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7 Common Mistakes Aspiring Authors Make and How to Avoid Them
Developing Your Bestselling Book Idea

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.

Writing a nonfiction book is a worthwhile endeavor with many personal and professional benefits. Writers who write a book can…

  • Elevate their career;
  • Create additional income around their books, like speaking and consulting;
  • Build their expertise;
  • Share stories that inspire and entertain their reading audience;
  • Fulfill that dream of writing a book and becoming an author;
  • And communicate their lifetime of work or experience, leaving a legacy that outlasts themselves.

Your nonfiction book can help you do great things. But first you have to write it, so let’s get back to that.

Defining Success and Writing an Awesome Book

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.

The most important thing we, as writers, can control is the writing itself. In other words, you have the power to write an awesome book. But you have to focus on the writing. So if your book isn’t done yet, then that’s what you should be thinking about: writing an awesome book. And that’s what we tend to focus on around here.

So imagine someone finding your book in a store or online, buying it, and curling up to read it. Now, imagine this reader getting to page fifteen, putting the book down, moving on to something else, and never picking the book up again. No one wants to imagine that, right? But it happens a lot. Time is precious, and we all have to be selective about how we use our time. If a book isn’t compelling or satisfying some need for me, I can binge-watch a show on Netflix instead.

Now imagine your ideal reader hanging on your every word, practically reading your entire book in one sitting. Imagine people talking about your story. Imagine them implementing the strategies your book describes and getting life-changing results from doing so. And imagine that reader telling all her friends and colleagues about the awesome book she found. This is what we want to happen to your book.

When an author is writing a nonfiction book, they set out to do something: solve a problem, tell a story, or shed light on a particular issue. So every book has a goal. And every book, from page one, makes a promise to the reader. When we talk about writing a successful book, we’re really talking about whether or not the author fulfilled the promise to the reader. These are the books that get passed around and recommended. And fulfilling that promise happens with every word you write.

The Most Common Nonfiction Book-Writing Mistakes

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?

What’s keeping them up at night? What do they need? What are their habits? Then you have to step into their shoes and look at the information you’re presenting from their perspective. If you don’t know exactly who your reader is, or if you’re too broad (i.e. you think your audience is “women” or “anyone interested in investing/finding romance/insert your topic here”), then you’re really writing for no one.

Mistake #2: Not Hooking the Audience Right at the Start

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.

Your nonfiction book needs to grab your reader on page one. So, where are you starting your book? And does your opening assure your reader they’re reading the right book?

Mistake #3: Telling, Not Showing

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.

Readers want proof. They want details that let them live your experiences vicariously. You have to leave them anxious to find out what comes next, and telling stories that show is one of the best ways to do this.

Mistake #4: The Writing Isn’t Good Enough

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.

Mistake #5: Not Maintaining Forward Momentum

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.

Every time your reader takes a break, there’s a chance they won’t come back to your book. As an author, you need to be conscious of this possibility and write your book in a way that keeps your readers hooked to the end.

The first step in this process is knowing what your readers ultimately want from your book. What’s in it for them? What kind of story have you promised to tell them? How is reading your book going to make their lives better?

Mistake #6: Lack of a Consistent, Compelling Voice

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.

You want it to connect with the reader and help them to trust you. It has to be authentic and real and consistent. You have to establish your voice and use it effectively. What kind of voice is it? What kind of tone does the voice have? And how does the voice contribute to the material?

And Mistake #7: Not Getting Book Writing Help

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.

Nonfiction Book Writing 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.

Click here to request a free ghostwriting consultation...

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