CS: Why did you write Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method?
Stuart: I was teaching a class at Grub Street, a fantastic independent writing center in Boston. I was diagramming a method for organizing your material and a student asked me, “Where is the book that teaches me how to do this?” I said, blithely, ‘I’ll bring one in for you next week,’ thinking I would pick up three or so and let him have his pick… but of course there wasn’t one! So I decided to write it.
CS: Do you think a book has to follow a conventional dramatic structure to be successful?
Stuart: This isn’t an easy yes or no question. If by “conventional dramatic structure” you mean does it have to have a beginning, middle and end; does it have to have a recognizable climax; do important aspects of the book have to come together (what I call series) and be about the same thing in the end (what I refer to as the theme), then, yes, I do. But if you mean does the bad guy have to die on p. 276 and the lovers reunite on p. 432, then absolutely not. This is why I stress that Book Architecture is a method not a formula — you apply it to your own work rather than plug things in.
CS: Do you think creating an outline before writing is crucial? What advice do you have on creating an outline?
Stuart: Usually creating an outline before you start writing doesn’t work because you really only have a dim idea of what you want to write about and you’re just putting off the inevitable fear of the blank page. That said, there are some situations in which it does work — such as writing a fictionalized account of real events. When I go into a writing session I like to have notes: different phrases or images or topics I want to cover in the order that the session suggests I tackle them… but that’s different from an outline. One of the things I always say is, “The notes you have taken are not as important as the place you are in (when you are writing).”
CS: How can an author know when their manuscript is in its final draft?
Stuart: You know you’re in the final draft when you’re tweaking things. Then it’s time to stop. The point is not to go through life writing the same book the whole time. You will never make something perfect, so when you are down to the level of obsessive worrying it’s time to start the next book.
CS: How does a writer know if they need a copy-editor? What advice do you have for authors on choosing a copy-editor?
Stuart: Everyone needs a copy-editor –and a proofreader after that. I have everything copy-edited… except this. A good copy-editor is not someone who would be fun at a party. They’re more like technicians, the programmers of the literary world. If you find your conversation with them stilted and awkward they’re probably excellent at their job (and now I’m thinking of some copy editors who are friends of mine who will kill me for saying this!)
CS: What are some of the benefits of having another person help revise or edit a manuscript? What are some of the challenges?
Stuart: Well, everyone needs a macro editor/developmental editor/independent editor… whatever you want to call it. Everyone needs a set of professionally-trained eyes on their work. Now, do you have to listen to everything we have to say? No! It’s still your book. But you should let it all in and when you do, you will find you probably end up agreeing with most of it. I compare it to the advice I get from my wife: 90% of it makes sense and becomes the inevitable path I will follow despite my protestations. 10% of it though, I’m like, “No, I’m not going to do that…”
CS: What advice do you have for authors on finding a literary agent?
Stuart: The holy grail. A wild goose chase. Finding a literary agent is harder statistically than finding a publisher. Literary agents don’t really help by sending mixed signals about what they’re looking for and how interested they are in a particular project once they’ve encountered it. I’ve been in this business for fifteen years and worked on some very successful projects and I’m sorry to say I still can’t answer this question.
CS: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Stuart: We should all write exactly as many books as we feel utterly compelled to write. That might be one… and it might be more. There are a lot of bad reasons to write, such as the desire to have previous authority figures in your life finally hear from you, or getting back at an ex-, or propagating your belief system. There is really only one good reason to write, and that is: you have to. Then you will probably write something of value and interest.
CS: How can readers or aspiring writers get in touch with you?
Stuart: I’m not that hard to find.
Stuart Horwitz is the founder and principal of Book Architecture, a firm of independent editors based in Providence and Boston. Book Architecture’s clients have reached the best-seller list in both fiction and non-fiction, and have appeared on Oprah!, The Today Show, The Tonight Show, and in the most prestigious journals in their respective fields.
Now, Horwitz has mapped out the same system that has helped writers tackle rather than tinker with their manuscripts in his new book Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise any Manuscript with The Book Architecture Method (Penguin/Perigee), named one of 2013’s best books about writing by The Writer Magazine.
He is currently on a 50-city North American tour preaching the gospel of revision with the help of a series of short films featuring stop-motion action figures.