A Guide To Chess Improvement (how the book was made)

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When the prestigious firm Everyman Chess agreed to publish my proposed book "A Guide to Chess Improvement", based on my Chess Cafe column on ... you guessed it ... how to improve your chess, I would finally be able to answer positively to those that were clamoring for book format. However, I also knew that getting this information into up-to-date, attractive, book form was going to be a challenge.

One of the challenges was that the title of my column was the misnomer "Novice Nook", which led many serious players who were, unfortunately, unfamiliar with its contents, to believe it only covered material too basic for them. I had received several e-mails from masters and experts telling me how much some of my columns had helped them, but that did not help the casual outside observer realize that the column was for everyone wishing to improve. However, since Novice Nook, misnomer or not, had won multiple "Chess Column" and "Best Instructive Lesson" awards from the Chess Journalists of America and thus was a good brand name, we did have to retain it for the subtitle.

The next issue was making the book attractive to all. Just copying the most instructive existing columns into book form was not a very attractive publishing option for Everyman, so we needed a game plan. We decided on the following; I would:

  • Select the most interesting and instructive columns,
  • Concatenate and re-write columns that dealt with similar subjects into new "mega" columns, eliminating overlapping material,
  • Add new material to these columns as appropriate
  • Update all book suggestions, web links, etc. to the latest and greatest advice, and
  • Write three entirely new columns for the book that would never be published as full Novice Nook columns.

For this final bullet, I decided to write the following new articles:

  • Is It Safe? Quiz
  • The Three Types of Chess Vision
  • Ask the Right Questions
For those wondering, the Three Types of Chess Vision are:
     *Board vision - the ability to look at a board and see what is happening (statically, e.g. the bishop on b2 is attacking h8).
     *Tactical vision - the ability to look at the board and see if any forcing sequences would win material or checkmate
     *Visualization - the ability to analyze potential sequences and keep track of where all the pieces are in that imagined sequence, e.g. "If I play Ng5 and he plays ...h6, then after I play Ne6 his bishop on e7 can now go to h4..."
...Want to know about these and how to develop them? Now you know where to lookSmile.
     Knowing what I had to do and doing it were two different things! First I had to select the best material and then spend many hours updating, enhancing, and combining it. Then I also had to re-arrange the material. The original columns at were in chronological order but I needed a serial "book" order to present the material. The nine chapters are:
     1. General Improvement
     2. Thought Process
     3. Time Management
     4. Skills and Psychology
     5. Tactics and Safety
     6. Openings
     7. Endgames and Technique
     8. Strategy and Positional Play
     9. Shorter, Lesson Material
     It turned out just cutting down the material to book size was difficult. At the time I had enough material for three thick books (now four - this month's column is #142 and each is about 7 pages long!). We had a target of 120,000 words and, even after pruning about 2/3 of the columns, I started with closer to 170,000. By eliminating the least essential material and overlapping information I was down to about 140,000. Next, I took out my cutting knife and got it down to 130,000 (one of the casualties was Readers' Questions). At that point Everyman took pity on me and said "Enough! We can do 130,000" (it passes the weight testSmile).
     The next steps of smoothing all the material and updating it were not that easy, but they eventually got finished. Surprisingly, writing the three new columns was the easiest of all the tasks! By the end, pretty much every included column had been changed, ranging from modest updates to major surgery. One column that was particularly massaged was the then 9-year old "An Improvement Plan" which, understandably, hit near the heart of the book. Over the years my improvement suggestions, including books, websites, etc. had morphed quite a bit, so it was almost like re-writing that particular column from scratch.
     The total amount of work needed to create the new book form was over 100 hours. The effort was approximately equivalent to writing an entirely new book. But when it was finished I was very pleased - my good, old material had a shiny new outside and a updated new inside. Like taking an old, beloved car, souping up the engine, and giving it a new paint and wax job. When it was published and I had the hard-copy in my hands, it was a "page-turner" - fun seeing all that updated and massaged material with new columns all in my hands. Other readers familiar with the column reported the same "good" feeling. So far 6 of the 7 Amazon reviewers at gave it the maximum "5-Stars".
     And finally, after all the years of receiving emails asking me if this advice was available in book form, I could answer "Yes, and better than ever - pick up "A Guide to Chess Improvement: The Best of Novice Nook" ! Smile