An aspect of book writing that I find few people address today is credibility. How credible are you? How much do you really know about the subject you are writing about? Are you sure that you have checked every fact or statistic that you cite? Have you given your readers enough information to make your point and express your theme, or is your book just a tease? Worse yet, is the theme of your book really “all about me,” an exercise in telling others how wonderful you are?
I’ve often said that there is no better way to increase your credibility than by writing a book. But the reverse of this is also true. Publishing a book on a subject with which you are not familiar, don’t have enough experience to discuss adequately or citing facts that are incorrect, is the quickest way I know to destroy your credibility as an author.
It’s true, the digital age has made it much easier for everyone to publish a book on almost any subject, but that also means that instead of a publishing company vetting the authors and their work before it is printed, these days it is the reader who is scrutinizing and assessing the work after it has been published. If readers believe the book or the author are lacking in credibility they will quickly tell the world – on their blogs, on their Facebook pages, and in reviews on Amazon and other sites. Here are a few things to watch to make sure that you do not lose credibility with your readers.
• Be Authentic: If you are writing about something you know, how you help but be authentic as a writer? Sometimes a writer finds himself working too hard to impress the reader, either because he is showing off or because he is not comfortable with who he is or with his subject matter.
“I know what the problem has been,” one of the writers I’ve been coaching told me recently. She had been struggling with her writing for several weeks and it had been going very slowly. “I’ve been trying so hard to be cutting edge, because I thought I needed to be. But I realize I’m just not that person. Now that I’m writing as myself, it is going a lot faster.”
Trying to use a persona that did not feel authentic was holding her back. Luckily, she figured out the problem long before her book was published. Whether you are cutting edge or folksy or humorous or professional, your book needs to reflect your personality. If you do not, that lack of authenticity will show in your work and hurt book sales. Not because it is not written well, it may be written quite well, but because you will not be comfortable with your book and therefore will end up not marketing it.
• Get the facts right. This is a much greater crime in the world of credibility that an inauthentic voice. An author must always make sure that the facts he writes are correct. Large newspapers and magazines usually have a fact checking staff that goes over articles before they are published. The staff checks that statements are true, the statistics are correct, and often call people who have been interviewed and quoted in an article to make sure that they agree that they said exactly what they are quoted as saying.
As an author you are liable for what you write. There are legal ramifications to misquoting a person. Your credibility will be at risk if you print incorrect statistics or facts that are easily checked.
There are fact checking services that you can hire to verify your statistics, quotes, etc., but let’s face it, most first time authors don’t have that kind of money. Luckily, there are public libraries and of course, the Internet, to help you. When you use the Internet for your research, be careful. There is as much, or more, misinformation available on the web as there is correct information. Make sure that the sites you use are reputable and the writers of those sites have checked their facts before you repeat their mistakes.
• Get Permission. There are specific rules, some legal, some grammatical on when and how to use a quote from a person or from written material. As a writer, you don’t want your intellectual property to be violated. Extend the same courtesy to others. Use a style manual (there are several listed in the resources section of this book) to make sure that you follow the grammatical rules for citing or footnoting your references. If you have any doubts about the legality of using a particular reference, consult an intellectual property specialist.
• Reciprocal Testimonials. In my book Sell Your Book! 100 Tips and Tactics I discuss the value of testimonials for marketing your book. Testimonials from experts in your field, other authors and from readers are important, but testimonials can also backfire – and I don’t just mean the problem of getting a negative review.
Certainly your friends and family will want to place a review of your book on Amazon or your website, and it can be a good decision to ask some of them to do so – but not your mother. Or your spouse, or anyone with the same last name – unless, of course you have a last name that is common, such as Miller. If I told everyone who shares my last name they shouldn’t write a review of my book, I’d be cutting out a large portion of the population. If your last name is unusual, however, it’s a dead giveaway to other readers that there’s a little bit of nepotism going on.
Smart authors know that giving testimonials to other authors is one way to get their name and book mentioned online on another person’s website or on Amazon.com or in your book. Writing reviews can be an excellent way to increase your credibility. But make sure that the people you ask are reading your book and giving an honest, thoughtful review.
A generic review by a popular author or well-known expert that sounds just exactly like all the other reviews he or she has written will not have much value. In addition, if you ask for a review, reciprocation may be implied. A few months down the road the reviewer may ask you for a review in return. Again, make sure that you read the book and give an honest review of it. If you sing the praises of a book that you don’t like or feel is not well-written, you will hurt your own credibility.
• Over simplification and lack of substance. When you write a book you are proclaiming yourself an expert in that subject. If you are not, it will show. Before you start writing your book, ask yourself if you really have the knowledge and experience to discuss your subject thoroughly and on the level of your target reader.
For example, writing books about health, nutrition and weight loss is extremely popular these days. It seems that everyone who has lost some weight thinks they are an expert on diets. But are they really? Yes, any number of celebrities have written successful diet books, but do they really have credibility as a weight loss expert? Have the books helped or hurt these celebrities (usually actors) in their chosen field of performance.
You are probably not a celebrity, but you do have a reputation among your colleagues, friends and family. Make sure that your book appropriately reflects your knowledge and experience. If you don’t have the experience to back up your words it will show in your writing.