Pamphlet or Encyclopia?

It seems that I am not a very decisive person lately. Even as my beta readers are reading my manuscript, I am considering what I should have done differently. Did I include the right chapters in this book? How could a retired teacher not include the chapter on education in my first book on autism? Should I go back to the drawing board? Of course, I could revise forever and never finish the book. That’s how I operate.

Maybe I need to back up a little to clarify why I am having this problem. It really began with a conversation last summer with someone who verbally cracked the whip and basically told me to stop talking and get the book out there where it can do some good. This woman, who was diagnosed with a seizure disorder as an adult, explained that when she was first trying to understand what was happening within her brain, she really wanted to read pamphlets, not an encyclopedia. She convinced me that I was going for the encyclopedia. At that point, I had already had conversations about autism with people from thirteen families who were sharing for my book. I had actually hoped to include twenty-five families! I loved listening to the people tell their stories. I enjoyed hearing their experiences repeatedly as I transcribed their conversations into print. It was interesting to see how their stories sometimes overlapped, and topics for chapters bubbled to the surface. I really didn’t want to stop all of this and get into the real work of writing and publishing.

Thankfully, I followed this woman’s advice and prepared to bring the book to a close. I had already arranged many of the quotes into chapters about various topics relating to autism.  Each chapter had several subsections.  Two friends had each read a few incomplete chapters over the months to see if the book was readable and useful. One of the women, whose son is on the spectrum, told me that she felt the book would be useful not just to parents but to educators, coaches, and doctors.  With this thought in my mind, I plugged the remaining quotes into the appropriate chapters and began adding the rest of the stories. I was still sketching out chapter introductions, which are my own narrative regarding the topics such as sensory differences, parent advice, awareness, etc.

At this point in the process, I had the opportunity to attend a publishing event, carrying a crumpled chapter in my hand, to get professional advice. It had never occurred to me that my typed pages were not as small as the pages of a book. I personally felt, going into this event, like the book might be a little skimpy. There were so many topics to cover. I was utterly surprised when, after telling professionals how many words were in my document, I found out that my book would be well over four hundred pages long! What person in their right mind would read a non-fiction book that long? More importantly, what parent whose child had just been diagnosed with autism would even consider reading a book that long? Who knew? I had written an encyclopedia.

I began the hard work of choosing my chapter topics. Which chapters should I include in this book, and which will go into a later book? I began rearranging some quotes that could have gone into multiple chapters and rewriting introductions. I finally came up with a finished manuscript that seemed right. I proofread it repeatedly, and recruited the help of my beta readers. What a relief! My rough draft was complete!

Now, I can take care of some real-life things that have been stacking up and be ready to revise and proofread when I get feedback in April. I made the right choices for the first book. Or did I? I continue to second guess myself. Maybe I should put everything back in and just publish the encyclopedia.

2 responses to “Pamphlet or Encyclopia?

  1. Perhaps a way to think about this is to consider who constitutes the primary audience for your book. Then the question about the “right” choices will be “Is this the right choice for this particular audience?”

    • I know, Jean. My editor to be reminded me of this fact several months ago. Parents who have been on the journey with their children for many years are in a different place than those whose child has just gotten a diagnosis. These newbies are in need of the more basic information, which is what I included. Thanks for the reminder.

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