How I edit, and the 4 editing mistakes to avoid

Why self-editing doesn’t work and the 4 common editing mistakes writers should avoid if they want to get published.


This week I’m going to stop my yammering for a whole five minutes and let Jarrett have center stage. If you’re new around here (hi!), Jarrett is my husband, and he’s a reformed attorney turned writer and thinker at a Washington D.C. based think tank.

Here’s us getting married; here’s us fighting over the best seat in the house; here’s a few cocktails he’s made over the years that have kept me very happy.

Jarrett helps with a few things behind the scenes here at c&b but mostly spends his time fending off the overbearing editor he lives with who routinely harangues him about headlines and fluffy words.

So today, we’re sharing the real-life story of how he sold a piece to NPR’s James Beard Award-winning blog The Salt, how we edited it together, and how revising anything can kick your butt up and down the page so hard you’ll turn to the bottle mason jar of moonshine.

But I’ll let Jarrett tell the story.

common editing mistakes

Here’s Jarrett, who only hates me a smidge after we went through this editing process:

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4 unexpected ways to make your book a perennial bestseller

The 4 best takeaways and a book review of Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts by Ryan Holiday–plus a free downloadable PDF art print to inspire you to become a perennial seller!


“That book has taken on a life of its own.”

I blinked at this—what did that mean? It was 2009, and I was working at a Big 5 publisher in New York.  I had asked one of the senior editors about a backlist book that was still selling and selling, even after 10 years.

The book was a perennial seller for the publishing house. It had built momentous word-of-mouth and now needed almost no help from the author or publisher to keep it selling steadily.  You can recognize these books because they wave you down with numbers: “2 million copies sold,” “now published in 15 countries!”

how to write a perennial seller book 1

What I wanted to know was exactly how that book had become a perennial bestseller. Was it the author’s platform? Was it the idea? Had they marketed the heck out of it?

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How to get a book deal with your blog

How to go from blog to book–the 3 things publishers and literary agents look for in bloggers!


“Can you give me a number I should aim for?”

I could hear the hopefulness in her voice, the resolution to get started. I shifted in my desk chair and moved the phone to my other ear. I hate this question.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I loved this blogger and her writing. I’d admired her work for a long time, and it had been so much fun to finally talk to her and hear the behind-the-scenes of her blog.

But there was just one tiny problem.

Her author platform wasn’t big enough yet for a book deal.

from blog to book deal

She was doing all the right things—writing consistently, sharing her work, getting to know her readers and other influencers in her space. But I knew publishers would want her stats to be higher for a book deal, and I knew she would need to have a bigger readership to make a book successful.

I squirmed and gently suggested that she wait a little longer to pursue a book deal.

I knew she had a book in her, and I could just see how beautiful and inspiring it would be. But I also know I’m not doing anyone a service if we put a book out too early in an author’s career, before they have thousands of loyal fans who are clamoring to buy it. It’s worth doing a book at the right time in your career.

But how do you know if your blog can get you a book deal? How can you gauge whether you have enough readers to support a book? What are the blog traffic and social media numbers to aim for?

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Why talent is a myth, and the 3 things you actually need to be a bestseller

Why writing talent is a myth, and the 3 things that can actually help you become a bestselling author.


I was scrolling through my Instagram feed on Monday when something stopped me:

“I’m afraid I’m not talented enough.”

It was a caption on a pretty photo of a journal, and it was by a young writer who wasn’t sure she should keep going.

I could almost picture the real scene. The paralysis and anxiety about opening her manuscript. The embarrassment and self-criticism over what she’d written already. The fear that it was all for nothing. The escape to social media so she wouldn’t have to face those hard feelings.

I know it all, because I’ve been there, too. Who wouldn’t rather watch panda videos instead of doing the hard work? (She says as she Googles for panda videos…)

But anyone who’s ever written anything, from a novel to a blog post to a pitch letter, has had those same sinking feelings.

What if we don’t have what it takes? What if we’re not talented?

This nagging fear crops up everywhere, and it makes us wonder if, no matter how much effort we put in, we’ll just never be any good. We say we want to write, but then life gets in the way. Yet if we’re honest with ourselves, what’s really keeping us from writing?

It’s us. Our own fear.

The fear that we’re not talented enough.

how to become a bestselling author

But here’s what I’ve come to realize, after nearly a decade of working with writers and successful authors: that person who seems “talented”? They just have more experience.

It may seem like talented is a natural state for some, but that’s because all we see is the output of today and not the inputs of their entire lives. It’s a totally bogus construct. Most likely, that person began paying attention to writing before you, or maybe, through luck and circumstance, they have more time each day to pay attention to writing. They’ve simply accrued more hours on their experience meter, or they’ve had higher quality inputs. They’re not innately “better” than you–I promise!

What do I mean by inputs? I know we’re not machines, but I’ve always found it helpful to think of the creative mind like a container, one which has both inputs and outputs.

The output—the quality of your work—can only be made with the inputs that already exist in the container. Inputs can be anything. A creative mind is like a sponge, and it sops up anything and everything it finds interesting, even if it has no immediate use for it.

Inputs can be:

  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Art
  • Music
  • TV shows
  • Advice
  • Classes
  • Research
  • Nature
  • Conversations

See? Anything. But the key is:

The more high-quality inputs you have, the higher-quality your output is.

If you started reading The New Yorker at 7, you will be a better writer than most people, simply because you’ve absorbed the cadences of good writing. If you’re reading US Weekly and corporate memos most days, your inputs are mucking up your mind, and you may have to unlearn some bad cadences and turns of phrase.

Since we can’t see most people’s inputs, we assume their superior output is coming from someplace else: their talent. Instead, it’s coming from their superior inputs.

Which, trust me, is great news: it means all you have to do to up your game is fill yourself with the best writing, reading, and other inputs you can.

But fears are like whack-a-mole. You finally stop worrying about whether you’re talented, and then you start worrying about whether you’re self-disciplined enough. Or smart enough. Or clever enough. Or literally [any adjective] enough. Instead, we need to unplug the game and go get a drink at the bar. Um, I mean…stop letting the moles run the show.

That’s what separates bestselling authors from struggling authors. They know that the fears will always be there, but they don’t let them run the show.

Instead, bestselling authors have 3 deep beliefs about themselves and the world that make them completely unstoppable.

That’s why I believe that part of the work of being a writer, blogger, or creative of any kind is character-building. Without methodically developing these 3 beliefs, just like you methodically develop your writing or photos, you can only go so far.

Here are the 3 beliefs that separate bestselling authors from the rest:

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