by Barbara McNichol
In wanting to cover many aspects of a topic, business writers sometimes throw down so many variables that readers have no way to gauge the importance of each. They feel weighed down trying!
Look at these examples in business writing:
- The professor included and provided a methodology for continuing the effort.
- The state and local leaders developed and drafted numerous statutes.
- We need to appreciate and understand the factors affecting the time and place.
The “Pick One” Principle
You can lighten your readers’ load by applying the “pick one” principle. You’ll find it works for all kinds of business writing—emails, reports, manuscripts, and more.
The “pick one” principle asks: “Which word better describes what you want to say—the word before or after the and?” Then pick the one that adds more emphasis and accuracy to your meaning.
In Example 1, which word better conveys the meaning—included or provided? In this context, provided can cover the meaning for both—that is, if something is provided, we can assume it’s included. Pick one: provided.
The professor provided a methodology for continuing the effort.
Example 2 has the word and in two places, making the sentence long-winded. For developed and drafted, the more apt word is drafted because something can’t be drafted without being developed first. Pick one: drafted.
“Pick one” also applies to making a single-word substitution. For example, state and local could be changed to government without altering the meaning in this context.
The government leaders drafted numerous statutes.
In Example 3, because appreciate and understand are so close in meaning, using both is like saying it twice. “Pick one” to streamline the writing. For time and place, we could substitute a single word: situation.
We need to understand the factors affecting the situation.
Rule of Thumb in Business Writing
When you reread anything you’ve written, find all the places you’ve used and, then apply the “pick one” principle wherever possible. That way, you won’t dilute the meaning of your message or needlessly weigh down your readers.
Give them a break. Pick one!
Want more tips like this to hone your writing skills? You’ll find 18 Days to Become a Better Writer an easy-to-use e-guide. Start your journey today by clicking here. Use code 18DAYS at checkout for a discount.
Share examples of “pick one” from your own writing here.
by Barbara McNichol
Using figures of speech in our writing make it fun. Truly my favorite figure of speech is the chiasmus (ky-AZ-mus). That’s when words in a sentence mirror each other.
Politicians have made them famous (e.g., Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. – John F. Kennedy). Experts have made them accessible and even fun (e.g., Dr. Mardy Grothe’s book: Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You: Chiasmus and a World of Quotations That Say What They Mean and Mean What They Say)
My contribution to the joy of words is a 4-page Chiasmus Collection I’d like to share. Simply email me with Chiasmus Collection in the subject line.
The ones I’ve included come from years of gleaning them from authors, clients, and subscribers in my daily editing work.
A few choice examples:
It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old; they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams. – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Write only what you love, and love what you write. – Ray Bradbury
New York is the perfect model of a city, not the model of a perfect city. – Sir Lewis Mumford
What is your favorite chiasmus? Share it here!
by Barbara McNichol
What can editors tell writers and authors about improving their writing? Consider these five common writing mistakes even conscientious writers make:
Mistake #1: Being self-absorbed as a writer. With too much talk about the author’s experience of writing, you risk overlooking the reader’s experience. The fix? Use “you” more than “I” in your sentences and stay close to your core message.
Mistake #2: Addressing readers in plural rather than as a single person whose interest you want to capture. Remember, reading is a solitary pastime. The fix? Keep one person in your target audience in your mind’s eye as you write.
Mistake #3: Using a long noun phrase when an active verb will do. The fix? Whenever possible, get an active verb to do the “work” of the sentence. Instead of “the examination of the report was done by the director,” change the noun phrase to a verb and rewrite the sentence: “The director examined the report.” In this way, passive construction becomes active, reduces the word count, and delivers a more direct message.
Mistake #4: Having no clear order to the paragraphs. The fix? Once you’ve crafted a solid, compelling opening, think through how the organization and flow of your main points will best guide your reader logically to your desired conclusion. If possible, test the result with colleagues or actual readers who will give you honest feedback.
Mistake #5: Writing sentences that ramble (on and on and on and on). The fix? Limit your sentences to 15-21 words maximum. Be sure to vary sentence length to create interest.
Bonus mistake: Flat-out choosing the wrong word. Yes, in English, it’s easy to confuse common words such as “advice” instead of “advise” (among hundreds more). The fix? Use a comprehensive resource such as Word Trippers (print or ebook) to help you select the perfect word when it really matters. Want a free mini-version of Word Trippers (the ebook)? Go to http://www.WordTrippers.com
What common writing mistakes would you add to this list?
