A transcript is not even a first draft. #SorryNotSorry
Back in the day, before I started writing course manuals for a living, I bought a bundle of three courses from a real estate guru. Each course had 12 CDs and a “course manual.” The manual turned out to be a straight transcript of the audio CDs, with all the irrelevant tangents, incomplete thoughts, and [inaudibles] left in. (And CD #12 was the same for each course.)
Because I was relatively new to the techniques he taught, the courses, well, one of them at least, did its job, in spite of the materials being so poorly put together. So, Yay content! Today, that lack of quality wouldn’t fly. Which would be a shame because the content was actually good, just poorly presented. It was carelessly thrown together and looked it.
And that was back in the day when people weren’t expecting anything fancy from a course. If there was a video, that’s great. Audios? Fantastic. A manual? Terrific. All three? WOW! This is a helluva course. Up until the 1990s, many courses were still being put out on cassettes. (Ask your dad.) We’ve progressed from cassettes to CDs to DVDs to downloadable to streaming in a relatively short time period. We’ve also gone from traditional publishing to “desktop publishing” (it was a thing) to print on demand.
With every iteration, there is a jump up in technical quality of the product and an increase in your prospects’ expectations. Unfortunately, most authors and trainers have not made the leap to meet those expectations, whether it is someone selling a course or a book. People are putting out crap materials as if it were still 1999.
I received a course from a national speaker with poorly photocopied(!) materials, images that were basically blobs of black ink on the page, and no organization whatsoever. Much of the course material was press clippings about how wonderful this guru was. Seriously. There was no narrative, no step-by-step. I kept flipping through the notebooks wondering if they had somehow forgotten to put the course manual in the box. They had forgotten to put the course in the course.
Book Raw Material
It is great to “speak your book.” It practically guarantees that the book will be in a user-friendly, me-to-you style. I use this technique when working with my book clients. But speaking your book isn’t as simple as plunking yourself down in front of a microphone.
I worked with a woman who had paid a “book coach” (recently evolved from being a real estate guru and briefly, a franchising guru) thousands of dollars for group coaching, editing, and publishing of her book. I received a free copy during the launch from a mutual friend who was helping her out by emailing to his list. It was so poorly executed that I sent a message to my friend, telling him the book was doing the author (and, by association, him) no favors. It was frustrating to me because I could tell that this woman, unlike so many people launching a book or coaching program, actually knew what she was talking about. (There’s a lot of BS out there, ain’t there?)
We got together on Zoom and at one point she said, “I talked my book.” I said, “Yes, I can tell.” (Some days I can’t even pretend.)
The problem was she talked her book in a way that was loosely organized but involved a lot of backtracking and unfortunately, several redundant spots. The book itself was only about 14,000 words so the repetition was obvious. She said the company had provided an editor but I am not convinced an editor even read the book. They may have put it through spellcheck and Grammarly, but it was clearly not edited.
The Transcript is Raw Material
The toughest part of my book process is working the transcripts into a decent first draft. It involves three passes through the material—one that cuts out all the extraneous stuff and, on a good day, includes subheadings for the chapters that help me organize the material.
The second pass is a sentence by sentence slog. I get through five to maybe eight pages per hour. The document is lit up in yellow highlighter, I put in notes like “Move to xx chapter” or “already discussed—find where” along with correcting any typos that are particularly egregious.
It’s not until the third pass that the book starts looking like a first draft. The material is mostly organized. The sentences are complete. The paragraphs make sense and lead to the next paragraph. I’ve taken trips down the rabbit holes and made them into break-out boxes or deleted them. Sculpting a transcript into a first draft is days and days of work. It’s not a quick skim through the material or a glance to see if spellcheck underlined any words in red.
Yet People Still Release Books That Are Basically Transcripts
There are people who put out transcripts of their podcasts as individual books. It’s a great cross-marketing technique, and as long as you let the buyer know that it is a transcript, it’s all good. But you should still go through and clear up the “inaudibles” and anything that just isn’t right.
Then there are people who put out their “spoken book” pretty much as is and the reader is given a mishmash of information that may or may not be in any coherent order, that may or may not include what they were promised or what they need, and that may or may not be riddled with spelling and grammatical errors and typos.
These are the books that you are better off not putting your name on. A poor quality book may be better than no book, but the quality of clients you are going to get will match the quality of your book. How you do anything is how you do everything. Anyone who knows better will take one spin through a poorly produced book or course and write you off. If your business model is based on low-priced products and services and you’re in it for the quick-turn money, it may not matter to you. You might want the clients who can’t tell shit from shinola.
A book, done properly, is a sorting hat. If you have a poorly produced book and it brings you people who can’t tell it is poorly done or in fact, has crap content, and that’s who you want for a client, then go ahead and give them the raw transcripts. Anyone who will demand more of you will take one look and decide you are not for them.
Taking the time and care to provide well-written and comprehensive material shows that you respect your prospects and clients. It straight up says that you bring value to the table and you are looking for the people who appreciate value. If you’re looking for clients who can understand that quality matters, you’re not going to get them with transcripts.
How Do You Work with Transcripts?
First, set yourself up for success. When I work with a client, we have separate recordings for each chapter. We have worked together to develop a set of topics or questions for each chapter and put them in logical order. My job is to ask questions while we talk that will bring more depth to and a clearer understanding of the topic at hand. But by creating a framework beforehand that has a natural progression, a logical order, the raw transcripts are much easier to work with.
Second, know that the paragraph breaks in your transcripts aren’t paragraph breaks. The transcriptionist puts in a paragraph break every ten lines if the person talking has gone on that long. It’s a thing they do so you’re not looking at a solid block of text when you get the transcripts back. But that doesn’t mean the paragraph break came at a logical point in the content. As you’re going through the transcript, be aware of this. Find the place to naturally break the paragraph and that will make working with the transcript that much easier.
Third, put subheads into your transcripts as you are going through on your first sweep. If you had someone interview you, the question or phrase from that question can be the temporary subheading. You are creating “chunks” of information that you will go through again to make sure it covers the topic completely and coherently. The subhead gives you a focus point for that chunk and keeps you from getting overwhelmed.
A large part of the process of working with transcripts is one of refining down. You are cutting out the extraneous. But you are also adding. You are making sure the written word makes sense. Many times in conversations we leave a sentence hanging and allow the person we’re talking with to make the logical next step. In a book or course, you can’t leave that to chance. You have to give the logical next step or draw the conclusion for the person. The reader doesn’t have the benefit of gestures and intonation. The reader doesn’t have enough context or depth of knowledge to make what is to you the obvious leap. You have to fill in the blanks by completing a thought or adding explanatory sentences.
Talking Your Book is a Great Start
My course, Write Your Book in 90 Days or Less, (shameless plug) recommends talking your book for those people who are not natural writers, don’t like to write, and really, don’t have the time to write. It is the easiest way to get the information out of your head and onto the page.
But the transcripts are not a book. They’re not even your first draft. Understand that you will have to work through the material (or hire someone to) in order to make your thoughts complete, to make your words sing (optimally), and create an experience for your reader that leaves a positive impression.