Thursday, January 20, 2005

37 Tips for Authors by Kathleen Epperson

This piece is an excellent guide for aspiring writers,
either a book writer, an essay writer or for any form
of writing.

1. Whet our appetite. Grab our attention with your title
and first sentence. Occasionally allude to fascinating
subjects you're covering in later chapters. Make your
book so engaging we can't put it down!

2. Write as if you're speaking to us. Is your writing
style friendly, personable and caring? Does it excite,
motivate and compel us to act? If writing this way isn't
easy for you, try transcribing tapes of your lectures.

3. Keep your sentences short, crisp and to the point.
Make it easy for busy managers to grasp key points.
Start each paragraph with your point, then explain it.
(This is the opposite of good academic writing.) Can
you replace "and" with a period? Where does the text
drag? What could you cut to reduce repetition?

4. Talk benefits. What's in it for us? What do we gain by
following your advice? Are there any economic advantages?

5. Ask Socratic questions. Involve us by asking questions
that stimulate our thinking. Use questions to help us
view situations differently and acquire new insights.

6. Relate your ideas to the "real" world. If your strength
is abstract thinking, is your book too theoretical? Make
it easy for us to grasp your message. Give lots of
examples. Paint vivid pictures with simple details we
can see, hear, taste, feel and smell.

7. Put yourself in the book. Writing is a tool for
connecting with others -- and ultimately for being
loved. Share anecdotes about your pertinent experiences.
What are your concerns? Your dreams? Your challenges?

8. Dare to be yourself. Tell your truth. Real emotion is
refreshing to read (and write).

9. Respect "them." Act as if there is a positive intention
behind every behavior -- even unacceptable behavior.
How might doing this affect the way you write about
people who have different values?

10.Don't imply you know what's best for us. Avoid
statements like "you should" or "you must" that treat
us like children.

11.Create controversy. Shock us by making an amazing
claim, then back it up with facts.

12.Acknowledge the shadow. Voice concerns and reactions
we might have to your ideas. What is the downside to
implementing your suggestions? The challenges?

13.Make sure your text flows. Make your book fun to read
and easy to understand by having engaging ideas,
specific examples, simple sentences, clear punctuation,
and connective passages between sections and before new
ideas. Do the modifying phrases and invented words,
which sounded great in speeches, flow well in print?

14.Avoid passive verbs. Active verbs are stronger. Active
verbs in the present tense make your message feel

15.Avoid jargon and big words. You get more punch with
one-syllable words.

16.Avoid double negatives. They take too much work to

17.Kick "but" out of your vocabulary. Use the word "but"
with great discretion. It contradicts what you've just

18.Break punctuation rules consciously - not out of
ignorance. Here are two rules authors commonly break
by mistake: (1) The only words not capitalized in
chapter titles are conjunctions, prepositions and
articles less than four letters long. (2) Nouns
followed by a number that indicates sequence are
capitalized (e.g. Chapter 2); except the following
nouns stay lower case: line, note, page, paragraph,
size, step, and verse. A good source for punctuation
rules is The Gregg Reference Manual by William A.
Sabin (Glencoe/McGraw-Hill).

19.Use numbers. People like to see specific numbers
in titles (e.g. "37 Tips"). Numbered lists make it
easier to find and remember information. Numbers
on "how-to" steps help us implement your suggestions.

20.Highlight key ideas. Set off eye-catching ideas in
boxes. Start numbered paragraphs with the main point
in bold type.

21.Add quotes. Reinforce your message by adding
appropriate quotes -- especially interesting ones
we haven't seen elsewhere.

22.Illustrate your ideas. Use charts to show your
concepts graphically. Would cartoons enhance your
text? How can we refer to topics quickly? Would
an index help?

23.Define your terms. Can we guess the meaning of
acronyms and unfamiliar words from the context?

24.Exaggerate with caution. An exaggeration can be fun.
It can make a point effectively. Yet, if we
misunderstand and take it literally, we might doubt
your credibility.

25.Build your credibility. What experiences contribute
to your being an expert in this subject? Do you cite

26.Tell what you are going to say, say it, then tell us
what you said. This classic advice is good for writing
-- and for making speeches when you go on your book

27.Tell us why. Don't just tell us what to do. Tell us
why you think this is important.

28.Stimulate our minds. Write something original that
causes us to stop and take notice or make us gasp
with delight at seeing a new slant on something

29.Offer a smorgasbord of insights. Some authors have
one brilliant idea, which they repeat "ad nauseam."
Instead, if you offer a wealth of insights gained
from years of observing and soul searching, we can
find tidbits to abate our intellectual and spiritual

30.Model good ways of doing things. Do you help us
visualize new behavior? For example do you write
dialogue that demonstrates effective communication

31.Spice your book with humor. Make us chuckle. Drop
in a few puns. Books that sparkle with humor are
fun to read.

32.Be positive and upbeat. Even when describing
depressing global conditions, can you report
any good news? What's working?

33.Touch our hearts and renew our hope. Do you make
our hearts sing? Do you enkindle hope we can
achieve our deepest dreams?

34.Inspire us. Do your stories let us feel the
exhilaration of surmounting obstacles and
reaching goals? Do they motivate us to take
small, incremental steps that make a difference?

35.Know your audience. Are you addressing your readers'
concerns? Are you saying what we need to hear? If
your book is translated into many languages, will
international readers understand the idioms, similes
and metaphors?

36.Invite feedback. Some authors publish interesting
second books based on their readers' comments and

37.Find a good critic. Increase the chances that your
book will be a compelling read by finding a
critical reviewer for your draft manuscript. Do you
have a developmental editor who points out flaws
and makes suggestions for improvement?

Kathleen Epperson is an Organization Effectiveness
consultant and developmental editor. She would love
to know if these tips help you write a best seller.
You can reach her by emailing

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