You’ve heard the expression “Author, edit thyself.” But exactly how does that apply in your everyday writing practice?
In this “Edit Thyself” series, you can take to heart practical tips that will help you clarify your writing immediately. Here are the tips in Part 3:
- Rarely use “I think” and “I believe” in your writing. Every article or book has your name on it. People can assume what you write is what you think and believe. If you must include either phrase for emphasis, do so sparingly.
- Find opportunities to use the verb form of a word rather the noun form. “Do you struggle?” is better than “Do you have struggles?” Especially look for “ion” and “ment” nouns. Transpose them into verbs and make your sentences more active. “The detective deals with the examination of the evidence.” Better: “The detective examines the evidence.”
- Put your thoughts in present tense; it’s more powerful than future tense. “This book shows you how” is more direct and stronger than “This book will show you how.” When you have the choice within the context of your piece, pick present tense.
Review of Parts 1 and 2:
- Don’t mix “we” and “you” in the same paragraph or you risk confusing readers.
- Eliminate the words “you must” and “you should” as often as possible.
- Get rid of wobbly (not meaningful) words: very, some, much, really.
- In text, use “and so on” instead of “etc.” (It’s okay to use “etc.” in a list).
- Consider using contractions such as “can’t” and “don’t” instead of “cannot” and “do not.” It speeds up the reading.
- Write for the ear. Read what you’ve written out loud to make sure it sounds right and contains no unintentionally repeated words.
- “Ask myself” and “think to myself” are redundant; consider using only the verb “ask” or “think.”
- Vary your sentence length; use no more than 21 words in a sentence as a rule.
- In text, spell out the name of a state or province; don’t use abbreviations. E.g., CO should be Colorado; SK should be Saskatchewan. (Exception: DC for District of Columbia)
Remember, no one’s wording is sacred—even yours! Self-edit with a sharp pencil (or blazing keyboard) to strengthen your message.
As you practice these points, please share your experiences here. Which ones work best for you? What tips would you like to add?
By Jerry D. Simmons (used by permision)
Publishers often make mistakes and it is important that writers are aware of the problems that can occur before the process moves along to publication.
Writers who self publish should especially be aware of common mistakes when publishing their own manuscript. Regardless of whether the publisher produces hundreds of titles or one, awareness and avoidance of common mistakes should be practiced.
Here are the seven biggest mistakes that publishers and authors make.
 Rushing to Publication
The first is rushing a manuscript to publication before the editorial process is complete or when the manuscript doesn’t deliver. Editors working inhouse are under pressure to deliver on a very tight and strict deadline to meet a publication date. The problem is that the manuscript may not be ready and ultimately will fail because of that fact. With self-publishing the pressure is off and yet too often writers tend to proceed to release date rather than correct the editorial problems.
Nothing can kill a book’s potential faster than rushing to publish a manuscript that is not ready for release. That same principle holds for the self-published who have revised and rewritten their manuscript to death and it still doesn’t work. In that case, the best approach is to avoid publication. Simply place the writing on a shelf and start something new. Rather than make a publishing mistake of this magnitude, the best advice is to delay, not destroy.
 Improper Categorization
The second mistake is placing the wrong category on a book that ends up in a spot where readers are not able to locate the title. With big publishers, this happens more than you can imagine because their goal is to segment each category into as many subgenres as possible to gain a competitive advantage.
The problem with that thinking is retailers and online sellers have caught on and now refuse to separate general categories into several sub-categories, thus making it more difficult for consumers to find individual titles or authors.
The same problem holds true for online sales where they are not fighting shelf space but still hesitate to slice and dice too many mainstream categories. This is difficult to understand but the idea seems to be keep things as simple as possible so readers will be forced to browse rather than go directly to what they want. The web site search engines help but online booksellers are smarter than we give them credit for. They have learned to throw as many titles in the face of the searcher in hopes they will purchase more than one .
 Title Mistakes
Bestselling authors seldom worry about titles; their notoriety can withstand just about anything. Not so for relatively unknown writers searching to expand their audience.
For both fiction and nonfiction, titles must provide direction for the reader. Romance writers cannot get away with titling their love story The Amazing Race or Guns for Hire. These titles send the wrong message and savvy consumers will often rush right past, regardless of the quality of the manuscript.
Title problems are especially troublesome for nonfiction where subtitles play a major part in the success of the book. If the title does not imply an immediate position for the reader, then often the book gets passed over.
If you are writing a particularly narrow niche manuscript that screams, for example, business finance, then the title should hit that nail squarely on the head. In addition, the subtitle should bring the subject into focus, making selection quick and easy.
