Rita Lewis

Welcome to guest blogger Rita Lewis! I recently wrote about the types of support you might need while working on a book project. If you hire only one person to help you, my top recommendation is an editor—and Rita is my editor, so I am delighted to have her sharing her advice here.

When she’s not fixing my prose, Rita works with other clients as a freelance writer and editor. She has a special interest and talent in helping nonprofits and arts organizations write case statements and related communications. For more information, view her LinkedIn profile.

Every time a reader opens a new book, it’s a new experience. The reader must decide: Is it worth the risk? Should I jump in? And if I jump, will my trust be rewarded, or betrayed?

Consistency spoken here

A book is a one-sided conversation; as the author, you can’t shake hands or make eye contact to gain your readers’ trust. You must earn it with the written word, creating a “safe” experience that allows trust to develop in your reader.

You accomplish this difficult yet fruitful task through consistency—conveying a clear message in a dependable way. Consistency takes two main forms:

  • Consistency of message: If your message is inconsistent—if the concepts are all over the place, or your content wanders away from its intended audience—your readers will not trust it.
  • Editorial consistency: If the way you convey your message is inconsistent—if it lacks editorial integrity, or your terminology is “flexible”—your readers won’t be able to trust it.

Your message and the way it’s communicated must be consistent for your readers to trust what you’re saying, and to trust you to say it.

Build message consistency with 3 Ws

When you first dream of writing a book, it may be very… dreamlike. Fuzzy details. Fleeting impressions. Concepts that come and go. That’s OK. A book project often starts this way.

But as your book takes on solid form and purpose, you should be able to articulate WHAT you want to say, WHO you want to say it to, and WHY you want to say it. Your book must stay true to your message, audience, and purpose.

Stand ready to correct course if…

  • Your WHAT strays off point. Pet concepts that don’t belong in your book have a way of sneaking in because you love them so. Find the courage or a good editor to show them the door.
  • Your WHO feels neglected or misunderstood. If you speak in a tone-deaf voice to your target audience, or start addressing a different audience, your reader will think, “Hey—I thought she was here for ME” before putting your book aside, disappointed.
  • Your WHY isn’t consistent with itself. If your aim is to influence a broad segment of your industry as a thought leader, but your book spends a lot of real estate on selling your services, it will lack internal consistency.

A book coach or developmental editor can help pull your message from the mists of inspiration onto the firm footing of consistency. If you’re like every other writer on the planet, you could also use help checking for flow—one concept should lead to the next, to the next, and so on, so your reader can follow easily.

Consistency of message must happen first. It’s skeleton and muscle—without it, your book will struggle to move forward.

Develop editorial consistency, with style!

Strict grammatical rules determine whether you use “affect” or “effect,” “your” or “you’re,” “a lot” or “alot” (which is not a word, by the way!).

Editorial consistency is more about word usage (or editorial style) and terminology. Which words will you capitalize? Will you use the Oxford comma? Will you call a large, ongoing endeavor a “project” or a “program”?

It doesn’t really matter as long as you’re consistent. If you flip-flop on how to punctuate or spell certain words, or which terms to use, it will affect your reader.

For example, if you call yourself a “coordinator” in one place and a “director” in another, even readers who “know” what you’re trying to say may hesitate while they translate. Readers who can’t immediately reconcile the discrepancy will be confused. (Did he mean…? Is she talking about the same thing here, or a different thing?)

Beware your micro-expressions

Editorial inconsistencies distract the detail-minded and former English teachers to the point of… distraction. They can’t even focus on your message. Other readers may register these disconnects only on a subliminal level—but they WILL notice.

You know those films of people caught in a lie, who give themselves away with a micro-expression? Think of editorial inconsistencies as micro-expressions on the “face” of your book. Even a little thing like inconsistently capitalizing a term may nag at a reader’s mind and plant a seed of doubt about you—the would-be authority.

An editor may use a stylebook (like the Chicago Manual of Style) to achieve editorial consistency. You can use a style sheet—just a blank sheet of paper to note your editorial decisions on terms, punctuation, and capitalization. You get to make your own house rules as long as you’re consistent using them.

The result: an experience that readers can trust

Consistency is about building trust with your readers and honoring that trust. Even little irregularities are a big deal when they cause confusion and disappointment in readers, and discord within the book itself.

Reward your readers for their risk taking—they didn’t have to open your book! Be clear, be dependable, be consistent so your readers can trust you and your message.