Literary innovator Lee Gutkind once said that fiction’s challenge is writing a terrific story; journalism’s challenge is conveying solid, objective info; and creative nonfiction’s challenge is to do both well. Indeed, it doesn’t matter if you’re composing an email, corporate newsletter, blog post, business report, or nonfiction book, you must make sure it’s as actuate as it is readable if you want it to be successful. Novice writers are prone to many mistakes that hurt their credibility and chances of success. Let’s explore some common nonfiction writing mistakes that could hold you back from becoming a serious writer.
1. Writing Without An Audience In Mind
It’s a huge mistake to write like your audience is open-ended. Writing to everyone usually results in not reaching anyone. So, think long and hard about your target audience of readers and what you can do for them. Make sure you’re not too broad in your aim, too. Don’t just target females or people interested in a certain topic. Narrow the scope down to a tighter group. Once you know who your readers are, then you can slip into their shoes and determine the best way to write to reach them.
2. Not Hooking Your Audience On The First Page
First impressions matter. Did you know that a commercial website has just 10-20 seconds to capture the interest of a reader? Did you know the average attention span of a reader is just eight seconds? Did you know that the average reader reads less than 28 percent of the words on a webpage?
While your content must be easy to understand, it must also be captivating from the very first word. Keep in mind that first word is the title. Think about it. A reader goes into a book store. The reader sees a title that catches their eye. That’s what gets them to pick it up and read the back for more info. If the back holds their attention, then they’ll open it up and take a look at what the author has to say.
This, my writing friends, is how books are either sold or become dust-collecting relics in the author’s attic. Bottom line here is to hook your audience from the first word.
3. Not Showing Readers The Money
Again, you’re dealing with an audience that’s not going to visually and mentally trudge through a piece of nonfiction for bits and pieces of scattered value and substance. Readers don’t want to be told a story. What they do want is to be shown a story through:
Readers want to be able to visualize and connect with the information they obtain from your work so that they can be in the content with you. Otherwise, they simply won’t see it as anything that benefits them to continue reading.
4. It’s Amateur Language Hour
Nothing will kill your nonfiction work faster than if it’s full of amateur mistakes, including:
- Passive language
- Verbose language
- Cliche language
- Obtuse language
- Jargon language
Grammatical errors aside, successful nonfiction writing is all about style. Convey your meaning and give proofs and explanation where it’s needed, but don’t confuse, bore, nor intimidate the reader.
5. It’s Amateur Grammar Hour
While you’ll have some grammar police readers intent on analyzing every single keystroke for correctness, most readers don’t demand grammatical perfection. A couple of typos are easily overlooked, if they’re even noticed. However, grammar does matter. It’s the difference between “your nuts” and “you’re nuts” if you don’t believe me. The most common and obvious grammatical issues include:
• Confusing semicolons and colons
• Word usage errors
6. You Hook Your Reader, But You Fail To Reel Them In
You’ve hooked a fish, but can you keep it on the line till the last word? Your goal should be for a reader to see every single word as a green light for the next word. How?
If you write with purpose, then the above will follow to keep your reader hooked until the last word is read. Remember, if your reader feels like they need a break, then there’s a good chance they’ll never know how your nonfiction ends. Ask yourself the following questions.
- Am I delivering what the nonfiction is promised to be?
- Am I delivering that promise in a way that keeps the reader fully engaged at all times?
- Is the reader coming away with something valuable by the end?
It’s time to regroup and rewrite if you answer “no” to any of those questions.
7. Your Voice Isn’t Up To Par
Mothers are often so in-tune with their infants that they can recognize their child’s cry in a room full of other babies. That’s what you want readers to be able to do with your nonfiction writing voice on a page. It’s a skill that some say can’t be taught, but the truth is that anyone can have a standout writing voice if they put forth the effort to make it:
Establish your voice and make it so transparent and cooperative for readers that they can instantaneously recognize it in a crowd. Doing this will offer you a loyal following of readers who trust and value your work.
8. Failing To Take A Helping Hand From Experts
As a writer, you’ve got a lot on your plate with just organizing your ideas, establishing a voice for those ideas, and setting it all to the right writing tone and pace. It’s a lot, and writers can easily get so bogged down in the story that certain fundamentals get swept under the rug, the above mistakes get ignored, or the nonfiction doesn’t even get completed. Editing services are an invaluable tool for writers, and you should use one if you need it.
9. It Wasn’t What It Said It Would Be
Marketing your nonfiction wrong can be a death sentence for it. Just as products failing to deliver often go bust, if your nonfiction work fails to deliver whatever it’s intended to deliver, then you’ll lose all credibility and trust with the reading audience.
Reviews and comments are powerful, especially in the age of social media. One disgruntled reader can vastly and quickly wreck havoc within your potential reader pool. So, ensure your work delivers appropriately and is always correctly:
10. There’s No Conclusion
If it starts, then it should end. The theatrics of movies suddenly fading to black simply doesn’t work for nonfiction. Tie up the work neatly so that readers feel fulfilled and come away with a lasting impression they want to share with others.
Now, that doesn’t mean that your ending must be a final goodbye. In fact, a conclusion is a perfect opportunity for any of the following:
- A call to action (CTA) for readers to engage with you further.
- A directive for them to find similar content elsewhere.
- An offer for more information.
In conclusion, you can see how any of the above can hinder your success as a writer. Are you guilty of any of the above nonfiction writing mistakes? If so, regroup and rewrite. Remember, they wouldn’t be common if they weren’t something most nonfiction writers have problems with in their work.