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How Words Get Good

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How Words Get Good

The Story of Making a Book

Profile Books,

15 min read
8 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Author Rebecca Lee demystifies how a book progresses from the ideas stage to the shelf, guiding readers through every step of the publishing process.

Editorial Rating



  • Background
  • Engaging
  • Insider's Take


Rebecca Lee, a veteran editorial manager at Penguin Random House, offers a witty insider perspective of the writing and publishing processes. Her charming book, replete with historical tidbits, quirky anecdotes, clever quotes and fascinating factoids, illuminates the roles of ghostwriters, agents and editors and reveals the factors that determine whether a book will be a bestseller. Lee’s comprehensive account of the publishing industry aims to expand your understanding of publishing and provide you with a multifaceted appreciation of the steps involved in creating a book.


Readers enjoy stories with predictable patterns and familiar structures.

The most crucial problem that all people involved in the creation of a book – including editors, publishers and authors themselves – want to solve is how to entice readers to keep reading. This is publishing’s “prime directive,” because, when it boils down to it, books are about the reader. The brilliance of your work is meaningless if nobody reads what you’ve written.

Irrespective of your style or chosen genre, thoroughly study the specific plot conventions and rules before you begin writing. While fiction, by nature, fosters originality and stylistic experimentation, successful authors recognize that readers find certain story conventions comforting and familiar before choosing either to deviate from them or to embrace specific literary formulas and structures. Author Christopher Booker identified that all stories follow one or more of seven basic plotlines: “overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy,” and “rebirth.”

Readers can feel lost if they can’t detect a familiar story structure. Author...

About the Author

Rebecca Lee is a veteran editorial manager at Penguin Random House. She has spent more than two decades managing hundreds of books from delivery of manuscript to printing of finished copies.

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