This blog was featured on 07/21/2016
The 10 Biggest Mistakes New Authors Make

I have to preface this post by noting how easy it is to make mistakes when you're on the road to becoming a published author. This is an emotional journey, and ego can sometimes get in the way. Then there's the many details you must hold, which even publishers get wrong from time to time. I've experienced firsthand the pain of a few or more projects that went to print with pretty egregious problems. And it hurts. Sometimes entire print runs are destroyed as a result. These top 10 mistakes are among the most common I see in my work with authors. Some are about mindset and others are more technical oversights. If you've made any of these mistakes, you're in good company. The best we can do is learn, and spread the word so others take heed.

1. Believing what they want to hear.

This one’s tough to begin with, but writers need to hear it. Many authors get derailed from their projects or coaxed into doing something with their books that goes against their better judgment. This can happen with traditional publishing when an agent or editor tells you to change your project because they’re sure they can sell your book. It happens with subsidy publishing companies that try to sell you all sorts of stuff you don’t need. At this stage of the game, as hard as it might be, it’s time to start to treat your book like a product, not a baby. Having too much emotional attachment can lead to problems.

2. Not taking advantage of every available digital platform.

A lot of authors decide to publish their e-book right out of the gate with Kindle Select, forgoing opportunities to publish on Nook and other digital platforms because they figure all that really matters is Amazon. This is a lost opportunity. If you’re publishing traditionally, this one won’t apply to you, but no matter how you publish your e-book, publish widely. Especially now, when plenty of readers are choosing not to buy from Amazon.

3. Deciding that they don't need a marketing campaign, or starting one too late.

Marketing starts way way before your book is published. Many new authors decide they're not going to market their book, until their book comes out and nothing is happening. It's not selling and they don't know what to do. Then they try to hire a publicist, but it's generally too late. I've worked with a number of women who've had to come around to the idea that they are worthy of spending money on a marketing campaign. These are extra dollars, and the psychological barrier can be high, but really all authors in this day and age—self- or traditionally published—should hire a book publicist.

4. Believing that more is better.

More is not always better, and you want to be careful about what you’re signing on for. Many subsidy publishers, for instance, offer publishing packages that include a host of items, which sometimes sound so impressive that you feel like you’re getting A LOT for your money. However, things like your Library of Congress number, your ISBN, or filing your copyright are services that cost the publisher next to nothing. Be wary. I’ve seen subsidy publishers offering things like book trailers, postcards, and even trips to Book Expo in New York to the tune of thousands of dollars. Don’t get stars in your eyes. Use your money wisely and shop around.

5. Going renegade.

This is easy to do. Many authors go renegade because they’re trying to save money. They feel that they’ll “figure it out” as they make their way through the publishing process. I assure you that going renegade will cost you in the long run. Invest in a single consultation with an expert to better understand your options and what makes sense for you. Be realistic about how much you actually understand about publishing. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Don’t overspend for no good reason (point #4), but don’t skimp on getting necessary help, either.

6. Not doing enough research on who they’re publishing with.

Many authors just follow ads to a certain publishing solution and stop there. It’s important to do due diligence and research. There are thousands of posts online about the difference between CreateSpace and Ingram Spark, for instance. There are a whole host of partnership publishers (like She Writes Press, Turning Stone Press, and Inkshares) popping up all over the place. Many of them are mission-driven and operate totally outside of the traditional or self-publishing model. Ask for references, and make sure you feel good about the company you’re going to be doing business with. You might also want to check the author-advocate site Editors & Predators just to see what’s what.

7. Believing that “traditional” is better, no matter what.

This mindset will limit your publishing opportunities. I’ve seen authors languish for years (literally) in the space of trying to find an agent or waiting for an agent to secure a publishing deal. Traditional publishing is also suffering in two distinct ways: the barriers to entry are so high that it’s alienating its base; and it’s so focused on author platform and “big books” that it’s losing relevance fast. Many more authors than ever before are opting out of traditional publishing for more control and better profit margins on their sales. It’s cool to aspire to traditionally publish, but if you’re not getting bites, don’t let your book die on the shelf just because you harbor some sort of judgment about alternative publishing paths.

