Share Early Drafts with Colleagues

Business group meetingI often come across gun shy authors who spend months toiling away at their great American business book and never show a page to a soul. They do this out of  fear—fear that what they are writing isn’t good enough to share with anyone, or fearful that their best ideas will be stolen by the first unscrupulous individual who gets his dirty little hands on the work.

Not sharing drafts of chapters with experts or colleagues harms only the writer. 

First, all of us who write business books should recognize that we are not Ernest Hemingway or Mark Twain—-we are not writing the great American novel.  I can understand a novelist not wanting to share his manuscript until it is ready for prime time. But a business book is a different animal. I cannot recall any incident of an author telling me that his or her ideas were stolen by someone that read an early draft of a manuscript. That just doesn’t happen, especially since you get to choose who reads it.  

As an editor, I was always pleased when an author told me that he had shared his manuscript with three or four colleagues at other business schools (when an author was a B-school professor).  Similarly,  I was delighted when a C-suite executive author told me that he had shared his manuscript with his five direct reports. This kind of early feedback can be extremely valuable and help an author to keep the book very much on track. It is easy for authors, particularly first time authors, to lose their way as early as page 1 of a book. By having outside peer reviewers, the chances of that happening go down dramatically.

If you are going to have an outside person read your draft (even if it is only a draft of a proposal or a few chapters), you will be well served by sending over a cover memo asking certain key questions of your readers. This way, you can direct their focus.  Here are a few sample questions:

* Is the premise of the book crystal clear? If not, what can I add to the book to make it clearer?

* What are the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript?

* What topics/chapters are missing from the book should be added, and what chapters or sections could be eliminated?

Those are just a few examples of what you might ask a reader/peer reviewer. The key is to get as much feedback as early in the process as possible, so when you do approach publishers, the work will be as polished and refined as possible.

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