What I have learnt in Christian book publishing about common book writing mistakes
After reviewing a great many Christian manuscripts with a view to publishing them, it becomes easier to recognise this pattern of 12 common book writing mistakes. These writing mistakes will directly impact the number of sales a book achieves. Authors usually have blind spots when appraising their own work. It’s a common trait, which is why top publishers often pair their best writers with highly experienced editors. Together, they can chisel into shape and polish the final text – for less experienced writers, this final refining process can be the difference between a compelling read and a book that barely has the legs to pull a reader through the first few pages. In truth, even an editor can’t redeem content that is spread far too thinly through 96 pages or more.
The key is to identifying potential pitfalls before you start to write. If you have already written a manuscript and want to self-critique it, then the following 12 common book writing mistakes will hopefully be of great use to you, to polish off your book writing skills.
MISTAKE 1: Making a false start
Why the false start in so many self-published books?
One reason for the stall in initial reader experience can be that the book is poorly written. That sounds blindingly obvious but there is a nuance here that needs explaining. Quality of writing is the criteria writers worry about. But good writing can be measured differently, depending upon the reader’s context. As a publisher, an eye-popping account of someone’s adventure or life story can more than make up for poor sentence structure and grammar, both of which can be repaired. On the other hand, for a book that teaches on an educational subject, then density of fresh information, sentence structure and concise use of language can be far more important than wandering descriptions to illustrate a point – because quickly getting to the point, or even multiple points, is often a priority to those seeking unique information. Economy of words presented meaningfully is a craft in this realm of writing. I highly recommend making a powerful point per page and starting this method from the first page.
MISTAKE 2: Spreading your concept or message too thinly
Craft your writing
Crafting content and optimising its delivery into the heart and mind of the reader is the art of book writing. One of the greatest mistake’s that authors make in Christian book publishing is taking an inspired line of thought, spreading it out thinly into a book and then not knowing, specifically, the answers to the following questions:
MISTAKE 3: Not asking key questions before you write the book
Who is the book for?
- What questions does it answer for them?
- What solutions does the book offer, and why should someone keep reading?
- What will be the readers central take away point?
- How will the book change the world of those reading it?
- What makes this book different to any other?
The answers to those questions define the contents of the book, and ultimately is a very practical guide for finally writing the back cover blurb – which then ties everything together for the book to find its defined audience.
MISTAKE 4: Making false assumptions about the reader
My book is for everyone… or is it?
Earlier, I mentioned authors have blind spots when it comes to appraising their own work. One exceptionally common error of thinking, when answering the marketing question of “Who is this book for?”, is saying… “everyone.” It seems a fair conclusion if the contents have a universal theme. Yet, whilst audiences share threads of similar characteristics, many of those threads divert to create fan bases, obsessions, deep seated interests, passion points and shared experiences. Writers that can tap into those more polarised characteristics are more likely to feel that spark of sales when marketing to the world.
It can be a huge assumption to make, to think everyone would be interested in what is written. What is really being assumed is that everyone should be interested. This isn’t quite the same. In truth, people won’t be interested if your assumption is they should be. For instance, a Christian may want to read about prayer, but not all Christians want to know about meditative prayer. They may also not want a biblical exegesis on the matter, no matter how intelligent or valuable it may look on a page. The tone of writing can misfire if not correctly aimed. This is where your front cover, title and blurb are so important – who is your reader? It’s instead necessary to reach the audience at where they are at. And not everyone is at the same place, so typically books can’t be for everyone. There are the rare exceptions. Learn who you write for, and if necessary broaden your readership and adjust your tone – it will make you a much more empathetic and engaging author.
MISTAKE 5: Writing one dimensionally
Write with a rich tapestry of intriguing information
“What questions does my book answer?” This is a good question to ask yourself. How clear is this answer in the author’s mind? If there is just one single answer in a book’s offering, the book will feel equally very one dimensional to the reader. Any book that uses dozens of pages to express itself really ought to be answering a good number of questions that offer a pathway to valuable understanding – a funnelling to perhaps a larger central message. It sounds obvious, but it’s surprising to see how authors struggle to answer this very question.
MISTAKE 6: Not answering the right questions
Define your audience and be relateable
On this same topic, the author, if knowing their audience, should also ask themselves, “am I answering questions that nobody is asking?” This is another on the list of common writing mistakes. For instance, one could ask, “Why are there not more anointed people in the church?”. But this isn’t a real world question. A question people really ask is, “Why can’t Christians perform miracles?”
An obstacle to sales may not be the inspirational concept of thought with which to help a person, but it’s simply not explaining it in a language that has any practical application or framework to it. This potentially makes the concept unrelatable, and therefore offers no clear value. The book will leave a reader disappointed and possibly annoyed at their flawed purchase. The chances here of referral sales drops, and with it the hope of word-of-mouth marketing.
Understanding these nuances is crucial to creating a book that sells well. Of course, there are always the exceptions to the rules. Knowing the rules first helps find results.
