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5 Non-Fiction Book Writing Mistakes and Solutions

5 Non-Fiction Book Writing Mistakes and SolutionsAs 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 These 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% 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 with shorter ones.

When you aim at 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 and very words 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 with 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’s” 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”, it makes your writing about you; it sounds like selling in a way.

What about bios?

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 website’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.

Don’t forget to keep your readers interested and motivated.

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 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 at least one chapter feedback from a book coach who knows the business of book writing, so your book will brand you, not 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.

Sharing is Caring!

What writing techniques help you keep your readers engaged? What issues do you still need to address? When you share, we all benefit!

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About the Author, Judy Cullins

Book and Blog Coach Judy Cullins helps you gain confidence and transform your ideas into life-long money-making content. Author of 14 books for business people and authors include “Write your eBook or Other Short Book–Fast!”Judy offers free, up-to-the minute weekly publications on book and blog writing and online marketing at

*You are welcome to reprint this article provided the above bio is included.

Published by Judy Cullins

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  • Gladys

    Hi Judy, Examples always work for me and your checklist delivered! Not only did you alert me to the pitfalls but given me concrete examples that I can follow.

    Thanks so much for sharing this valuable information.

  • Judy Cullins

    Gladys, Glad you like my examples. I wonder what you are writing and who your audience is?
    Sorry, I’m tardy here-we we tweaking the blog! always tweaking! These tips work for your Profile writing for LInkedin too as well your web copy. Got a question for me?

  • Deborah H. Bateman

    Thanks for sharing your post. I always enjoy your posts because you make them doable for new authors by not only telling us what to do but showing us what you are talking about.

  • Owen


    Great article! I’m a sponge right now as I’ve been teaching people how to make presentations for 25 years (yup, I’m old) and I’ve only just properly discovered internet marketing. My existing website (untouched by human hand for 11 years and simply a brochure on-line) is being slashed to pieces and will take on a new marketing (SEOs and all) hue very soon.
    I write professionally too and your piece hit a bunch of marks with all force.

  • Amy L Jenkins

    Hi Judy,

    Thanks for the helpful advice. I am somewhat flummoxed by the advice to use you-centered writing. I do agree that the value of context should always be directed at the reader.

    Writing in second-person “you” tends to instruct the reader. If we are not writing instructions, the word “you” can create a tone that cannot be sustained throughout a book. But perhaps I’ve got this wrong and you are not making a case for second-person writing.

    Can you clarify?

    Best Wishes,

    Amy Lou Jenkins

  • Charmane

    I am well and truly over the moon about finally getting down to my own writing! This powerful blog offers fabulous insights and tips to honing your writing skills and polishing your work. Thanks for the heads up!

  • Sondra

    An absolutely great post – helpful and made me laugh when I recognized some of my very very big mistakes. Fortunately I had a gifted editor who made my non-fiction book ‘sing.’ We so-called experts can’t do it without people who work with language.

  • R. Lynn Archie

    You have some great tip here, Judy! I’m going to put to use some of the things you stated. They say knowledge is power, and I can’t get enough useful information.

  • Colin Burke

    Thank you Judy! What if your book is about your own story? How do you get away from too many I’s in that instance?

  • Pete Henyan

    You really make since coach. Thanks for the help. My background is in sports, and I am a raw author. Would you say that it is better to take a publishing contract or to try the complicated process of self publishing? There is an offer on the table, but my target market is so defined I can look it up in Websters.

  • Miles

    I will have to put item 4 to the test with the book I’m finishing. I use a lot of ing words in my section headers. Thanks for the article.

  • judycullins

    Miles, I wonder why you use so many -ingw?

  • Fredrik

    Disagree with the “I” thing. Depends, sometimes it’s ok, sometimes not.

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