Step 4 Right Content

When I work with authors, I stress a key distinction: concept versus content. By “concept,” I mean ideas, messages, insights, and conclusions. By “content,” I mean anecdotes, research data, study results, case stories, expert testimony, interview transcripts. Concept is assertion. Content is evidence. You need plenty of both.

In a book, the concept runs throughout like a set of train cars. Content is like the freight the train cars carry. Many book authors go long on concept and short on content. They may even prepare their books as if extra concept can substitute for content. But train cars with little in them will not deliver much value for the railroad. There will be too much noise, too little return on the reader’s investment.

So in this step, I inventory content for every concept in the book. I ask: Do I have enough material to load each concept car with plenty of evidence? Do I have valuable freight that’s entertaining and educational? Publishers like quality freight piled high.

Step 4: The paper trail continues
In this fourth step in the Stairway to Earth, I sometimes try to get away with mentally weighing my material for adequacy. I scan what I have and decide “by feel” if I have enough. On the other hand, if I’m serious about writing a book, I use a a formal, systematic process to create a research library:

  1. Digital reference files: I save in a special folder on my hard drive an electronic copy of all reference documents (transcripts, articles, notes, etc.). If I’m unsure whether I have enough content, I create a spreadsheet and allocate material by chapter. Once I really get going, I use a program called EndNote to strengthen my indexing and search capabilities.
  2. Paper reference files: I create a manila folder for each chapter. Each time I find a shred of content, I drop it in a folder. I can’t search the paper files like electronic ones, but I now have handy receptacles for storing stray gems.

If you’ve written books, how do you handle content management? If you haven’t, what makes sense to you? Join the conversation on my blog. With step 4, I consider myself halfway to earth..

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