10 Mistakes A New Author Makes (And How To Avoid Them)

new author

Nancy Erickson will be our featured guest for the 9/23 Twitter Chat (sign up below). In this post, she outlines 10 common mistakes a new author often makes – they’re all avoidable!

In my years of coaching writers, I’ve seen manuscripts from many a new author. I strictly work with nonfiction that will either save lives, change lives, or transform society, and the manuscripts I receive normally come from nonprofessional writers who have experienced or learned something they feel compelled to share. But because they aren’t professional writers – some of them may not have written since they were in school – the work is often substandard. Here are 10 common mistakes new writers make. You can avoid all of them!

A new author often:

1. Thinks he has an original idea (but doesn’t)

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

2. Loves the sound of her own writing

Seasoned authors understand the value of outside, objective criticism and will seek it at every opportunity. Amateur writers often believe that because they scored well in high school English, their writing is beyond criticism, and they don’t need any feedback. That’s a big mistake. An overconfident attitude produces sloppy writing.

3. Thinks writing a book 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 deadlines, hold yourself accountable to them, and write all the time. 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. Doesn’t know how to begin

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 writing project should also begin with a plan that will carry you from your initial concept to the finished cover. You must know what you are trying to accomplish in order to reach your goal. Begin by answering these foundational questions, then write the book targeted to your answers.

  • What purpose will this book serve?
  • How is it different from other books published on this same subject?
  • What is the main theme of the story? What are the secondary themes?
  • What new information or angle does this story present that hasn’t already been published?
  • Why will people want to read this story?
  • Who is the audience for this book? List the primary and secondary markets.
  • How will this work impact that audience?
  • What change will this book invoke in the reader?
  • Why will people recommend this book to others?
  • Finish the sentence: “The purpose of this book is to ___________________.”

5. Limits his language and fails to expand his writing style

Readers appreciate a varied vocabulary and are impatient with repetition of words, phrases, and sentence structure. Be sure your writing is interesting, that there is a mixture of sentence styles, that you’ve employed active language, and that your verbs are sharp and distinctive. Language matters a lot.

6. Misuses grammar and punctuation

You may not understand the rules of grammar and punctuation, but that doesn’t mean 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 had better sharpen those skills if you don’t want to be dismissed as an amateur.

7. Doesn’t invest in necessary resources

Do you need help with grammar and punctuation? Hire an editor. Are you unsure if there are mistakes in your manuscript? Hire a proofreader. If you plan to self-publish, hire a professional cover designer and interior designer. Just because you can do everything yourself, it doesn’t mean you should. Publishing is a specialized, professional industry, and you should work with professionals.

8. Trusts the opinions of friends and family

Friends and family are wonderful, but are likely compromised when it comes to offering you objective feedback. To put it bluntly, when it comes to your book, their opinion shouldn’t count. They are inexperienced, care too much about your feelings, and may only tell you what you want to hear. Perhaps even worse, they may burst your bubble and steal your confidence. Seek an outside opinion from a professional editor who is trained to critique writing. But brace yourself – this might sting! If you do employ the services of a professional, you should be prepared to make the suggested changes to meet professional standards.

9. Doesn’t know how to end the book

Just as your opening line is important, the ending can make or break a book. How and where do you stop? You must 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. Tie up loose strings on all subplots, and revisit those foundational questions to be sure you’ve accomplished your stated goals.

10. Sets arbitrary deadlines

A new author often sets unreasonable deadlines, then latches onto them for dear life. Come hell or high water, you’re going to get your book finished by Christmas, or the new year, 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 and research item. Exercise firm discipline and slow down so you can produce a professional and polished manuscript and become an author, not just another writer.

P.S. – Nancy will be our guest for the September edition of our monthly #BBchat Twitter chat on 9/23. Sign up here to get a reminder!

Image via ShutterStock.com.


Hybrid Author Game 


Read More
Three Questions To Help You Crystallize And Focus Your Message
How To Know When You’re Done Writing Your Novel
Why Do You Need A Professional Editor For Your Novel?
How To Turn A Good Manuscript Into A Great Manuscript
5 Mistakes New Authors Often Make



    • I am a first time author, and I have been working on my manuscript for a year and a half – and I am still not sick of it! As per your 10th point of common errors, that must mean that I am not near the finish line. In all seriousness this last point was very applicable to me. I am a victim of many self imposed deadlines for publication, but every one that I missed was a conscious decision to draw back and think of this journey as a work of art that cannot be rushed. I have also learned the value of meticulous outside editing and taking their constructive ideas to heart (though they do sting). Thank you for your blog.

  1. I have written my book and it is a non fiction about the crazy life of Hotel Manager around the World. I have taken lots of feedback before I started writing, Nancy is right in all her assessments I have followed that from the start and used a “book doctor” an English teacher who worked with me prior and he put a flow in the book, to keep it interesting. The ending was a tough one, but it had to end somewhere. I am in Editing phase and I wish your writers out there (and me) all the best of luck.

