The 3 Most Common Writing (Thinking) Mistakes Nonfiction Authors Make

Hands typing on laptop

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Note that I put “thinking” in parentheses. This post isn’t about common grammatical errors—it’s about common mistakes authors make in thinking about their subjects and how to present them.

In my experience as a developmental editor, I’ve seen many nonfiction authors dive into their topics without thinking much about the audience first. But this approach can lead to confusion—because you’re jumping into a subject from your own vantage point as an expert. You’ve lived the experience and researched the heck out of the topic, usually over a span of years or decades.

In other words, you’re too close to the material to know if you’re explaining it clearly to those who are less familiar, or maybe even unfamiliar.

Remember, unless you’re writing a book for people with the precise same expertise as you, you’re likely to have blind spots about reader understanding. Not taking these blind spots into consideration means you could be confusing your audience more than helping them, which is the opposite of your intention. (Unless you’re an evil mastermind, that is.)

With these blind spots in mind, here’s my answer to the question, “What are the most common writing mistakes you see?”

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Your Book Is Not for Everyone (Why That’s a Good Thing)

your book is not for everyone - Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

This blog post is not for everyone. It’s for writers who are just beginning to create books–specifically, nonfiction books (health, how-to, business, etc.). The message is:

Think about your audience before you start writing.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that many authors write books with a “field of dreams” mentality: “If I write this, they will come.” Often, these authors, when asked, “What’s your target audience?” respond, “Everyone,” or “All women,” or “Women over the age of 35, because those are the ones buying books.”

To the people faced with the prospect of selling your book, this response sounds like you have unrealistic expectations. In a best case scenario, your PR and sales team may under-deliver on your expectations, and you may part ways feeling unsatisfied. More worrisome than bad feelings, though, is bad product; “My book is for everyone” often means the writer hasn’t thought about audience while writing. The result can be an unsalable book–well-written, maybe, but without a clear angle that can be pitched effectively to media and, more importantly, to consumers.

Read moreYour Book Is Not for Everyone (Why That’s a Good Thing)