9 Mistakes New Authors Make
Being a writer can feel isolating. For many of us, our daily practices are solitary. Although fellow authors (like me) are happy to share tips and socialize through video, social media and by networking, the details of the day-to-day process can get lost in translation. Because of this, new authors may find that they’ve missed some steps along the way when the time comes to publish.
Below are the top 9 regrets or questions that arise when new authors come to me for help. This list comes from my own experience as a writer, an author’s assistant, and as a direct publishing consultant.
1. Not Building An Audience Before You Publish
You will be disappointed if you go into your writer’s cave, emerge six months later with your manuscript in hand, and expect big bucks. More likely you’ll be faced with a little choir of crickets.
Looking for representation? I hate to tell you that the first thing an agent looks at is your platform numbers, so you also should be considering your audience during the whole process of creating your book.
To avoid the painful mistake of having no platform (one from which many authors never recover), you need to build an audience while you are writing. Split your time between writing your book, building excitement around its release and interacting with your audience to find out what they want. Your readers can also provide you with new ideas and direction for your content. As you are growing your audience, make sure to encourage follows, subscribes, connects and likes.
2. Overpricing (or Underpricing)
I’m going to focus on the Amazon Store because that’s probably where most of your sales will happen. For other online booksellers, you need to find the pricing guidelines and you need to read them!
On Amazon, pricing your book outside of its desired range makes the difference between 35% and 70% royalties. Here’s the basic info for Kindle. If you price in the correct bracket — between $2.99 and $9.99 — you get 70%. Price outside of that and you get a scant 35%. So that one’s a no-brainer.
It’s slightly trickier when it comes to print. You want to research your competitors and price to match. Market research is important at every phase of your book development. If you price yourself too high (above your competitors) without positioning your book as a luxury item (they do exist but they are normally coffee-table books), this will price you out of the game.
3. Buying a Hybrid or Fully-Assisted Self-Publishing Package
Don’t misunderstand: as a self-publisher you can and should ask for help. At the very least, you will need help with the production and printing of your book. (You don’t have a printing press in your garage, right?) My job is assisting authors with self-publishing and occasionally with traditional publishing. Publishing is complicated; we all need advice and support.
What I’m talking about here is buying one of those big, impersonal packages that supposedly includes everything but delivers disappointing results across the board.
These cost thousands of dollars (or more) in many cases and what you get are cookie-cutter results; callous (if not rude) support; false promises of ‘getting discovered’ (whatever that means); loss of your distribution rights and loss of control over how your book is positioned, priced and marketed.
I’ve had to clean up the mess for several authors who bought one of these questionable packages. Extracting them and their book from the contract they signed was extremely difficult.
These companies are not all bad; all I’m saying is ‘buyer beware’!
4. Not Understanding ISBNs
For paperbacks and hardcovers, the rule is straightforward. You need an ISBN for any printed variation of your book. It’s mandatory unless you are selling directly through your own website or through something like a conference or swap-meet booth.
Amazon has its own proprietary numbers system (ASINs), so if you are absolutely certain that the Kindle version of your book is all you’ll be selling and you will not sell anywhere other than Amazon, an ASIN is all you need. You can change to an ISBN if you need to at a later date.
Here’s where it gets tricky: beyond Amazon Kindle, you need a new and separate ISBN for your paperback, hardback, audiobook, different formats of your ebook, and for any other unique commercial version of the content. Your Nook, iBook and Kobes need separate and unique numbers in many cases. Also, keep in mind that if you make significant changes to your book (such as major text revisions, a change of publisher, repackaging your book as a set, or a change of title) then again, you will need new ISBNs.
If you buy your ISBN from companies like BookBaby it is important to realize that they become your publisher. This allows them to tell you where you can sell your book and by whom it is distributed. If you’re like me, you’re not keen on that.
For you to retain full control over your book, you can buy your ISBN direct from the ISBN agency for your country. In the US, the ISBN agency is Bowker.
One ISBN costs $125. Remember you will need one for each unique book product — paperback, hardback and each type of ebook — so your best bet is to buy a block of 10. The more you buy, the more the price drops SIGNIFICANTLY. 10 cost $295 (check for sales on the 10 packs; they were on sale for $88 recently), 1000 are $1000. Also be aware that there are hidden costs. For example, the barcodes cost extra.
