Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ten Fatal Mistakes Amateur Authors Make

Guest Post by Nancy L. Baumann “The Book Professor”

I own a professional publishing company and receive numerous submissions each year from writers who want to be published. I only work with nonfiction, so the manuscripts are usually from nonprofessional writers who have experienced or learned something that will either save lives, change lives, or have a positive impact on society. Because the writers are amateurs, their writing is usually substandard, and I rarely find a manuscript I can publish. Here are ten common mistakes that send their work to my recycling bin

1. They think they have a great idea.
Before you start writing, make sure you have an original idea. How do you do that? Research, research, research! Read other books in the same genre and on the same topic, and if you find that your message has already been delivered, then save yourself the time and aggravation of writing a book. Better yet, find a unique angle about that topic and write to that perspective.   

2. They love their own writing.
Seasoned authors know the value of outside criticism and will seek it at every opportunity. Amateur writers think that if they scored well in high school English, that they write well and don’t need any feedback. That’s a big mistake. You’re probably not as good as you think you are, and neither am I. An overconfident attitude produces the kind of sloppy writing I toss aside.

3. They think writing will be easy.
Writing isn’t easy and it never has been. It’s a hard discipline and very few can hack it. If it were easy, you would have already written your book! No one has ever accidentally written a book, and neither will you. You must create disciplined deadlines and be accountable to them. Write all the time; practice makes perfect. As Agatha Christie said, “Write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you are writing, and aren't writing particularly well.”

4. They don't know how to start a book.
Think about how you would start any multi-layered project, like building a house. You’d start with a plan wouldn’t you? Your book project should also begin with a plan that you can execute, which will carry you from concept to cover. You must know what you’re trying to accomplish in order to hit the goal. Begin by answering these foundational questions, then write a book that is targeted to your answers.

·         What purpose will the book serve?
·         How is it different from other books published on this same subject?
·         What is the main theme of your story? Secondary themes?
·         What new information or angle does your story present that hasn’t already been heard?
·         Why will people want to read this story?
·         Who is your audience? Define your primary and secondary markets.
·         How will this work impact that audience?
·         What change do you want to invoke in the reader?
·         Why would other recommend this book to others?
·         Finish the sentence: “The purpose of this book is to ­­­­­­­­___________________.”
·       Who would you like to endorse your book? Another expert in the field? A celebrity? Figure that out, then write the kind of book that person would endorse.

5. They don't exhaust the language or expand their style.
Readers appreciate a varied vocabulary, but are impatient with the repetition of words, phrases, and sentence structure. Be sure that your writing is interesting, that there’s a mixture of sentence styles, that you’ve employed active language, and that your verbs are sharp and distinctive. Language matters.

6. They don’t understand grammar and punctuation.
You may not understand the rules of grammar and punctuation, but that doesn’t mean that others don’t. They do, and they’ll spot your mistakes in a flash. There are strict rules for both grammar and punctuation, and you better sharpen those skills if you don’t want to be dismissed.

7. They won’t invest.
So maybe you’re not good at grammar and punctuation? Hire an editor. Not sure if there are mistakes in your manuscript? Hire a proofreader. If you want to self-publish, then hire a professional cover designer and interior designer. Just because you can do everything yourself, that doesn’t mean you should. This is a specialized, professional industry, and you should work with professionals.

8. They trust the opinions of their friends.
Friends and family are great, but they have limitations when it comes to offering you objective feedback. When it comes to writing a book, their opinion doesn’t count. They are inexperienced, care too much about your feelings, and may only tell you what you want to hear. Seek an outside opinion from a professional editor who is trained to critique writing. But brace yourself—this could hurt! Be eager to make the necessary changes to meet professional standards.

9. They don’t know how to end the book.
Your opening line is important, but the ending can make or break a book. How and where do you stop? Decide if you want to tie your story in a neat bow or allow it to continue. Write three or four endings, then choose the one that is most satisfying. Moreover, be sure to tie up loose strings on all subplots, and revisit those foundational questions to be sure you’ve accomplished your stated goals.

10. They are in a hurry.
Amateur authors often set unreasonable deadlines, then latch onto them for dear life. Come hell or high water, they’re going to get their book finished by Christmas, or their birthday, or by any other manufactured deadline that has nothing to do with the book itself. Know this: by the time you’re in the home stretch, you’re going to be sick of your book. You may even hate it. But that doesn’t mean that you push it out the door just to get rid of it. Pull back and be thorough with every edit, with every research item, with every jot and tittle. Exercise a firm discipline and slow down, so you can produce a professional and polished manuscript and become an author, not merely a writer.

NANCY L. BAUMANN is the owner of Stonebrook Enterprises, LLC, which operates under two distinct branches: Stonebrook Publishing and Stonebrook Studios.
Stonebrook Publishing is an independent press dedicated to publishing high-impact nonfiction works that will either save lives, change lives, or have a positive impact on society. We are “Publishing with a Purpose.” 

