The making of How to Skin a Lion: part 2

In the run up to the 14 May publication of my book How to Skin a Lion, I thought I might blog here about how the book went from a one line idea to a finished book. Last week I published my blog on how I came up with the idea and the research process and in this blog I will explain how I crafted the research into a finished book.

Writing up

After months of research and numerous library trips I finally had enough content to begin to fashion my extracts into a book. Each ‘how to’ needed a short introduction and then the extract needed to be trimmed and sectioned up with extra explanations inserted to make the text flow. Sometimes a funny introduction or interjection naturally popped into my head but other times I would agonise over how to frame the extract to its best advantage.holding image pencil

To make the book easy for the reader to follow and understand I also tried my best to footnote or explain in brackets any strange terms or unknown ingredients, of which there are many.

Once I was happy with the introductions I spent a long time juggling the entries around. I decided early on that I wanted the book to be fairly random in order as I imagined a reader would dip in and out rather than reading it from start to finish. This meant I needed to make sure no two entries from the same book or on similar subject areas were too close to each other. This was harder than it seems and I changed the order many times before I finally felt like I had it right.

I then spent a long time reading, tweaking and polishing the book onscreen. Once I was happy with it I then printed out three copies – one for me, one for my husband and one for my mum. We then all read through the book highlighting errors, inconsistencies and passages that needed clarifying or rejigging.

I find it really helps to look at my work on paper as errors you can miss onscreen are often clearer on paper. It was also really good to get feedback from two people whose opinion I really valued and between us all we found quite a few typos and it really helped me to tighten the writing up.


Once I was happy with the final text it was time to send it back to the British Library for my editor Rob to have a read through and for it then to be sent on to a copy-editor. Once the copy-editor had been through the text it was sent back to me with a few queries for me to resolve.scissors-lots-x600

As a copy-editor myself I know how the process works and am always nervous to send an author their copy-edited manuscript in case they take issue with all my changes and disagree with my author queries. Fortunately the copy-editor had done a great job and the queries were all very sensible and easily resolved.

The copy-edited and approved document then went back to the British Library team who sent it on to a proof reader and a typesetter. It is at this point that the wonderful pictures (which had been sourced from the British Library collection by their fabulous picture researcher) were inserted.

The pictures

At this point Rob and I agreed that we would like to include as many pictures as possible as it brings the text alive. However I had strayed somewhat over the word count (why say something with one adjective, when you can use five fabulous adjectives?) and to fit in as many pictures as we needed I was going to have to cut some content.

I read back through the book and somewhat reluctantly highlighted sections which could be cut, it was hard to choose but I did feel like the book would ultimately be better for having more pictures.

Once these cuts had been made the final pictures could be inserted and the typesetting fixed. It was then just a case of waiting for the books to be printed and my advance copies to arrive.

The final bookHTSALx600

The cover had been designed quite early on in the process so I already knew what it was going to look like, but it really was such a thrill a few months later for a parcel to arrive and to hold the finished book in my hands.

It was a long journey to create this book but so fun. I am really proud of the finished product and I really hope that people will enjoy reading How to Skin a Lion as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Editing your own work – Non-fiction

Personally I love editing – which is good because aside from being a writer I am also a freelance copy-editor – but it took me a while to be able to edit my own work with the same confidence I have editing other people’s.scissors-lots-x600

You spend hours researching your subject, crafting every sentence and agonising over every word, so to then have to go back through and refine and finesse can seem impossibly daunting. But one thing I soon realised is that I rarely regret cutting sections out.

There are two aspects of editing – the first is to polish your work, the second is to ensure consistency of style. The first requires a creative approach, the second a methodical approach. I would not recommend trying to do both at once because they involve completely different ways of thinking.

Polishing your work

I suggest tackling the polish edit first, as there is no point editing text for consistency when that text is going to change.

Editing can be done at any time, some find it easiest to write a couple of paragraphs then straight away go back through tidying them up. Others prefer to write a whole chapter or book before beginning the editing process.

The problem with editing can be knowing when to stop, because when it comes to your own work it always feels like there is another tweak to make.

The temptation when editing is to add more words when actually taking them away is often a lot more effective. An idea can be lost in a forest of text, but by pruning the superfluous the light can get in.

I am quite a cavalier editor of my own work and so I generally just wade in and starting cutting and substituting words. But for some this is too final and it may be better to create a new version of your document to edit as this can give you the safety net to be bold in your edit, because you know you will not lose anything as you still have the original version.

Another approach is to use Track Changes so that you can, at a later date, come back and review your edits and decide whether to accept or reject them.

When I am editing my own work I try and make sure I am streamlining my work and not crowding it with yet another sentence saying the same thing as the one before but in a slightly different fashion.

The thesaurus is your friend. When writing on a specific subject (especially in non-fiction) it can be hard to avoid using certain keywords repeatedly. For example, if you are writing a book about horses you are inevitably going to use ‘horse’ a lot, but you could throw in a few mounts, steeds, fillys and equines to avoid becoming overly repetitive.

Copy-editing your work

Once you have been through your work a number of times and feel like you have now crafted something which flows beautifully and imparts exactly your meaning then it is time to move onto the copy-edit.

The key to copy-editing is to be a pedant. Spellings, capitalisations, use of italics and grammar must all be consistent so before you begin you might want to think about a style guide.

If you have a publisher already ask them for a copy of their style guide then you can ensure you stick to it. If you have yet to find a publisher choose one of the standard style guides such as the Oxford Style Manual or, if you are in the US, the Chicago Manual of Style.

Once you have read and absorbed the style guide, read through your work and make the appropriate edits, such as changing all –ize spellings to –ise, or italicising every book title mentioned. By sticking to a consistent style your work will become more coherent and your manuscript more polished.

With any edit half the skill is knowing when to stop. I find the best way is to pass through the book a number of times editing and then have a break of a few days before going back and reading it again. If niggles and errors are still cropping up you haven’t finished. But if when you come back and read your manuscript again you are pleasantly surprised at how well it reads, then you are done!