5. Not Taking Your Writing Career Seriously
Yep, we’re going there, and this may be the most important part of this blog. It’s mindset time! It’s crucial that you put your writing career first. It’s so easy to give everything else priority over your book and content creation.
Why? Because most of the time, your writing doesn’t deliver an immediate income, or even validation, until you’ve invested a great deal of time into your career and into consistent content creation. It’s so easy to do the thing that pays the bills (now) or the thing that your family considers a practical career.
Writing is an act of faith. You will master your art if you put in the time! You must believe that eventually, a lot of people will buy your books and you will succeed.
6. Self-Publishing to Get Discovered
I mentioned this mistake before, but let me elaborate. I have worked with several authors who chose to self-publish because they failed to get an agent or a contract with a publisher. They tried and were rejected. Their motivation for self-publishing was to get the attention of trade publishers. These writers are easy marks for hybrid or vanity services that promise exposure. For instance, they promise to get your book in front of acquisition editors. This is an exercise in futility and you end up hiring another set of professionals to get you out of the mess this creates.
If landing a traditional contract is the be-all and end-all for you, then build your platform and write a book that trade publishers will buy, and pitch your heart out. Traditional publishers ain’t gamblers; they go with sure things. If you self-publish in order to get discovered, almost 100% of the time you will be disappointed.
7. Buying Customer Book Reviews
How do you hack Amazon? You can’t, at least not for the long haul. Trying to game the algorithm will, at best, get your book penalized in the ranks. The worst case is you’ll get your seller’s account suspended.
Don’t buy or trade customer reviews! Bad juju. Likewise, don’t tell a group of followers to post fake reviews (i.e. they haven’t read the book or even laid eyes on it). These reviews are pretty obvious. They read, “I loved this book, it was really great to read. I especially liked the ending.” Riiiigggght…
I should point out that buying reviews can be legit if it’s an editorial review. Editorial reviews are visually separated from customer reviews on bookseller websites and are labeled as professional, unbiased critiques of books. The most well known of the professional review services is Kirkus Reviews.
How much will one of these run ya? About $400, give or take. Are they worth it? Yes, sometimes they are. It depends on the kind of publicity you are going for.
Both customer and editorial reviews do improve sales and placement. They are important social proof for your book, especially if you’re not yet established as an author. But don’t resort to black-hat tactics. They won’t work.
8. Amazon Category Hacking
Placing your book in a non-competitive category that is not relevant to your subject will do your book a disservice. Again (caveat here), putting your book in a non-competitive category that IS relevant to your subject IS an excellent tactic and is the easiest way to reach the bestseller lists.
This is the scenario I’m talking about: Your book is a young adult dystopian fantasy, but you place it in one of the least competitive categories on Amazon like ‘Microscopes and Microscopy’ or ‘Colon Surgery’. Why do you do this? Because you are assured #1 bestselling status.
Here’s how it works: if you place your book in a category that doesn’t have many books in it you WILL get #1 in that category because there is no competition. However, by choosing an irrelevant place to put your book, you won’t show up in the searches correctly, if at all. If that’s not a big enough deterrent, then there’s the chance Amazon might just suspend you.
9. Not Paying for Professional Editing and Design Services
This ‘mistake’ is one that writers argue with me about all the time. Okay, I acquiesce. If you are a professional book designer then, of course, you can design your own cover and interior. Likewise, if you’re a professional editor then you can be your own editor. However, I’d argue that it’s harder to edit your own work. A third set of eyes can do wonders.
However, if you only have some basic graphic design skills or do a little editing on the side, I urge you to hire out. An unprofessional looking cover or one that doesn’t stand out as a thumbnail online will tank the sale of your book. Likewise, any errors in spelling, grammar, formatting, or in supporting materials like bios and blurbs will take your book out of the running and you will not even know why.
Authorship includes a number of skills beyond writing. I hope what I share and what I encourage others to share helps to create an online community of openness for career writers; a virtual writers’ colony if you will, that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own desk or home.
What mistakes have you made on your path to the bestseller list? Share in the comments below.
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