Elements of Style to Turn Your Manuscript Into a Polished Book

You’ve got a rough draft and feel like each chapter contains the right elements to be presented in the right order. Off to the printer or book agents, right? Not so fast, Speed Racer. It’s time to evaluate the chapters and add the bells and whistles that will make the reading experience amazing for your readers.

You want to set a format that each chapter will follow. Some people do this first, but I do it last because you don’t know what kind of book it’s going to be until it’s written. Once you have the text, it’s much easier to write short anecdotes to introduce each section—or pull them from the material you already generated--and include sidebars for further reading suggestions and taglines at the ends of the chapters to make the work feel more cohesive.

An engaging book isn’t just written with interesting words and ideas, but it’s also structured in a way that holds your attention. A consistent format from chapter to chapter will make it easier for your readers to continue where they left off and quickly get into the groove of your voice as a writer.

Confused yet? Let me explain. You might want to start or end each chapter with a story/anecdote that illustrates the chapter’s main ideas. Other writers might begin each chapter with a preview of what will be discussed. If you are using sub-section headlines, they should be uniform in size and font and be present consistently throughout the text.

Here’s a list of elements you might add to give the chapters structure and cohesion:

  •         Start or end each chapter with a case study or anecdote
  •         Start or end each chapter with a quotation·        
  •         Start each chapter with a preview and context for its content
  •         Include sidebars with references for further information
  •         Chop long paragraphs into bulleted lists—like this one J
  •         Information-explanation-example for introducing new ideas
  •         Create tables for complicated information to avoid repetition and lengthy explanations
  •         Include graphs, charts, and photos (have permission, of course!)
  •         End each chapter with tips for continued practice
  •         End each chapter with a list of questions for applying the information

Look for places when you might have written some of the style elements organically, and consider whether it makes sense to find more like it and bring forth a consistent pattern. Can you easily think of a story for each chapter, or is that quite difficult? Determine which style elements fit most easily within your existing text, and it won’t take long to unify the entire document.

Some authors write books backward from the way I have described in these blogs. There is nothing wrong with working from this blog backward in time and beginning with the outline of the book’s format, along with the subject headings where you will draft your ideas.

I am not a fan of this approach because very often, we don’t know what we think about something until we write about it, and the book you think of when you begin the process is not the book you actually write when you finish. Being locked into a preset format can stifle that agility and make you very unhappy; a.k.a. “writer’s block.”

What other elements of style are present in books you love? What elements of style are in your manuscript right now? I’d love to know which elements I listed that are the most helpful to you. Please comment below, and remember that our 50% off book coaching, manuscript editing, and ghost writing expires April 30, 2017.