Yesterday we discussed query letters and how to make them immaculate. However, all the writing nonfiction writers turn in to editors, agents or publishers must be immaculate. Therefore, they must learn to be great editors of their own work. That is not to say that all writers don’t need to have their work edited by professional editors—almost all do. However, most don’t have their query letters or the articles they submit for publication edited professionally. Therefore, they do need to be their own best editors to some extent.
In fact, all writers need to develop great editing skills. In this way, we become able to hone our writing and look at it critically, thus improving it in terms of content and strength as well.
Although I work as a professional editor, I thought I’d extend the professional courtesy of allowing another professional editor to discuss the topic of editing. So, today, Lee Pound, a writing coach, book editor and publisher and seminar producer with a huge amount of experience, discloses his 10 top editing peeves—and how to avoid them.
Ten Top Editing Errors to Avoid
By Lee Pound
As an editor and publisher, I see a steady stream of nonfiction writing, most of it filled with easy-to-correct mistakes guaranteed to turn off readers. Since the objective of writing is to persuade readers to accept your ideas, use your techniques or buy your products and services, you must fix these mistakes to make your writing work.
Here the top 10 writing errors I see and suggest writers avoid:
1. Dull openings
The title and first sentence of your book or article have one purpose, to get the reader to read the next sentence. To do this, plant a question in the reader’s mind and don’t answer it. The question must be an item the reader wants to know and must read further to get answered. To keep the reader reading, do not answer this question until you have planted another.
2. Flat structure
Most non-fiction writers adopt an “and this, and this” style of organization. They think up fifteen items they want to give you and present them in no particular order. Then they stop.
The best structure builds on what has come before, much like a suspense novel builds to a climax. Start with what your reader knows, then add the next step in the process you are teaching. Build each step into a bigger and better whole, and bring the reader along for the ride.
3. Lack of characters
Many nonfiction writers think characters only work in fiction. This isn’t true. The best way to create readability is to use powerful characters as examples of how your processes work. They can be used in either short stories or in testimonials.
Don’t forget to include yourself as a character in your own book. You are teaching from your experiences and impressions and that is what your readers will learn the most from.
4. No call to action
A call to action at the end of the book is one of the most important items many writers leave out. Once you give readers great material, you must tell them what to do with that material. The call to action is a specific statement of the next step for your readers.
5. Long paragraphs
Many writers fill an entire page with one paragraph. This creates two problems. First, the long paragraph causes a visual barrier to reading, since many readers will see it as too difficult. Second, it makes your reader think about the book design, not the information you are presenting.
Break your paragraphs into three or four line increments and you will be amazed at how much easier they are to read.
6. Straight facts
Too many writers pile fact on fact as they write, thinking that the more information they throw at us, the more that information will stick. This is not true. Too much information without relief creates overload and stops the reader. Break up the information with stories and examples, and the reader will get far more out of the book or article.
7. No coherent theme
The single most important step you can take before you write is to decide on a theme for your book or article. When a writer skips this step the writing wanders from idea to idea, confusing the reader. A theme outlines the message you want to give the reader in a short one or two sentence statement.
8. Verbose writing
Wordiness is a problem with most writing. After you have written your book or article, read it and remove every word you don’t need. You can edit out between 20 and 30 percent of the words without losing the meaning.
9. Use of jargon, adverbs, passives and big words
All of these items hinder the reader’s understanding of the book or article. Jargon limits the audience, adverbs weaken the sentences, passives distance the reader from the message, and big words make the reader notice the writing, not the message. Avoid all of them.
10. Being boring
The ultimate crime for a writer is to bore your readers. If they are bored, they will not read what you have written, and your message will not get through. Use stories, characters and examples to keep your writing interesting.
In summary, the main point of writing is to promote your message, whatever that may be. Writing mistakes make the writing harder to read and therefore less accessible to your audience.
About the Author
Lee Pound is a writing coach, book editor and publisher and seminar producer. He is the author of 57 Steps to Better Writing, and editor of Coaching for the New Century and Adapt! How to Survive and Thrive in the Changing World of Work. He also has written three novels and three family histories.
Lee’s career includes 15 years as a local newspaper editor, 20 years as a chief financial officer in the publishing business, 35 years as a speaker, and 10 years as a coach and consultant. He is co-producer of the Speak Your Way to Wealth seminars.