With titles, the publisher and author get only one chance, so a mistake in this area can be fatal.
 Package Mistakes
Once the title is secure, the package or cover must convey the same message. The best advice is to browse the aisles of a local bookstore for comparison packages of similar titles and take notice of the colors, font, placement of title, and author name, whether photos or illustrations are used as opposed to simple title design without illustrations.
In this case, following the lead of the major publishers is a good idea. If they do one thing well it is package books because they have a tremendous advantage when it comes to knowing what consumers want.
Never get sentimental about specific designs that your friend or relative created for you. While a sweet gesture, if the cover misses the mark, the publication may never recover. Once the title is out in the market, trying to recall for a new look is not only difficult but costly. Plus the issue with pulling one title from the market and eventually replacing with a new one is time consuming. Leave the packaging to the experts and allow them to create a unique design for you with your specific direction. This is the best approach to book packaging.
 Pricing Mistakes
Writers value their work at a much higher level than the average consumer.
While every work has value, the truth is that the market sets the price, not the publisher or author. If fiction titles in your category are generally priced in a range separated by four dollars, it is wise to stay from the middle to the bottom of that range. It’s especially true if you are relatively unknown and building a readership. Trying to price yourself at the high end means you will compete for the same dollars as bestselling or notable and more experienced writers.
When it comes to pricing, it is easier to go up rather than go down. A reduction in price often indicates a fire sale when it comes to books and that screams failure. Special promotions with price reductions are fine but it still signals a potential problem. Consumers are smart when it comes to disposable income and they know the market when purchasing books. Price right from the beginning and avoid these issues.
 Format Mistakes
Not every manuscript should be published and not every format works for every publication.
Although this mistake is largely an issue for traditional publishers, there are mistakes that self-published authors make with regard to format. For example, print should not always be the first choice. Digital publishing makes a lot of sense when the budget is small and the readership is nonexistent. The question to ask is: why spend the majority of your budget on print when an eBook can produce the same result for much less?
Formats are the various designs for which a publication is produced. They include hardcover, trade paper, mass market paper, for the sake of the self-published a print-on-demand publication, audio and finally eBook. Publishers and authors need to consider the cost of producing each format versus the availability of distribution to reach the intended audience. Print distribution is costly and largely ineffective for the self-published. While eBook distribution is easy and open to all, print is not. Access to the marketplace combined with the marketing budget and intended audience should help to determine the format. Print often results in overprinting, which is one of the most costly format mistakes.
Publishing a paperback simultaneous with an eBook is almost standard for new writers and while both serve different markets, the marketing often cannot support both formats. The shotgun approach of publishing in many formats at once does not often work and failure in one format rarely ends in success in another. Each format requires a different marketing strategy, an approach that does not hold water for every format. Add the category and price into the thinking and it turns out not to be as simple as most think.
 Failure to Market
If a publisher or author makes mistakes in any of the six previous areas, then no amount of marketing will overcome the obvious errors in publication. If the publisher or author makes a serious mistake in any one of the six areas, then the marketing task is made more difficult. In a marketplace that is highly competitive, publishers and authors cannot afford to make even one mistake and expect to overcome the problem with marketing.
For many publishers, the most common mistake is inadequate marketing; failing to provide the title with sufficient exposure to generate sales. In that case, the title is abandoned because the schedule means more new titles are coming quickly and there is not adequate time to recover.
For the self-published, failure to market means a re-start, pulling back and starting over. Books fail to sell copies for many reasons and here are the seven most common mistakes that result in failure.
Getting all seven points correct does not mean instant success because the competition is tremendous and the market is unforgiving.
Getting all seven points correct gives the publisher and author the best opportunity at achieving success in a very tough environment.
As a writer you cannot be discouraged but rather you need to be empowered with the knowledge that you know what it takes to be successful as an author.
Luck and timing always play a major role but the best chance at meeting your personal and professional goals is to put yourself and your publication in the right position to capitalize on what may happen in the market. Don’t be afraid and don’t give up! Writing and publishing is difficult but only those with industry knowledge, skill as a writer, and a strong temperament can make it as a successful author.
Jerry D. Simmons is a 35-year veteran of New York publishing with Random House and the former Time Warner Book Group. Over the years he has worked on thousands of New York Times bestselling titles and with hundreds of New York Times bestselling authors. Today he spends his time writing about the importance of understanding the marketplace and educating writers about publishing and book marketing. Jerry can be contacted at his web site www.WritersReaders.com