The 5 Common Mistakes Authors Make when Writing an Inspirational Book

I get asked all the time, "What are some of the most common mistakes authors make when writing their books?" 

I usually reply, "It depends on the author. We all start at a different place on the learning curve."

But these questions have gotten me thinking. What are some of the common struggles and mistakes I see in my work every day? And how can knowing about them help my friends and clients help more people with their world-changing books? 

So, without further ado, here are the 5 Common Mistakes Authors Make When Writing an Inspirational Book, and how to fix them. 


Mistake #1: Not writing a strong, cohesive outline

As I discussed in my previous post, "5 Things You NEED To Know Before You Start Writing," clarity is key to creating a book that can change the hearts and minds of readers. You need to know where you're starting, what result you want to create, and how you're going to get there. 

A book without a clear and purposeful structure might be full of wisdom and spiritual gems - but if those gems are rolling around loose in a pile of disconnected words, how will anyone find them? Diamonds sparkle best in a carefully-crafted setting, where they can stand out, catch the light, and grab the attention they deserve. 

If structure isn't your thing, that's okay. If you need to ask for help to create your outline, great. But please, don't scoff at, de-prioritize, or (gasp) skip your outline. Your book—and you—will shine less brightly for it.


Mistake #2: Mistaking A Sales Letter for a Book

There's a growing trend toward "marketing books" in the personal development community. And while I think it's a great idea to have a powerful lead magnet, please, please, don't take a forty-page sales letter, slap a $17.95 price tag on it, and call it a book. 

I know that many people will disagree with me on this, but it's something I feel strongly about, so hear me out. 

When writing marketing copy, we're advised to target a "pain point" for our ideal audience. Often, the resolution for this pain point becomes the title for a marketing book. Is it catchy? Sure. Will it sell the book effectively? Probably. But your book's title is also a promisea statement about what the reader will receive, and which of their problems will be resolved, once they read your book. (For more on this, see my recent post on title creation.)

If you don't actually give solutions to the problems and pain points you reference in your title and back cover text, many of your readers will feel cheated. They'll feel (and understandably so) that they've just paid $17.95 for a sales pitch, and haven't received any value. They will lose trust in you and your brand, and will be less likely, not more, to buy from you in the future. Why? Because you failed to deliver on the first promise you made to them—the promise you made in your book's title. 

You don't have to give away the bank in your book; there will always be some action steps and solutions that you should save for your high-level programs. But if you're going to call what you've written a book, you do need to follow through on the promise you make in your title by giving your readers enough information to create immediate results. This might mean including some simple action steps or reflections at the end of each chapter, or case studies (NOT testimonials—those are just another incarnation of sales copy) about how your process works in real life. 

If you really don't want to reveal anything about your program, that's fine. But in that case, it's better for you, and your brand, to just be honest, and call your "book" what it is: a killer sales letter, lead magnet, or report. 

(NOTE: I may write a stand-alone blog post on this topic in the next couple of weeks, so you can learn exactly how to modify your marketing book to make it more effective for readers. Feel free to post your questions in the comments below so I can answer them in the upcoming post.)


Mistake #3: Giving too much information 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are authors who share too much in their books. Usually, this information overage includes discussion on topics which are not directly relevant to the title and topic of the book—and therefore, not directly relevant to the outcome the authors are trying to create for their readers. 

A strong outline will typically solve the problem of over-delivery. Be strategic about what you include in every chapter, section, and paragraph. For every piece of content you create, ask the question: "Will this help my readers achieve the result I've promised?" If the answer is "No," or "I'm not sure," leave it out. 


Mistake #4: Believing the "Expert Myth"

Have you ever read a book in which the author seems to making one big, long apology? Or a book where every other sentence is a quote from someone famous who isn't the author? 

If you find yourself trying to justify your every opinion, assertion, or observation with quotes from the "experts" in your field, you may be a victim of the Expert Myth. Perhaps you don't feel like you're "qualified" to say what you're saying, or teach what you're teaching. Perhaps you're having some visibility issues, and hiding behind recognized experts is the best way you know to stay hidden in the wings while still publishing a book. 

I know how you feel: I've been there. But I can also tell you, from both personal and professional experience, that playing small on the page will not help you gain the credibility you desire. In fact, it can do the opposite. 

When a reader picks up a book, it's implied that the words on its pages are the thoughts and opinions of the author. Unless you're stating actual facts and statistics (which of course should be properly cited) there is no need to back up your assertions with other people's words. After all, those words are just their opinions! 

Your readers are reading your book because they want to know what you think, and how you will help them with their current problem or situation. If they wanted to know what Dr. Z thought about it, they'd read his book instead! 

In short, trust yourself. You have something worthwhile to say—so say it with confidence. Your raving fans will thank you!  


Mistake #5: Publishing a book before it's ready

These days, it's a matter of moments to log into CreateSpace, upload your Word document, and hit "publish." It's one of the greatest things about the new world of publishing. There are no longer steadfast gateways and checkpoints through which books need to pass in order to be published, and this has made it possible for some truly great authors to share their books with the world when they would have otherwise labored in obscurity. 

But there's a reason why self-published books have historically had a bad rap in the marketplace (and why many media outlets still won't touch self-published books). Because of this new, easy publication process, anyone can put anything online and call it a book. There are no standards, no checks and balances, and no rules save those which authors set for themselves. 

Now, don't get me wrong: I am 100 percent in favor of self-publishing. In fact, most of my clients choose this route, each for his or her own reasons, and their results have been amazing. In fact, I would advise most first-time authors to self-publish (or, even better, to work with a hybrid publisher like Inspired Living Publishing, where I've been the chief editor since 2010). 

However ... 

Books published through services like CreateSpace are not subjected to even the most basic reviews and corrections—like proofreading and line editing—that are standard in traditional publishing houses, unless the author chooses to hire someone to provide them. As a result, self-published books often go to print full of typos, misused words, formatting errors, and other easily-preventable mistakes (not to mention the glaring content errors that could be eliminated by a simple re-read and revision!). This lack of attention to detail hurts the credibility of both individual authors and the self-publishing world as a whole. 

If you're considering self-publishing your book, establish a time frame and budget that include—at the very least—a professional line edit and proofread. This book will serve you and your brand for a long time to come, so make sure it's in top shape before you hit that "publish" button. 


Well, there it is, friends: my list of common author errors. I hope you found it—and my attendant suggestions—helpful! 

Happy writing! 

Bryna René Haynes is the founder and President of The Heart of Writing, the chief editor for Inspired Living Publishing, and the best-selling author of The Art of Inspiration: An Editor's Guide to Writing Powerful, Effective Inspirational and Personal Development Books. In over a decade as a writer, editor, ghostwriter, designer, and publishing consultant, she has helped hundreds of authors find their authentic voices and create powerful, memorable, successful works. She lives outside of Providence, RI, with her husband, Matthew, and their little Moonbeam, Áine.