Imagine yourself sitting on a NASA strategic planning team. Your group is tasked with organizing the launch of the next spacecraft. Then the subject turns to how the module will be powered into orbit.

“Okay,” the voice at the head of the table begins. “This probably doesn’t need to be an overly long discussion, but what fuel should we use to launch the spacecraft?”

“I have an idea,” you say as you shrug and wave your hand in the air.

“My Hyundai gets really good gas mileage, like 38 miles per gallon. And, it would probably save us a little money. So, I think we should consider using good old unleaded fuel this time around.

“My cousin told me that E-85 might work well, too.”

Everyone stares down at the conference table.


Wanna get away?

Avoid the Most Common Writing Mistakes

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been writing about the most common mistakes I read in manuscripts written by first-time authors.

In “A Simple Fix to Make Your Book More Readable”, I explain the importance of white space, both on your cover and in your manuscript.

Last week, I discussed the “The Most Overlooked Hook in Your Manuscript.” Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you NEED to incorporate dialogue into your manuscript. This article offers some simple tips that make it easy.

To launch your masterpiece into the stratosphere, skip the unleaded or premium unleaded. Don’t even consider the E-85. You need rocket fuel to launch your book.

And where do you start?

Click here to explore the possibilities of your book with Michael J. Klassen.

The Verb Must Be Superb

Let’s begin by going back to my favorite teacher of all time—Father Sam Gantt, my Greek professor in grad school.

“Any time you translate a foreign language,” Father Sam would tell us, “always begin with the verb. The verb, by itself, gives you an idea of what the sentence is about.”

The verb.

Never underestimate the power of the verb in your sentence to take your manuscript to new heights.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Fire the “to be” verb whenever possible.

What’s the worst way to begin a manuscript? Starting with “There are” or “There is.” I never, ever, ever begin an introduction or a chapter with those words.

The “to be” verb is the weakest verb in the English language. “Am”, “are”, “is”, “were”, and “was” qualify as “to be” verbs, but they don’t really tell the reader anything about the action.

Regular unleaded.

Sometimes you can’t avoid them, but if you can, do it.

Avoid vague verbs like the plague.

Words like “have”, “had”, “get”, “got”,  and “went” don’t do anything to power your sentence. In fact, employ too many of them, and they’ll give your manuscript boils and hives.

It’s like adding leaded gas (remember that??) to your Lamborghini.

Rather than:

“Why do I have to do my homework?”

Instead, write:

“Why are you forcing me to do my homework?”

Even better:

“Why are you forcing me to finish my homework?”

Specificity works like an additional booster to the rocket.

Rather than:

“John and Sheila went to Orlando for their vacation.” (“Went” doesn’t tell you anything.)

Any of the following would add rocket fuel to your manuscript:

“John and Sheila drove to Orlando for their vacation.”

“John and Sheila flew to Orlando for their vacation.”

Even better:

“John and Sheila rode a roller coaster to Orlando for their vacation.”

Wouldn’t your readers like to see that???

Kill the passive voice.

The ugly step-cousin of the “to be” verb, a passive verb rears its ugly head when the subject receives the action rather than doing it.

Passive voice:

“The cake was eaten by the girl.”

“The fish was caught by the bear.”

“The books were collected by him.”

Notice that “was” or “were” appear in the aforementioned passive sentences?

I love active verbs. When the verb is active, the subject of the verb is doing the action.

Active voice:

“She ate the cake.”

“The bear caught the fish.”

“He collected the books.”

In the passive voice you would say, “The prisoner got caught by the guards.”

The prisoner is the subject of the sentence here, and the guards are the object. In the active voice, this would be reversed—but the meaning would remain the same: “The guards caught the prisoner.”

Sometimes, passive verbs need to appear in your writing, but if at all possible, stay away.

And here’s a freebie…

Begin your bullet points with an active verb.

When creating a bulleted list, I love to lead with an active verb. This works on emails, resumes, and back cover copy.

Below are some excerpts of back cover copy from two Illumify books.

The first is a religious book that we released not long ago titled Becoming a Face of Grace by Ed Khouri. Here’s what we did.

When we embrace the true biblical definition of grace, we

  • Enjoy spiritual transformation for the long haul
  • Engage in healthier relationships, free from codependency
  • Experience deeper intimacy with God and others
  • Encounter real joy

Rocket fuel.

A couple of years ago, we released an excellent travel book titled Uniquely Crete by Melanie Crane. Here’s an excerpt:

Guided by her unique voice and vivid descriptions you will

  • Discover remote, off-the-beaten-path beaches like Gialskari
  • Experience the quirks and customs of everyday life
  • Meet heartwarming characters like Nick the Greek storyteller
  • Explore the culture, history, cuisine and customs of the special Greek people and expats who call this island home

Don’t opt for unleaded, premium unleaded, or even K-85. To launch your book into orbit, use rocket fuel by carefully choosing the right verbs, preferably active verbs.

But You Still Need More Than Rocket Fuel

You can add rocket fuel to the tank, but if the rocket itself isn’t designed and built by skilled engineers, the rocket is doomed to crash.

Despite the valuable cargo (YOUR MESSAGE) inside.

Publishing a book that soars above the rest isn’t easy. You need a team of seasoned professionals who will work with you to make it the best it can be.

The Illumify team averages 20+ years in traditional publishing (think HarperCollins and MacMillen) and we’re dedicated to guiding you through the traditional publishing process so your book looks, feels, and reads like a traditional release.

Why invest hundreds of hours into your manuscript and then publish a mediocre book that ultimately drives readers away?