Bookcraft 2.0: The 90% Rule of Repurposing Content

Content Always Wins


When I left you on Friday, an editor friend and I were on our way to Milwaukee to meet with Phil to make a bookmap from the rough cut of his book. The rough cut had been built on a set of criteria that made choosing content from his archives an easy decision-making process. I outlined those criteria in Archive Mining: How to Get From Working Book Title to Rough Cut Content. Now, it was time for a finer cut. Armed with 5 categories of pages, I was sure that we’d sort them into 7 or 8 chapters and make a bookmap. That was the plan.

Because our topic is timeless, we can be flexible about schedule. That gives us even more room to focus on what’s best for the book. Here’s what happened.

We didn’t make a bookmap.

I was wrong about 7 or 8 chapters.

The plan went out the door early on


To make a great book, the content must win. Always.

Making the Finer Cut

In order to make that finer cut, we needed a finer set of criteria. Again, we turned to black and white rules — that crucial tool for sorting intellectual gray questions efficiently.

We made two black and white “gating rules.”

A simple definition of what the book would do — Every entry, story, or example would offer a practical application for the reader.

Every written bit of content had to meet the 90% Rule of Repurposing Content.

We read aloud each piece, if it failed on either point, without question it was out.

What is the 90% Rule of Repurposing Content? It’s a rule that I made up.

The 90% Rule of Repurposing Content

When my job was finding product to repurpose for the U.S. market, what I realized was that people could repurpose anything. I had to curb my enthusiasm for finding the cool product inside everything that came my way. So I made the 90% rule. This is it.

It’s not worth repurposing, if it’s not 90% already there.

I’m lethal about applying the 90% rule. You should be too. Why?

If the content you’re picking up is not 90% there, it’s easier, faster, cheaper, and would be of higher quality to make a new one from scratch.

Where We Are Now

The two rules we made — must have an application and must be 90% there — served us well as we went through the rough cut pages. Sorting was both quick and painless. We read aloud each page and found agreement on those two points every time.

That freed us to concentrate on how the pages fit with each other logically. We discussed which groupings worked best and what to call them. In the end, we found that we had a four part book, not the 8 chapters I had predicted. Once we removed what didn’t belong, a closer look at the content said so.

Go figure.

Now I’m off to make a bookmap for Part I of a four-part book. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

–ME “Liz” Strauss
If you’d like Liz to help you find or make a book from your archives, click on the Work with Liz!! page in the sidebar.

Related articles
Bookcraft 2.0: Find a Book in Your Archives the Way a Publisher Would
Bookcraft 2.0 Archive Mining: How to Get From Working Book Title to Rough Cut Content
Bookcraft 2.0: How Many Words Does It Take to Make a Book?
Bookcraft 2.0: Why No Bound Book Has 666 Pages and Get Your Free Blank Bookmap


  1. says

    Liz –

    I love the 90% rule! Having worked in publishing for a while and specifically on repurposing print content into other media formats, I can tell you (as you know!) that it’s rarely followed.

    Content creators want all their content to be used again even when it doesn’t make sense! It’s illogical to them that starting from scratch can sometimes be more time and cost effective and result in a better product!

    We would have saved a lot of time and money if we followed the 90% rule!!!

    I’ll have to send some people to this post!!!


  2. says

    Hi Ann,
    It was sooo much fun to look at so many things. I just HAD to come up with something to keep my appetite in check. I understand EXACTLY what you’re saying. Though I didn’t love my stuff like that, it’s easy to get in the habit of thinking that to use it over is always the best choice. But it’s NOT.

    YOU ARE SO RIGHT. Knowing when you could write a new one in 10 minutes, but it will take you 3 hours to fix this . . . some folks need to stop to breathe. :)

  3. says

    Liz, I really like your 90 percent rule. I don’t have any experience with writing books. But, I have learned that sometimes it’s faster to ditch a rough draft (keeping maybe only the topic sentence) of a memo or post.

    (Good Morning!!)

  4. says

    Hi Katie!
    Good morning!
    That 90% rules seems to be a winner with folks. It has done a lot of deciding for me, I know. I have other little rules. I’ll have to start sharing them too. :)

  5. says

    I love rules — there are so many things that actually require decisions and thought. If I can lean on a rule here or there to make it easier, I’m all for it!

  6. says

    In editorial, where most of the decisions are judgment calls, it really helps to decide early where to draw the line to get them out of the gray into the black and white. You can’t imagine the time and unneccessarily redundant conversation it saves to draw up a few project-based rules and definitions.

  7. says

    It actually sounds very much like my weight-control plan. I don’t eat between meals and I don’t take seconds. So I’m always asking myself, “Is this a meal?” & “Have I already eaten”

    I could have saved myself A Lot of grief if I’d invented these rules when I was young.

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