Clearly Tell a Story in Your Book — and Don’t Muddle It during Editing

StoryIn this blog, I am sharing how I am mentoring a group of high school science students to write and publish a book about their science research experiences by April 2015 with the goal of selling 500 copies by the end of the school year.

My students are getting beta reader feedback on their books. Some beta readers have given detailed comments, while others have given broad, overall critiques. It can be tempting to overreact to these comments and make major changes to the book. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember the story you intend to tell in the book and to preserve, and possibly improve, the story as you edit the book.

One of my students’ beta readers gave excellent advice—choose the story you are telling and make the book consistently tell that story. When he reviewed her book, he saw a few different stories contending with one another. He recommended that she pick one of those stories, then focus on it throughout the book. As he told her, every book tells a story, even a non-fiction book. The more clear and compelling the story, the more readers are hooked. But muddling or mixing several stories in a book confuses readers.

I recently read Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, the founder of Pixar. Pixar has been a groundbreaking company that produced the first 3D computer animated movie, Toy Story, and went on to produce a succession of other hugely successful movies—in fact, they have never had a flop in their twenty years of movie making. Catmull explains his management philosophy that led to his company’s success. His first principle is that “Story is King.” By this, he explains, the company ensures that the storyline of a movie is strong and not compromised by the technology, marketing, or any other consideration. By focusing on the story first and foremost, they have succeeded in making a string of hit movies. I think an author has to have a similar focus.

This may seem obvious, but in today’s book publishing environment, it would be easy to get distracted by various considerations to make a hit book, while losing focus on the story. In fact, I just heard about a new author who is holding a contest that encourages readers to comment on her book on social media and promises to use the most prolific commenter as a character in her next book. This may work out well, but it could also lead to a compromise in the story to incorporate this new character. Therefore, as my students and I go through the final stages of beta reader feedback and edits, then copy editing, we will stay focused on the story being told in each book.

My next post will be more about the preparation for publication release.

Subscribe to this blog at to get email updates of my posts with weekly tips you can use in your classroom as I describe how I am mentoring six high school science students to become published authors by April 2015. Also, please give me your feedback, and please share blog posts with other teachers or anyone who may benefit.


Author: bryanholmesstem

Physics and Math Teacher, STEM Competition Mentor - starting at Thomaston High School, CT, in fall 2018.

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