7 Common Mistakes Aspiring Authors Make
I’m sorry if you’ve been told otherwise, but nonfiction book writing is hard work. It’s not coal mining, for sure, but it requires a lot of persistence, planning, and showing up to write. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.
Everyone wants fame and fortune. We all dream about shiny book covers and sitting on Oprah’s couch and royalty checks. However, there are factors we, as writers, can control, and there are factors we can’t control. We can write a book and a query letter and submit it to every agent in New York. But we can’t control how another person feels about our work. We can’t control anyone else’s reactions or thoughts. And we can’t control how many people buy our book.
Over the years I’ve worked as a ghostwriter and developmental editor, I’ve helped fix quite a few books that weren’t fulfilling a promise or achieving the author’s goal. These are some of the most common nonfiction book writing mistakes that I’ve seen aspiring authors make and how to avoid them.
Mistake #1: Writing for Anyone and Everyone
As a writer, the most important person in your work life is your readers—the people who pick up your book, buy it, and take the time to read it. Get clear on who these people are and what you can do for them. Your readers are your audience, the people you are trying to reach and persuade. Therefore, you should always keep your readers in mind as you write.
So what does that mean? Well, first you have to know your audience. Who are they?
Have you ever watched people in a bookstore? Here’s what happens: when a title catches their eye, they pick the book up and turn it over to read the back cover copy. If that interests them, they open the book and start reading on page one. At that point, one of two things happens. They either put the book down and move on, or they get hooked and decide to buy it.
My clients hear me say this one over and over: show, don’t tell. This is essential in creative nonfiction and any writing, really. So what does that mean? Well, if you want your book and your writing to reach your audience on a personal level, you have to appeal to their personal side by using examples, anecdotes, and imagery that helps them see the benefits of your information in their minds.
Passive verbs, wordy sentences, clichés, and other mistakes that spell-check won’t catch make your writing difficult to read and understand. And call me a grammarian, but I always cringe when writers tell me that they don’t this stuff isn’t important and they can just hire someone to clean all that up later. If you don’t know the difference between a good sentence and a bad one, then perhaps nonfiction book writing isn’t really for you.
I already talked about the importance of hooking your readers right from the start. But that’s not enough to get them through your whole book. You have to keep them hooked and turning every page.
Reading a book is like sitting in a room with the author and letting them talk to you for hours. As a reader, you know the voice has to be pleasant, otherwise you don’t want to listen—you put the book down. As an author, you need to be conscious of your voice on the page.
When I’m talking to people about their books, they often describe that they’re so bogged down in figuring out how to organize all their ideas, how to make it all fit, how to make the book a great read, how to incorporate their personal story, and on and on. They’re smart, right? They should be able to figure it out. This is where many aspiring authors get stuck.
They don’t finish writing their book because some problem that comes up in the writing process and they can’t overcome it. But if you’ve never written a book like this before, or if the last thing you wrote was your dissertation, then it probably wouldn’t hurt to get help.
So there you have it–the seven most common mistakes I see aspiring authors make and how to avoid them. Now where are you stuck? Maybe one or several of these mistakes sound familiar. Or maybe you’re not sure. If you’d like help to figure it out, then I invite you to contact me about my editorial services, where we work together to help you overcome whatever challenges you’re facing as you write and revise.
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About the Author:
Melinda has ghostwritten fifteen books and has an MFA in creative writing. Her own work has been published in newspapers, magazines, and literary journals, online and in print. She helps her clients get their books done and into the world. For more information, visit her at www.writerssherpa.com.