In my years of coaching writers, I’ve seen manuscripts from many a new author. I strictly work with nonfiction that will either save lives, change lives, or transform society, and the manuscripts I receive normally come from nonprofessional writers who have experienced or learned something they feel compelled to share. But because they aren’t professional writers – some of them may not have written since they were in school – the work is often substandard. Here are 10 common mistakes new writers make. You can avoid all of them!
A new author often:
1. Thinks he has an original idea (but doesn’t)
Before you start writing a book, make sure you have a genuinely original idea. How do you do that? Research! Read other books on the same topic and in the same genre, and if you find that your message has already been delivered, save yourself the time and aggravation of writing a book. Better yet, find your own unique angle about that topic and write to that perspective.
2. Loves the sound of her own writing
Seasoned authors understand the value of outside, objective criticism and will seek it at every opportunity. Amateur writers often believe that because they scored well in high school English, their writing is beyond criticism, and they don’t need any feedback. That’s a big mistake. An overconfident attitude produces sloppy writing.
3. Thinks writing a book will be easy
Writing isn’t easy and it never has been. It’s a hard discipline, and very few can hack it. If it were easy, you would have already written your book! No one has ever accidentally written a book, and neither will you. You must create deadlines, hold yourself accountable to them, and write all the time. As Agatha Christie said, “Write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.”
4. Doesn’t know how to begin
Think about how you would start any multi-layered project – like building a house. You’d start with a plan, wouldn’t you? Your book writing project should also begin with a plan that will carry you from your initial concept to the finished cover. You must know what you are trying to accomplish in order to reach your goal. Begin by answering these foundational questions, then write the book targeted to your answers.
What purpose will this book serve?
How is it different from other books published on this same subject?
What is the main theme of the story? What are the secondary themes?
What new information or angle does this story present that hasn’t already been published?
Why will people want to read this story?
Who is the audience for this book? List the primary and secondary markets.
How will this work impact that audience?
What change will this book invoke in the reader?
Why will people recommend this book to others?
Finish the sentence: “The purpose of this book is to ___________________.”
5. Limits his language and fails to expand his writing style
Readers appreciate a varied vocabulary and are impatient with repetition of words, phrases, and sentence structure. Be sure your writing is interesting, that there is a mixture of sentence styles, that you’ve employed active language, and that your verbs are sharp and distinctive. Language matters a lot.
6. Misuses grammar and punctuation
You may not understand the rules of grammar and punctuation, but that doesn’t mean others don’t. They do, and they’ll spot your mistakes in a flash. There are strict rules for both grammar and punctuation, and you had better sharpen those skills if you don’t want to be dismissed as an amateur.
7. Doesn’t invest in necessary resources
Do you need help with grammar and punctuation? Hire an editor. Are you unsure if there are mistakes in your manuscript? Hire a proofreader. If you plan to self-publish, hire a professional cover designer and interior designer. Just because you can do everything yourself, it doesn’t mean you should. Publishing is a specialized, professional industry, and you should work with professionals.
8. Trusts the opinions of friends and family
Friends and family are wonderful, but are likely compromised when it comes to offering you objective feedback. To put it bluntly, when it comes to your book, their opinion shouldn’t count. They are inexperienced, care too much about your feelings, and may only tell you what you want to hear. Perhaps even worse, they may burst your bubble and steal your confidence. Seek an outside opinion from a professional editor who is trained to critique writing. But brace yourself – this might sting! If you do employ the services of a professional, you should be prepared to make the suggested changes to meet professional standards.
9. Doesn’t know how to end the book
Just as your opening line is important, the ending can make or break a book. How and where do you stop? You must decide if you want to tie your story in a neat bow or allow it to continue. Write three or four endings, then choose the one that is most satisfying. Tie up loose strings on all subplots, and revisit those foundational questions to be sure you’ve accomplished your stated goals.
10. Sets arbitrary deadlines
A new author often sets unreasonable deadlines, then latches onto them for dear life. Come hell or high water, you’re going to get your book finished by Christmas, or the new year, or by any other manufactured deadline that has nothing to do with the book itself. Know this: by the time you’re in the home stretch, you’re going to be sick of your book. You may even hate it. But that doesn’t mean that you push it out the door just to get rid of it. Pull back and be thorough with every edit and research item. Exercise firm discipline and slow down so you can produce a professional and polished manuscript and become an author, not just another writer.