MISTAKE 7: Giving insufficient original information
Mine and then distribute a harvest of golden nuggets – not just one
If there isn’t a rich seam of golden knowledge to follow throughout your book, then you really have to give consideration to why, out of the vast library of human experience available out there, would someone buy your book? People are always looking for solutions to something and want to follow a pathway of enlightenment to it. Every generation has its moment of expression, identity and vulnerability – I believe a key here is to know, discern and put into context your knowledge for the generation you represent in the here and now, and offer unique and insightful observation.
What can people relate to in their lives? This isn’t the obvious – i.e. technology (though it might). But it may be about the age of ‘stress and anxiety’ we live in, or cultural challenges. How can your knowledge offer thought provoking content that steers people to perhaps help them interpret their own solutions within a circumstance, rather than spoon feeding the obvious?
People sometimes like to explore the grey, and our solutions don’t always have to be the ultimate answers. But they can be informational and curious sign posts to new horizons of adventurous thought. Good authors allow their readers imagination to add value to the experience of reading. Don’t misinterpret that as not giving authors golden content.
MISTAKE 8: Failing to offer solid solutions or entertainment
Make your book a show of many ideas and experiences
Finally, the book should constantly deliver intriguing ‘solutions’. It’s dulling to the senses if one interesting, thought provoking concept is explained vividly well, and that’s it – or the same point has been laboured throughout the rest of the book. This would be like setting off only one big firework at the promise of a firework display. It was forgettable, and the show won’t grow on recommendation. Fireworks can be likened to amazing unknown facts, constant plot twists that expose human nature, the source of remarkable courage, the simple explanation of complex theology, the retelling of miracles and drama, with victory over adversity – themes people can identify with. These fireworks should appear on every single page. Not pitiful fireworks, but great big ones. A great book needs to be a great show.
MISTAKE 9: Focussing on the negatives, rather than the positives
Create a positive tone for the reader
The tone of the book is what leaves the reader with the sense of either empowerment to create change for themselves with the book’s contents, or feel condemned by not being good enough to live up to the challenges raised. It’s really important that your readers feel when they have the facts to hand that it’s clearly a benefit for them. Encourage your readers, and it will be like a wave taking a surfer to shore.
MISTAKE 10: Poor interpretation of what is quality information
How can this book change me for the better?
Everyone picks up a book hoping it will speak into their lives, or at the very least make it easier by giving the information they seek. Quite often, a Christian theme comes out that can speak deeply inside. After all the interesting facts, information and inspiration, the author usually has a central spine of meaning, a conclusion that ties everything together to give sense to the whole. Whilst not a rule, a book should ideally tie up every loose end, so the reader towards the end of the book feels satisfied and fed. Perhaps it will change their course in life.
MISTAKE 11: Thinking that quoting Scripture qualifies your book
Quoting scripture isn’t imparting personal knowledge
For some it’s a contentious point, but I feel I am on experienced ground when I say that over quoting scripture in Christian writing is another huge mistake. It’s frequently… frequently (!) justified by authors, because it’s “important people see the biblical source”. Truthfully, many books would become half the volume they are if all the scripture quotations were taken out. The most senior critical Christian thinkers, commentators and theologians minimally quote scripture – think about that. Let your writing speak for itself, like it’s supposed to. Let the reader make their own mind up whether what you write is true or not. They own a Bible, but they bought a book to read the detail of someone’s view on a topic, not an endless duplication and reference of scriptures. There are exceptions, but as a rule I recommend very reserved quoting for focus and effect. Even referencing via footnotes isn’t necessary. Just state the truths you learnt: if it aligns with Scripture, it will resonate with the reader, or otherwise be challenged. Readers are intelligent, and most often have a good Christian framework of understanding. To endlessly explain and repeat well known scriptures to qualify personal statements risks making reading tedious. Over-quoting scripture won’t make your book more valuable, profound or interesting than the next.
MISTAKE 12: Not being different
Stand out from the crowd
Yes, many books have been written. Yet, we never tire of seeing a beautiful view, eating a delicious cake… and we never tire at the hope of finding a book that will simply challenge, inspire, inform or amuse. It should be life giving, even mesmerising. It should be a journey. But ultimately, it should offer something a little different from the normal. The saying goes, “everyone has a book in them”. But my reply is, “but does anyone want to read it?”. What makes your findings compelling? What makes a reader thirst for every page? Does the end of each page drip with cliff-hangers, making you want more? It really should, to be successful. Taking more than a page to make a point runs the risk of stalling the reader. So, being constantly different, and offering something new each page should be a core goal. It often requires deep preparation before writing, sifting for gold to put into your pages. This is what makes a book different – the value that goes into it, for the specific reason of writing.
These are general musings on what makes a successful book, removing all the common book writing mistakes. I am sure that if you apply these principles into the critique of your’s or another’s book, it would provide practical feedback to improve it. Success as a writer is elusive, but I hope you find insights that will ultimately enable you to author and publish a better book.
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