8. Failing to get sample product.

If you’re going to publish with a hybrid or partnership press, or even if you’re going to print your self-published book with CreateSpace or Ingram Spark, get samples! If the company won’t provide them for free, invest the $10 to order one of its books from Amazon. You want to see how the books look and feel. Most authors I work with do not ask for samples, and this is putting a lot of faith into the hands of a company that’s producing something so important to you.

9. Not hiring professionals.

A lot of self-published authors skimp on editorial and production, but it’s such a bad mistake. Every book should be copyedited and proofread—ideally more than once. There are so elements to track when it comes to book design, and it’s incredibly easy to make mistakes. Over the course of my career as an editor and publisher I’ve seen all the many mistakes that get caught post-production, and this is with a professional team working on books. Things like running heads, pagination, tables of contents aligned with chapter titles and page numbers—the list goes on and on. Have someone who knows what they’re doing review your laid-out pages too. It’s crucial to review, review, and review again prior to printing your book.

10. Choosing a print run over print-on-demand (POD).

Some authors should get a print run, but most should not. Unless you absolutely know you can sell 1,000 copies within the first year of publication, don’t get a print run. And brace yourself for the fact that selling this many copies is a lot harder to do than you might think. Too many authors naively believe that they will easily sell thousands of copies. I’d urge you to start to consider that selling 1,000 copies as a self-published author constitutes a success. Many of your sales, you must remember, will be e-books. POD is awesome because you only pay for what you sell, so, for the vast majority of you, POD is a smart business decision.

If you're willing, share a mistake you made, and let us know if it was fixable, or how you dealt with the fallout.


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  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    Thanks for sharing this, Pamela. It's such a learning curve!

  • Pamela Olson

    I published my first book through CreateSpace, and sold about 700 copies pretty quickly (I had a big mailing list). Then a reader wrote me an email politely mentioning about 30 typos. (I had asked folks to write me if they found any typos.) That's only about two per chapter, and most people hardly noticed it. But I was pretty bummed. Luckily CreateSpace let me revise the print version for free. So pretty quickly there was a "Second Edition"! My hope is that some day that typo-riddled "First Edition" will be a collector's item, like that stamp with the upside-down plane. :P

  • Sending my book out before it was ready. It's had to know when its ready because I love it and the characters in it. I think it's so cool that I even wrote it. And besides my mom said it wad good so I thought it was ready. That was about seven (Seven!) revisions ago. Have someone who doesn't love you, read your book critically and then listen to them. Don't read it to your dog either. Never works.

  • I made the mistake of thinking I HAD to go the traditional "print" book route. Boy was I wrong. Now, pretty much everything I put out is in digital format -- only... 

  • Carla Ann Waluck

    Thank you so much for this.  I have NO experience is the marketing field and I feel very much out of my element.  I had no idea I could get hepl in that area.  

  • Brooke, thanks and I will.

  • Thanks for the comments, everyone. Grateful!

    Marta, in terms of finding a publicist, this requires a lot of looking around. We do have some recommended publicists on so you can certainly start there. :)

  • Thank you, Brooke!  I've learned so much through everything that's been shared on SheWrites and have a good idea about what I'd do differently with the publishing process for my next manuscript. Even books published by small publishers might as well be self-published, except that I had a great copy editing team to work with, who chose the layout and helped with publicity, but only on Amazon, really.

    I've also read scores of typos in the self-published books I have read, too, and fount them very distracting. That editing is so important to the polished delivery of a book!

  • Brook, great article thank you! I am looking to publish VIRGINS, the 1st book of my science-fiction/fantasy trilogy and you article has come to me at a perfect time. I belong and have belonged to many writ in sites and groups and have heard of the terrors of self publishing. Please tell me how to find a publicist.

  • Thanks for another piece of my education in the world of publishing.  You're a wealth of knowledge Brooke!

  • Gretchen Schmelzer

    This was really helpful to read as someone headed into the process--thanks!

  • Great suggestions! I've made a couple of those mistakes - especially on my second book. It's a live-and-learn life!