Now that you are well into your Write Nonfiction in November (WNFIN) project, let’s take some time to focus on writing well. While the National Novel Writing (NaNoWriMo) folks say their “contest” revolves around writing any 50,000 words–not necessarily “good” words–in 30 days, here at WNFIN we are looking for good words, well-written words. Hopefully, by the end of the month you actually will have polished up or edited what you have written and be ready to submit them somewhere for publication.
That’s why I’m excited about today’s post by Judy Cullins, a book coach and author of 13 business books including How to Write your eBook or Other Short Book-Fast! It offers great and targeted advice on how to write well. It also tells you how to write in such a way that you attract more readers. Every writer with dreams of publication should want readers–and lots of them. Some of you may have heard these writing tips before; they always bear repeating. For some of you they may be new. In either case, take them to heart; your writing will benefit–and so will your writing career.
5 Nonfiction Book Writing Mistakes and Their Solutions
By Judy Cullins
As you write your book on a topic you love and know something about, you’ll also need to think about entertaining your audience, and making your book or other writing easy to read.
The biggest mistake emerging authors make is that they “tell” rather than “engage” their readers. If your writing lacks organization and doesn’t deliver compelling, vital sentences that convince your readers to keep reading, they will stop reading and turn to another offer. Specific examples include telling all you know without regard to what your readers want. They want dialogue and answers to their concerns, problems or challenges. Without these, there goes your “word-of-mouth” promotion.
Try my “Check and Correct” for the following top five mistakes
1. Stop passive sentence construction.
When you write in passive voice, your writing slides along into long sentences that slow your readers down, even bore them.
Before you put your final stamp of approval on your writing, circle all the “is,” “was” and other passive verbs like: begin, start to, seems, appears, have, and could. Use your grammar check to count your passives. Aim for 2-4 percent only.
Instead of, “Make sure that your name is included on all your household accounts and investments.” Passive culprits include “Make” and “is included.” Create more clarity with this revision, “Include your name on all household accounts and investments to keep your own credit alive after your divorce.”
2. Stop all pompous language and phrases.
Well-meaning professionals often use the word, “utilize.” You see this criminal in resumes, military directives and medical or lawyer documents. “Utilize” not only puts people off because we don’t relate to jargon, but because we want simple language. Think of Hemingway who knew that one- or two-syllable words work better than longer ones.
Check and correct. Underline all of your 3-6 syllable words. Replace them with shorter ones.
When you aim at writing at the 10th grade level, you make it easy for your audience to “buy.” Attempts to impress your audience with research babble or long words fail because they sound unreal and create a distance between you and your audience. Your reader wants a savvy friend who knows her stuff. Experts, pay attention here!
3. Show, don’t tell, to keep your audience engaged enough to finish each chapter and recommend your book..
When you take a writer’s lazy shortcut using -ly words like suddenly, or the adverb “very,” your telling makes your reader yawn a “ho hum” and stop reading. Instead show “suddenly.” For example, “When she saw the pistol, she ran and slammed the door behind her,” shows “suddenly.” Instead of “Alice was fat,” say “Alice’s girth prevented her from buying just one airline seat.”
Circle the -ly words and each use of “very,” and sit down with your Thesaurus and replace them with power words that describe or show emotion.
4. Reduce your passive “-ing”constructions.
Think of a title that inspired you in the past. I like “Jump Start your Book Sales” by Marilyn and Tom Ross. “Jump Starting” lacks power because it doesn’t ask for action. “-Ing” construction implies passive. Next time you think heading, title, or even compelling copy, think command verbs as sentence starters as well as using other strong verbs and nouns. Keep your sentences active using verbs in either present or past tense.
5. Take the “I” out of your writing to satisfy your reader
Whether you write a book introduction, biography, chapter or web sales message (did you know these are part of the essential “hot-selling points?”), keep the “I” to a minimum. Your audience doesn’t care about you, only what you can do for them. Think about where your audience is now–their challenges or concerns. Remember to answer their question, “Why should I buy this from you?” Put a big YOU at the top of each page you write. Write three or four paragraphs. Then, circle the “I’s” and vow to replace them with a “you” centered sentence or question.
So instead of telling your story, (I know that’s important to you) put your story in the third person. Use another name, maybe a client’s or friend’s. Every time you start a sentence with “I,” this makes your writing about you; it sounds like selling in a way. If you think your bio is important, instead of placing a long passage in your book’s introduction, place it on the last pages of your book before your last page of “Other Products and Services.” Or, if you want to include your bio on your Web site’s home page, place it instead, on your “About Us” page.
If you write a print book, you’ll need a back cover that includes mainly benefits and testimonials that really sell your book, not much on your bio. Include only a short one or two lines on you. Make it friendly, not a list of your credentials. People don’t buy credentials; they buy you. Include your longer story and photo that led you to write your book before the back cover page.
Make sure everything you write in every part of your book hooks your readers, so they will finish and share the good news with all the people they know. These include special case studies and headings that motivate your reader. Because all writers still carry old writing sins from high school and college to the pages, you need to get feedback on at least one chapter from a book coach who knows the business of book writing. You do this so your book will brand you. You don’t want just an editor who will cross your “T”s and dot your “I”s. After this professional check, you’ll know for sure your book has a fighting chance to sell among your competitors.
You cannot only get more sales from what you write, you can put yourself out there as the savvy friend to your audience who wants a problem solved. In the long run, these satisfied readers will return to you again and again–even buy your products and services.
About the Author
A book coach for 25 years, Judy Cullins helps you transform your book idea into a helpful, entertaining, and engaging book. Now you can get far more visibility and credibility for your business. Judy is author of 13 business books including How to Write your eBook or Other Short Book-Fast!, and LinkedIn Marketing: 8 Best Tactics to Build Book and Business Sales.
Get fresh, free, weekly publications on book writing, self publishing, and online marketing fro her here.
Or, if you are ready to commit to your book’s success, read her ground-breaking popular print or eBook, Write your eBook or Other Short Book–Fast.
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Good advice. I particularly like no. 4. I also read their book and it has been very valuable in the future life of my book.