Guest Post: Milt Toby, author of Noor, on Researching for Books

NoorAUTHORbadgeToday, I am a publicity stop on the virtual book tour for Noor. Book by Milt Toby. Tour arranged by Walker Author Tours. Welcome Milt:

How Much Research is Too Much?

Research is the lifeblood of the non-fiction books and magazine articles I write about horse racing, but it’s also an important tool for fiction authors. Readers are more knowledgeable than ever before, and what they don’t know they can find out in a few seconds on the Internet. And when readers discover a mistake, they’re almost never shy about letting you know.

An astute reader of my latest book, Noor: A Champion Thoroughbred’s Unlikely Journey from California to Kentucky, emailed to let me know that she liked the book. A longtime racing fan, she also pointed out a few factual errors for which there’s no good explanation. I know that Middleground defeated Hill Prince in the 1950 Kentucky Derby, for example, but inexplicably I referred to Hill Prince as a Derby winner.

Noor front coverIt was humbling—and incredibly annoying—to realize that mistakes made it unscathed through all the revising, editing, and proofreading that go into writing a book, but I appreciated the email because the mistakes can be corrected in a second printing. An unexpected bonus: I may have found a new expert proofreader for my next book!

Good researching is a skill, but it’s also an art. I’m fortunate to live a few miles from the Keeneland Library located at the historic race track of the same name outside Lexington, Kentucky. Combine a library staff that is both expert and incredibly helpful with one of the best repositories of racing history anywhere, and it’s a writer’s dream. One of the great joys of research is to make connections that no one ever has put together before, and that’s what I try and do in my books. As with most things, however, you reach a point of diminishing returns when you’re doing research. The trick is realizing when enough is enough.Dancer's Image front cover 3-17-11

But how do you know when it’s time to quit, when you’ve reached that point where there’s a danger that the forest of Post-It Notes and stacks of paper will take over the project? For me, that point arrives when I begin to include factoids that are interesting and show I did my homework, but don’t really help move the story along. Research is an important part of writing, but it’s only a tool, not an end in itself.

Noor links:
Pedigree from Throughbred Database
Race info & results from Horse Racing Nation

4 thoughts on “Guest Post: Milt Toby, author of Noor, on Researching for Books

  1. Excellent post. I especially appreciate the last two sentences.

    Two other points about those often inexplicable slips of misinformation:

    1. You will always–always–find that there is an expert on the minutiae of your subject out there who knows more than you do and who will point this out to you with varying levels of tact.

    2. A reader’s trust is a delicate thing. If they catch an error on your part, it leaves them wondering what else you got wrong that just didn’t howl out at them.

  2. oh too true. i tend to get hung up on the research part. maybe i should stop writing and just do research

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