To learn about our Oct. 9 release, A LIFE IN PARTS, go to:
Stonebrook Studios is the education, coaching, and contract-writing branch of Stonebrook Enterprises, and is home of “The Book Professor.” Nancy used her experience as a university professor and a professional publisher to develop a methodology that steps a writer through each phase of writing a book—from concept to cover—so they may produce a marketable manuscript that is what publishers want. Upon completion, the author may self-publish or seek an agent and professional publisher.



Personal Consultation
Writers in all stages of their projects come to me for help. Some are at the idea stage, and others have written quite a bit of their book, and some writers just want to kick around a few ideas for titles. 

How do you know where to start in the Get My Book Out! program? A personal consultation can help you identify where you are in the process, what your next steps should be, and which module of the Get My Book Out! program is right for you.
Personal Consultation: $250 Will be applied towards future modules if you purchase the program 

Module One: From Concept to Concrete Plan
At the conclusion of this 16-week course, you will have a comprehensive BookMap to follow that will
lead to a publishable manuscript. This course will guide you to:
• Clearly state what you are writing (what problem are you trying to solve?)
• Determine the purpose for writing it (what’s the solution to the problem?)
• Clearly identify what the book will accomplish and how (how does this solution solve the problem?)
• Pinpoint your primary and secondary markets (who will benefit?)
• Construct the book’s themes and sub-themes (what are the layers?)
• Determine why the market will accept your book (how are you different?)
• State the call to action for readers (what should the reader do?)
• Develop a masterful message for the book (what’s your marketing message?)
• Create a detailed BookMap that lays out the step-by-step process for writing a book that is what publishers want. (where’s the blueprint?)
• Develop a project budget
Module 1: Concept to Concrete Plan $1,500
Email: Nancy

Module Two: Write Without Ruts
Now that you’ve constructed your BookMap, you will expand it in this course to develop a path-to-draft writing plan, using the push-play method of writing. Your writing plan will have accountability checkpoints to keep you pushing forward to produce the first draft of your manuscript. This 16-week course will guide you to:
• Identify research tasks
• Construct a path-to-draft writing plan
• Execute that plan with accountability controls
• Introduce crucial writing tools to organize your work
• Construct your manuscript in a timeless manner, so it will have a long shelf life
• Identify the weaknesses in your writing and shore them up
• Avoid the common barriers to good writing
• Produce a first draft of your manuscript
Module Two: Write Without Ruts $1,500

Module Three: Polish and Perfect
Now that you have a working draft of your book manuscript, it’s time to polish and perfect your writing. Editing your work is a crucial part of writing a book, and can feel even more tedious than producing the first draft. It’s also more important than producing the first draft. Don’t make the mistake that many self-published authors make. You must polish your manuscript!
This 16-week course will guide you to:
• Segment your manuscript for maximum editing potential
• Pinpoint the problem areas and learn how to strengthen them
• Intense concentration on grammar, verb use, passive vs. active language, and elements of writing style
• Punch up your language to give it more life
• Tear down weak areas for greater focus
• Scrub the work for inconsistencies
• Identify errors before the book goes to print
• Write effective chapter titles to maximize your marketing potential
• Find a killer book title that pulls in readers
• Create a cover that sells books
Module Three: Polish and Perfect $1,800
Monthly payment plan available!

The Book Professor services were designed by Nancy L. Baumann, university professor and owner of Stonebrook Publishing, in order to help more writers produce marketable manuscripts, which is what both authors and publishers want.

This is T.W. Fendley. Thanks for reading and commenting on The Writers' Lens.You can find out more about me at


  1. I completely agree with numbers one through 10! :) I think especially the unreal expectations--people don't realize it can take a lot of HARD WORK to get a book ready for publication and that can sometimes mean a couple years if you also have a family and full time job.

  2. Excellent article! It must take real fortitude to keep slogging through the IN piles, like searching for nuggets in a sandy stream.

    I wrote a humorous fiction story one day and called it "A Day In The Life of an Editor." Sounds like I wasn't too far off; you'd be able to identify with that poor editor.:)
    --"Swallow in the Wind" (aka

  3. This article makes the light at the end of the tunnel shine brighter for me. I have a novel that developed over the past 15 years of my life, that only after the 10th year, I became desirous of it to become published... "Whewww!" What a journey it has been, and a like a single snowflake trying to to simply fall in place on a horizon of snow, but has been tossed around in a blizzard storm, the answer to my question, "Where do I go from here," has been hard to find. The journey from writer to published author has brought me, to 100's of Vanity publishing companies, fear to self publish because I know I'm an amateur, and greater regret for not finishing college. I am a 53 year old poet with a collection of poetry posted on, (my emotional poetry outlet), of poems that I began posting in my 40's while at work, of poetry written since my childhood days. My romance novel precedes 4 other books I have written, and finally, here is an article catching my attention. It is lists all the reasons why I've been afraid to make a move with my book. All ten common, fatal, mistakes are ones that I've been afraid to make, because I realize that at this point, I'm only a writer now yearning to become an author. I don't know if you'll see this comment Ms. Bauman, but thank you for this sobering post that everything inside of me is in harmony with; and I will make great effort to follow your lead.