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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What Kind of Editing Does My Book Need?

Man in bookstore, with cat, thinking about editing.

Editing is a single word that encompasses so many meanings. Which level of editing does your project need?

If you’ve come to my website through a Google search, the odds are pretty good that you’re a new nonfiction book author in search of an editor. Maybe you’ve written a business book, a self-help book, or a how-to book (my niches). Perhaps your agent has suggested you hire an outside editor to help improve your manuscript before she submits it to publishers.

Or maybe your publisher is smaller, and has limited time and budget to devote to your manuscript. The publisher would like your book to get a round of edits–on your dime–before its editors begin to work on it in-house to prep it for publication.

Perhaps you’re self-publishing, and you know you need the help of a professional editor to make your book as polished and high-quality as possible.

Whatever the reason you’re looking for a freelance book editor, you’re likely to be asking yourself: What kind of edit do I need?

My answer? It depends.

When to Get a Freelance Book Editor (and for What Level of Editing)

First: Where are you in your writing process?

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

What kind of editing you need depends on where you are in your writing process and publishing pipeline. Have you just started writing your book, or do you have a full first (or second, or third) draft that’s as good as you think you can make it on your own?

If you’re not quite done with a draft of your book yet . . .you need a content edit or developmental edit.

If you’ve labored over your book for months or years and you believe it’s finished and needs a final polish. . .you probably need a line edit or copy edit. (For definitions, see my previous post on the types of book editing.)

Second: Who’s waiting on your book to be finished?

What type of edit you need also depends on who wants your manuscript right now. Is there someone waiting for it so they can work on it (either selling it or editing it)? Or are you on your own as far as the timetable is concerned?

If someone’s waiting on your book at this precise moment . . . chances are that person will tell you what they think you need. Ask that person before looking for an editor. If you’re on your own, self-publishing or just many miles out from contact agents or editors–keep reading this post!

man and woman discussing website content outside coffee shop

Finally: What are your writing strengths and weaknesses?

What kind of edit your book needs depends on your manuscript and how it reads right now. What needs attention to make your book as strong as possible?

Do you already have a set of notes about what needs editing–for example, from a publisher who rejected the book or an agent who thinks the manuscript is almost there (but not quite)? Or are you coming to this process completely cold, with no idea what you need?

If someone has told you that you have structural or storytelling issues, or that you’re almost done but need to write some more content . . . you likely need a developmental editor or content editor–someone to help you with organization and big picture thinking.

If your content is great but you have sentence-level issues with grammar, voice, style, or punctuation . . .you probably need a line editor.

As you can see, what kind of editing you’ll be needing depends on where you are in your writing process, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and who’s involved in guiding your project toward completion.

For explanations of the different types of freelance book editors, click here to read my previous post. If you’re still not certain as to what level of editing you need, you can get in touch with me by contacting me to discuss your work.