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The challenges of good writing

| by Ken Walker

Getting published through a traditional, royalty-paying publisher is tougher than ever. Which is why an increasing number of first-time (and even experienced) authors are turning to self-publishing. However, after reviewing a number of these books or manuscripts aiming for publication, I can say that many would-be authors fail to appreciate the competitive nature of this new side of the industry.

Judging by the comments I see in daily emails from the two professional freelancers’ groups I’m part of, many other editors agree with me. Even if you eliminate the barrier to getting into print via self-publishing, that doesn’t mean you don’t face a tough audience. 

Thanks to an ever-increasing number of books, e-books, online sites, apps, et. al., competing for everyone’s attention, a poorly-written—and sometimes not even edited—product is still destined for the dustbin of history.

Manuscript flaws

Here are three leading flaws I observe regularly in manuscripts.

1) Passive tense usage—the most common. When working on an article or book chapter, go through it with a red pen (or use a red highlighter on your electronic pad) and mark all the uses of “was,” “were,” “is,” “would be” and so forth. Then ask yourself if it possible to reword the sentence to get rid of passive tense usage and make the verbs active. (Don’t go too far. Sometimes “was” is the best word to use.)

For example, if you wrote, “Her ideas could only be formed from what he had presented to her,” you can change it to: “She could only form her ideas on the basis of his presentations.” The idea is to remove the “be formed” and “had presented.”

2) Consistency in tense structure. Are you talking in the first person and relating everything from your point of view? Namely, “I think it’s wise to consider . . .” or the plural, “We should consider  . . .” Or, do you want to reflect a second-person perspective, i.e., “You will want to consider.” Or the third-person (the most common in fiction and academic writing): “Experts say the wisest consideration . . .” 

What I often encounter is authors who routinely jump back and forth from “I” to “me” to “you” to “us,” which makes trying to line everything up a head-spinning exercise. If someone were to say, “You can attack us all you want, but you’ll never hurt me,” would you wonder exactly who they were talking about?

3) Focus. One of the best pieces of advice I got early in my freelance career concerned outlining a book and naming each chapter, with everything in that chapter pointing back toward that title. And then to point everything in the chapters as a whole to the book’s title. 

Too often, authors wander off on tangents or try to present a cornucopia of ideas in the same chapter. Focus is a key, as illustrated by the author I helped with his first book several years ago. He recently sent a request asking for prayer, that God help him decide which of several ideas to select for his next book.

Feedback can help

You may be facing a similar dilemma, which is where some kind of focus group or life coach can help you narrow your decision-making to the best alternative(s). 

We all need help, especially when it comes to the sometimes-maddening endeavor known as writing. Don’t go it alone.

Ken Walker

An experienced freelancer, Ken Walker devotes much of his time to ghosting, co-authoring and editing books and blogs. He edits material for several contributors to Biblical Leadership. A member of the Christian PEN (Proofreaders and Editors Network), he has co-authored, edited or contributed to more than 60 books. You can see samples of his work or ask about his services by going to or by e-mailing

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This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.
Isaiah 48:17 (NLT)
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