  2. This is one of the best articles for new authors that I’ve read. Short, simple, precise, and accurate. I find myself to be hyper-aware of nearly all of these traps, but I had to learn them through a couple years of experience. Where was this article two years ago? LOL.

  3. Thank you Nancy for writing this great blog! I’ve been a writer forever that’s never published anything except won a couple of short story essays. I write from an abusive 1st marriage, I write from bring a child of parents who were in WWII in London, where I’m originally from. My hero has always been Nina Amir, she taught me how write 50k in November of 2014, even though I didn’t hit 50K I started writing better. I’ve tried so hard to write fiction but I have so many life experiences that they sound like fiction. I started writing in thewritepractice.com, that’s where I won 3rd place for my real life thriller called ‘Zoë’s Secrets and Lies’. I personally never thought I could have even placed anything but I did. I started to lay out a manuscript then in January I was involved in a hit and run accident where my right arm, hand, and neck is nearly incapacitated where I’m almost completely disabled, yet I won’t allow it to out me down. I’ve been an artist all my life and so when this happened I felt like my life was over. No art, no ability to write. I had to make a way where I could write or type without being in excruciating pain. I use speech to voice recognition, unfortunately I don’t have a professional program so I use my computer when it works. I use one finger at a time on my left hand. I use whatever way I can to get my words out there wig my ideas. My life is full of ideas, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write my book this way. I have no money or believe me I would have someone type it for me.

    I’m sorry I didn’t want to take up all your time, this has taken me about 45 min just to get this down so I would give both of my arms to make something of myself. When someone has something taken away from you I think it brings you that drive that no one will ever understand.

    So I’ll end it now, I hope you have the chance to read what I’ve tried to write with my voice and I will continue to #amwriting…God Bless !
    Donna McGuinness

    • You are very inspiring, Donna. I pray you find the strength to keep going and not give up. Thank you for taking all that time to share your story and to encourage the rest of us. God bless you greatly.

    • If you are using an ANDROID tablet, I advise you contemplate recording/dictating your book (both FIELD RECORDER and EASY VOICE RECORDER have proven incredibly stable, and both offer continuous recording limited solely by the capacity of memory; both apps can also record directly to a micro SD card [when configured to do so]; prior to using the app, any auto-file cleaning utilities, and any power saving options must be deactivated on the tablet so as to prevent the tablet from interrupting recording).

      Though I am able to type, I keep these apps installed in my tablet. I have, as of late, contemplated recording my entries also as a result of health issues.

      Previously an investigator for the government, it was then that I employed an entry format consisting of date, time, topic, and section reference (the latter if applicable), for all my entries, so as to allow me to compose a complete history of my work record on cases from both electronic and handwritten records. I have written my book in the same manner.

      It is a viable option, perhaps something that will prove useful. (The apps are inexpensive. I have them installed in an ASUS tablet that cost me just over $110.00.) If you are unable to write your recorded entries yourself, you can always have a clerk type your ‘dictation’.

      P.S. In my entries I have also employed identifiers to differentiate technical notes from writing. I also ensure to use the same ‘labels’ to facilitate perusing through the script.

      EXAMPLE 01: [copyedit note] substitute the word, ‘subsection,’ with the word, ‘adjunct’, in reference to Sandra’s description of military hierarchy [close copyedit note]

      EXAMPLE 02: [script note] omit mystic belief as a motive for lead character’s motive for the pursuit of the lost ring? [close script note]

  4. Agree with all of the above. I am certified as a copy editor, but recognize the incredible value of having at least one other pair of eyes go over my work. I do submit to friends for comment – I’m fortunate that those friends do give me excellent critical comment. I get structural and contextual comment from my writing friends, and I get overall story atmosphere comment from my non-writing friends – both are valuable, for if a non-writing friend raises a red flag over something, I know that future readers (most of whom are not writers) will raise the same red flag. So I must rework any and all sections in question to eliminate the red flags. I’d rather do the work before publication to improve the story, than lose readers who get frustrated at inconsistencies and put the book down forever.

    RE: #9: How to end the story? I think this is a major problem with a lot of authors. Most of my writing friends tell me about their efforts to find the end of that story arc, sometimes with great difficulty. I have one published novel (“Bead of Sand” – 2013) and am now working on a second. The first languished for a long time with only sporadic attention because I did not know how to end it. After consulting with reader friends – writers and non-writers – I brainstormed at length, taking my friends’ suggestions and adding to them everything and anything that came to me, crappy or not. Suddenly, there it was: the ending that suited my characters. I had shuffled the mix enough that something viable finally emerged from the end of my pencil.

    My second novel languished even longer – I had started it first, then dropped it to write “Bead of Sand.” I set it aside because the premise was fuzzy, and (again) I didn’t know where it was going or how it was going to end. Once the first (published) novel was out of the way, I picked up the fuzzy-premise one and applied lessons learned from “Bead of Sand.” I brainstormed again, and once again, there it was, scribbled on the paper: the ending I needed, one which my characters would accept. With the ending confirmed, I was then able to clear up the premise. I’m having a lot of fun with this story, although it is challenging in how to handle and depict my subject matter.

