How to Condense a Vast Topic

When Red Line contacted me and asked me to do two books in their new Essential Library of Countries series, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. Little did I know what a study in contrasts I was setting myself up to experience.

The Australia book was relatively easy to research. The Australian government has a wealth of information online for its citizenry and anyone else who might be interested.

The Russian government? Not so much. And I likely couldn’t access much of what is available because I don’t speak the language. I’ve got a few words and I can sound things out but all that was good for was photo research. Train stations and many other buildings have the city name emblazoned on the side of the building. Granted its in Cyrillic but I could usually find what I needed.

The hardest part was to condense everything you ever wanted to know about a country into one 15,000 word book. History, culture, wildlife, natural resources, government, arts, and technology had to fit into each book. So how do you tell what to include?

First things first, look at where the country is today. Australia is part of the British Commonwealth. Why is that? How did this happen? Russia has, at best, a contentious relationship with its neighbors. What led to this? This was particular tricky since Russia invaded Ukraine the week after I accepted this assignment. But don’t feel for me. Feel for the author who was writing about Ukraine without knowing what would still be in existence in two weeks let alone by the time the book came out.

Next look at what makes the country unique. For Australia this is the fact it was a colony, the wildlife, and the Aboriginal and Trobriand Island cultures. Russia is just so big and so blasted cold much of the year. I know, Australia is big too but combine cold weather with frigid temperatures and you have a country that is tough to traverse. You can’t just build roads and off-roading is often out of the question. Both school systems are unique and there are so many Australian islands! So many.

When you have so much information to wedge into a single book, you don’t have a word to spare. The taiga is “vast” and Russian winters are “frigid.” Australia summers are “scorching.” Still a certain amount of detail is essential and I’d love to say I was spot on in my first attempt. I actually got my editorial feedback on one book while I was starting the other. I asked if I could turn the second book in a bit late so that I could rewrite the first. It was definitely the right things to do because I had to make very few changes in the second book.

Even at 15,000 words, books like these are introductions to a topic. Do a good job and your reader will go in search of additional information.


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