of Contents,” what we call the “TOC.” Write a title for each chapter and a sentence that describes what the chapter is about.
If you can do this and we’re excited about the book, chances are good that we can work together (unless you are an arrogant wiener).
All these thoughts are boiling in my brain right now because I am writing up a contract for our 20th potential project – that’s about five years of work we now have stacked up ahead of us. So trust me when I say there is a lot of unexplored ground in our craft – perhaps even a birdhouse book with your name on it.
— Christopher Schwarz