4 common mistakes when writing a book alone

Writing a book alone is not an easy task. Nor is self-publishing.  But with over 1m books being self-published each year now plenty of people are giving it a crack! Unfortunately there is a wide range of results…some are successful, but many others are a dismal failure. The good thing is that whilst a lot of authors have made a lot of mistakes, many of them have been generous enough to share their trials and tribulations. In other words, you now get the benefit of their experience so that your own book writing and publishing experience is positive.

Many self-published authors have help from experts along the way; some choose to do it entirely alone.  From personal experience, and anecdotal evidence, the ones who write and publish a book with some form of guidance tend to do a whole lot better than those who don’t.  But if you choose to run the gauntlet, how do you avoid the 4 most common mistakes when writing a book alone?

1.Not enough research and market analysis

In order to maximise the sale of your book you’ll want to know that people are interested in what you have to say.  Unfortunately, not every idea is a good idea when it comes to writing a book! Have a look at other books that are selling well in your category and see whether your content or angle is different or similar – sometimes being too similar is just boring and your book won’t find its place, other times being too different may suggest that that angle simply won’t sell.  Determine who your ideal reader is and what they’re reading right now, learn who your ‘competition’ is and how you can differentiate yourself (and your book), and figure out how to reach your key demographic (where are they purchasing books, are they listening to audio books etc).

2. No accountability or deadlines

When you work alone on a big project such as writing a book it’s very easy to slip into a pattern of procrastination.  It doesn’t really matter if you publish this year, next quarter or in 5 years’ time – noone is expecting anything from you so it’s really easy to deliver nothing.   There is no literary agent breathing down your neck, no publisher holding you to your contract, and no accountability buddy to meet at the coffeeshop next week with the next instalment.

Therein lies the problem.

The best way to keep a big writing project on track is to have another human keep you accountable. That’s why there is such a thing as a book writing coach; they provide weekly or monthly targets, look after your mindset and approach to achieving those targets, and help remove any obstacles to getting the writing done.  If however, you decide not to hire a book writing coach, you should at least try to find someone else who is also working on a manuscript and form an accountability arrangement. For example, you could meet once per month and commit to a certain amount a progress before each meeting. You could then also become each others’ ‘beta readers’ (see point 4.)

Announcing to your friends, family, clients and community that you intend to publish a book in the near future is also a  great motivator for getting the book completed. Most of us don’t want to let others down or be seen as a failure.

3. Skimping on the editing process

Writing a full length non-fiction book is not something you’re taught at school.  You learn how to structure an essay but not a business book.  And cobbling together 50,000 words from your experience and expertise into something entertaining and digestible doesn’t just come ‘naturally’. There is skill involved, there is process involved, and there are many moving parts and hidden traps.  A really good book editor will be your best ally in this process.

Editors are super word nerds.  They get excited about finding typos and spelling mistakes, and they can spot a grammar error a mile away. They’re also merciless about inconsistencies, repetition, poor structure, clichés and references. It is VITAL that you include a professional edit in your book writing process, BUT, before you hire one ensure your manuscript is as ‘clean’ as possible so as not to waste time (and money) on super obvious mistakes.

Make sure you understand the different types of editing available too, as you may need only one or all of these: development/structural editing (bigger picture structural stuff), line editing and copyediting (line by line grammar/spelling/repetition checks), and proofreading (final spelling and punctuation checks). All manuscripts required different things, and all editors work slightly differently.  It’s impossible for one editor to accomplish all of these types of editing in one viewing, so jut be aware that you may need to involve a couple of professionals at this stage. Whatever you do, however detailed you go, please don’t publish a book without some kind of third party editing!

4. No-one reading your book before you publish it

No matter how shy you are about your writing, you absolutely must have someone else read it before you publish it. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking friends or family for an honest first impression. Just be mindful, however, of whether they form part of your ideal reader target group; take on any feedback accordingly. Better still, join a writers’ group and solicit feedback from members you trust. Writing communities are typically highly supportive and the only cost to you will be in returning the favour. By the time you’ve finished writing you are way too close to the content to be objective.  These ‘beta readers’ can provide feedback that makes the difference between publishing a bad book and a great book.  Criticism can suck but it’s a crucial part of the process for authors.

Whether you choose to get assistance or whether you decide you’ll be writing a book alone, please take heed of these common mistakes. Don’t make the book writing process any harder than it already is!

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