Today I (re)learned a valuable lesson: every writer needs an editor.
I spent the better part of two hours working on gathering endorsements for a certain book. Endorsements are the quotes from famous people, experts in the field, or notable news media that you see on the covers of books. These quotes are gathered by the author and the publisher before the book is released. They are meant to speak of the book’s great worth and entice readers to buy.
Gathering endorsements involves a lot of small tasks: compiling a list of potential endorsers that resonate with the audience of the book being published; somehow obtaining their email addresses; contacting them or having the author contact them; writing a cover letter; sometimes writing an introductory email; printing the manuscripts; and shipping them out.
Sometimes the trickiest part of this process is writing the cover letters. This is where I spent the bulk of my time today. Because of the nature of the current project I’m working on I’m soliciting endorsements from nationally known musicians who don’t know my author from Adam. If they receive my letter, and if they read it, they’ll find out that the book really is great and perfectly relevant to their situation. The reasons why we are asking for their endorsement will be self evident if they take the time to read the book.
I assume that these folks are really busy. So, I spent a lot of time crafting, tweaking, and positioning short letters for them that would succinctly explain why the book I’m sending them will be important to them and why they’ll want to endorse it. For all of these musicians I have to go through their managers. So, I spent a lot of time crafting, tweaking, and positioning short emails to them. I have to convince the manager that this idea is worth taking to the musician with an email, then convince the musician that the book is worth reading with a letter.
It proved to be a time consuming venture. It also worked my writing muscles. I felt – “tested” – for lack of a better word. I had to prove to myself that I could do this. And well into the second hour I thought I had. I had read each letter multiple times (there were four altogether) and each email too. I’d cut and tweaked and re-worked paragraphs or sentences multiple times. They were nearly perfect. The only problem I had was that I was breaking the one rule of a good cover letter – I couldn’t fit it all on one page.
But what does that matter? I asked myself. These folks will be so blown away by my writing prowess, so enraptured with my every petitioning paragraph, and in awe of the nuances included just for them in the cover letter that they won’t mind reading a paragraph or two on the following page.
Then, I think wisely (or maybe it was just dumb luck) forwarded the basic cover letter on to a friend to look at before sending it to the managers and artists. I would wait for his response – “he’ll likely applaud,” I thought – then release it to the world.
It wasn’t twenty minutes before he had sent it back to me with track changes in the word doc. His email said, “there is a lot of red here, but I think it’s important to fit it all on one page.”
At first I was indignant. How could he possibly improve such finally tuned letters. I couldn’t just “accept all changes” I haad to look at eadh of them one at a time. And so I did. This was also time consuming, but in the end, I believe I accepted every edit but one.
All of the sudden my letter went from looking like a large, nuanced, complicated piece of art, to a general cover letter that worked. Short, to the point, and crystal clear.
It doesn’t matter how many times I learn, and re-learn, and re-learn, this lesson, it always strikes me as profound.
Every writer (and marketer) needs an editor. Even if it’s just for a cover letter.
PS: I assume you found some spots in this post for me to fix up. Please leave you edits below. :-P