  5. If you’ve done all of #4 or even parts, you may have written your synopsis. I’m a published author and yes all of these should be helpful to the beginning writer IF the writer is unlike me. In the beginning do you think I would listen to constructive criticism? No, but I learned as rejection slips came in. They still do. No matter how good you are, you aren’t THAT good. I did at least know not to trust family and to go to editors.

  6. […] Sometimes the biggest hurdle to writing a novel is just finishing it—getting to The End. Martina Boone has 8 steps on how to write a novel and actually finish it. For all those pitfalls that snag us along the way to The End, Roni Loren lists 13 writer woes and the books to cure them, and Nancy Erickson shares 10 mistakes new authors make (and how to avoid them). […]

  7. Need your advice –
    Characters A & B.
    A will be going through memory flashbacks & also in present tense, while B is mostly in present tense.
    So what is the best way to convey flashbacks- do I use italics?

    Also what’s the best way to convey thoughts spoken in the mind – Do I use single quotation marks?

    • There’s no absolute rule on this. I’d use italics to convey thoughts “spoken” in the mind. Remember: Italics can be difficult or tiring to read. You don’t want big blocks of italic text. I’m assuming that thoughts spoken in the mind aren’t that lengthy. If that’s the case, I’d use italics.

      As for flashbacks–often that can be conveyed through the text itself (what it’s saying). Just lead the reader into it, and use past tense appropriately. Reconsider if you’re going to have page after page of flashback. There may be a better way of doing it. If you absolutely have to show the reader via the text that it’s a flashback, I’d probably use a different font.

  8. Excellent advice, though I do have some thoughts on #10–“Sets arbitrary deadlines.” Although arbitrary deadlines don’t make any sense, it is possible to set reasonable (and even ambitious) deadlines and stick to them. Here’s how:

    Determine the desired length of the book. Then set a reasonable goal of writing xxx number of words a day. It might be 250 words; it might be 400; it might be 800. For an inexperienced author, one way to develop the goal is to sit down every day for a week–using whatever period of time works (one hour, two hours, three hours) and write. Actually: Write and edit. Determine what a reasonable output is in that time frame. Maybe it’s 300 words in 90 minutes.

    Then determine the number of words in the draft of the book. Let’s say 50,000 words. Divide 50,000 words by 300 words per day, and it should take approximately 167 days–or roughly half a year–at a rate of 300 words a day. Now the author CAN set a deadline–a realistic, not an arbitrary, one–of six months. That deadline still shouldn’t be carved in stone, but it can serve as a reasonable finish line.

  9. ‘Misuses grammar and punctuation

    You may not understand the rules of grammar and punctuation, but that doesn’t mean others don’t. They do, and they’ll spot your mistakes in a flash.’ I do … and all too often in a book written by a seasoned author, presumably edited by their publisher.

  10. So I finally finished my first novel, The Internet President: None of the Above, after decades of collecting notes and over 3 years completely focused on the project. Let’s see how I did.

    1. I found out my seed idea wasn’t original, but that’s OK because I added a few hundred other ideas and it became a mere plot point, and even then there was a slight twist on it.

    2. When I wrote screenplays I found other writers can be a bit too brutal and it devastated me too deeply to continue. It’s critical to get feedback, but I chose a non-writer to be the first reader so that I could get the low hanging fruit out of the way before the cruel people give me feedback. Having someone who felt safe being honest, but someone I felt wouldn’t hurt me intentionally made the feedback sting a little less. I was lucky because he was willing to read it out loud to me. (That’s an old screenwriter’s trick to detect bad dialogue).

    3. Nope 18 months late. So hard. Crazy to attempt a mashup book with a dozen genres. Damn ambition.

    4. I plotted out the different subplots separately in Scrivener to make sure they had the proper progression. Then as I wrote, I weaved the storylines together to make them hit the same highs and lows for emotional impact. I’m a Software Engineer by trade, so structure came naturally.

    6. grammerly and lots of grammar police friends as beta readers.

    7. I planned to get a professional editor, but they both gave me the advice to slow down the pace and write the novel more like a novel, than a movie. I found both of those elements were things I enjoyed about the book and I stuck to my guns. So far the beta readers have overwhelming agreed with me. If I had listened to their advice and done things the normal way, my readers wouldn’t say things like, “You raise the bar for other fiction writers.”

    8. I got a wide cross-section of people as beta readers from all aspects of my life to increase the chances of finding mistakes.

    9. I had my ending. Although later, I got an even better ending.

    10. I blew through every arbitrary and non-arbitrary deadline (like the election). I even took a month leave of absence from work. Because I was too ambitious, it was 18 months late, but worth the wait. Better to finish well than finish on time.


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