5 Blunders Nonfiction Authors Make

Since I talk so much about novels, I thought I’d take a break and tell you the top five blunders nonfiction authors make. Hopefully, you’re reading this before you publish so you can avoid these mistakes.

You didn’t cite your sources.

Plagiarism is plagiarism is plagiarism. Okay? If you’re not sure if you’re plagiarizing, let me help you:

Did you quote from someone without citing the source? That’s plagiarism.

Did you use someone else’s work as if it were your own? Yes, that’s plagiarism.

I wish I could say I’ve never come across plagiarized content in my edits; but I’d be lying. Sometimes the author does it on purpose, thinking he or she will get away with it. Then there are times when the author genuinely had no clue. That’s one of the big, big perks of hiring editors: we can tell immediately if content has been plagiarized and we’ll work with you to rewrite it or cite it properly.

If citing your sources scares you, watch this quick how-to.

You didn’t choose a niche audience.

“My book is for everyone!” No, it’s not. It’s for a specific group of people: your niche audience.

My friend Paul Sohn recently wrote a book called Quarter-Life Calling: How to Find Your Sweet Spot in Your Twenties. The target audience is clear: millennials. His book isn’t geared toward sixty-year-olds, ready to retire.

If you’re not sure how to choose a target market for your book, read this.

You neglected to do your research.

The best thing about writing nonfiction is that it makes you an authority on a topic. But sometimes, authors tend to abuse that power and type with their foreheads, banging on the keyboard until they hit 50,000 words.

If you hate researching (but know that you must do so), then try some of these tried-and-true methods rather than skipping it entirely:

·      Use Trello or Evernote to organize every single part of your book

·      Write the book in Scrivener and use its card system and corkboards for organization

·      Compile all of your written content/research into a three-ring binder and label it up

Other notable blog posts on this topic:




You skipped the developmental edit.

I’m not even talking about a typical copyedit to rid the manuscript of glaring errors, apostrophe abuse, and comma misconduct. I’m talking about a big-picture edit: the developmental edit.

What’s a developmental edit? It’s when an editor evaluates and critiques a manuscript, and provides additions, deletions, and revisions.

“So you’re going to rip apart my book?” And make it better. No, scratch that. Make it salable!

Why do nonfiction authors need a developmental edit, though? Because the main goals for nonfiction authors are: 1. Be an authority on a subject; 2. Gain access to potential clients; and 3. Spread the word about a topic that they’re passionate about. So in order to achieve these goals, you have to have an well-written, well-organized book.

Basically, without a developmental edit, you could risk some really scary Amazon reviews and a punch-in-the-gut to your credibility. 

You fell into the vanity publisher trap.

Do fiction authors do this too? Sure! But why do I see more and more nonfiction authors falling deep into the vanity press abyss? Uh, because they target you, that’s why. But remember: your reputation—your credibility we were talking about—is at stake here.

Here’s how it works in case these vanity publishers are telling you “we’re the real deal—ignore those 300 bad reviews”: You pay a “publisher” to “edit,” “design,” and “market” your book for generally $4,000. (Please tell me you noticed my quotation marks.) They do a horrible editing job, an amateur design job, and they do. not. market. your. book.

You can either self-publish your book and pay a professional editor and designer, or you can get an agent and push for traditional publishing. Just remember that only 2–3% of the thousands of manuscripts submitted are accepted by traditional publishing companies.

If you have no idea how to publish to Amazon Kindle, watch this short video.

And if you need some help formatting your manuscript's chapter titles and subheadings according to The Chicago Manual of Style, watch this tutorial

There you have it! What other blunders did I miss?


An expert editor, seasoned writer, and author-centric marketer, Shayla Raquel works one-on-one with authors and business owners every day. A lifelong lover of books, she has edited over 300 books and has launched several Amazon bestsellers for her clients. Her award-winning blog teaches new and established authors how to write, publish, and market their books. She is the author of the Pre-Publishing Checklist, The Rotting (in Shivers in the Night), and her novel-in-progress, The Suicide Tree. She lives in Oklahoma with her two dogs, Chanel and Wednesday.