Four Common Mistakes Authors Make (and How to Avoid Them)

By Astra Crompton

While every author’s experience is as unique as their story, there are some common mistakes self-publishing authors make that negatively impact their book’s chances. Here we identify the four most common mistakes and the impact they’ll have on your book project.

When you’re ready to self-publish your book, you’ll be well prepared to avoid these publishing pitfalls. Author struggling with common mistakes such as unclear audience, skipping editing, rushed timelines, and ineffective book marketing.

1. Unclear Audience

If you don’t know who you’re writing the book for during the writing process, you’ll have a lot more work to do during the rest of production. First drafts are often a flurry born from the author’s inspiration. You’re trying to get down everything you want to say, and in that respect the book is for (and sometimes about) you. As soon as you plan to publish your manuscript, though, you need to consider who you anticipate will read — and resonate with — your words.

There are many ways to find the answer to this question, including by seeking out beta readers in your genre, considering which books your work is similar to (called “comp titles”) and researching who their readership is, or by building a profile of your suitable audience based on your protagonist or message. For example, if you’re writing a memoir about motherhood, you’re likely going to be aiming your book towards mothers and expecting parents. If you’re writing a children’s book about an 8-year-old boy, you’ll likely be making choices to appeal to 7–10 year old boys.

The biggest drafting mistake authors make is thinking their book will appeal to everyone. Even if a book has broad appeal or “crossover potential” (meaning it fits into multiple genre categories, such as the popular romantasy genre that mashes together fantasy and romance), it still won’t appeal equally to all readers. It’s better to target a single, specific group and make writing, editing, and marketing choices that tailor the book to them than it is to try to appeal to everyone and wind up with a milquetoast offering that appeals to nobody.

Once you know who your primary audience is, you can start making choices in your writing that suit that audience. This can include word choice, chapter length, organization, and page layout. Research other books in your category and see what they have in common. Even if you make a key choice that stands out, you want to mostly align your book with others in your category so you can deliver on your readers’ expectations.

2. Skipping Editing

The second — and possibly most crucial — step that authors falter on is skipping editing. Many first-time authors think their first draft is publish-ready as soon as they type “the end.” The reality is that, although finishing a manuscript is a laudable feat, first drafts still need a lot of work. This is where even the most celebrated authors work with professional editors to make their work sing.

At the most basic level, a book full of obvious errors hurts your authorial credibility and may limit which avenues your book has access to. Libraries and educational institutions may not want to carry your book if it’s not well edited. Readers may find the errors too distracting or confusing and could (at best) stop reading and (at worst) leave a scathing review that scares off potential future sales. And if you have any plans of having your book professionally reviewed (such as by Kirkus or Clarion’s Foreword), your text will be judged against books that did invest in editing. How well do you think an unedited book will stand up to scrutiny? Not well.

At a deeper level, an editor can also help you improve the organization or delivery of your book’s concepts. By making sure the text implies what you intended and patching up plot holes or correcting inaccuracies, professional editing makes you, in turn, look more professional. If you have aims of establishing a brand as an author (whether that’s a platform for your services or cultivating an audience for future books), making a good first impression is crucial to enticing readers back for more.

Some authors understand all the importance of the above facts, but they worry about investing the time and/or funds for professional editing. They might think they can tackle deeper edits on their own, or might hire a $5 editor online who has no experience with book editing. Remember that publishing a book is creating a product you hope to sell. Skipping editing is like trying to sell a car with no transmission. How well will that product perform for your customer? If your product is faulty, your marketing and promotion efforts will have a steep, uphill climb.

3. Rushed Timelines

Books sell all year round. Some authors think they need to line their book launch up with a specific calendar event to be able to sell copies. This belief may come from looking at staggered launches of traditionally published books or films, but a staggered strategy often comes down to promotions budgets and the limited space for products with distribution partners. The reality is that a book intended for a Christmas market, for example, was already acquired back in October.

The good news is, as a self-published author, you have a lot more flexibility with your marketing plans. The tools that traditionally published books rely on, like pre-orders at the store level, online giveaways, and awards seasons may not be relevant to your plans. Once your proofs are completed, you get to choose when to publish, so you can tailor your marketing plans accordingly and launch when you’ll best be able to reach your audience.

It’s much better to plan ahead — order physical stock, plan launch events, work out consignment deals with physical bookstores, line up reviews — and hit the ground running than to launch too early and then try to scramble to make up for insufficient planning. Focus on quality first. Then you can launch your book with confidence and build a promotion plan that will garner success.

4. Ineffective Marketing

Book marketing is a complex beast, but any author can master it with focus, time, and investment (either by learning new marketing skills or by partnering with a promotions service provider). The biggest mistake authors make here is thinking that once they press “publish” their work is done. With a vast number of books being published every day, every author needs to take a vested interest in how their book is marketed and promoted. Simply posting about it once on your Facebook page and expecting it to take off as an international bestseller is extremely unlikely.

Instead, authors should build a marketing plan (and yes, it’s okay to get expert assistance in building this plan). The marketing plan should include preparing all the assets (both graphics and copy) that the author will need to share their work at various opportunities. Consider which avenues best suit your subject matter and the kinds of readers you’re trying to reach, such as social media accounts, conferences, media interviews, etc. Build a schedule of the kind of content and/or outreach you need to do to promote your book and when you’ll take action.

Marketing requires dedication and repetition to bear fruit, so pace yourself. If you go hard and fast on promotions for a week, and then fall off the bandwagon, your sales will likely peter out. It’s better to build a slower but more sustainable marketing plan that you can keep going. After all, publishing a book is a commercial venture, so you need to sell your product in order to find success. With each opportunity, you can potentially reach new readers, wider markets, and build momentum off your past successes.

Whatever your goals for where you want your book to go, be sure you’re considering each stage carefully so that you aren’t cutting corners that will negatively impact your end product. After all, your book could last a lifetime, so you owe it to your future-self to make sure it’s a product you can be proud of for years to come.

Astra Crompton is a writer and illustrator with twenty years’ experience in self-publishing. Astra’s short stories have been published in magazines, fundraising anthologies, and used in school curriculums. She has taught courses and written articles on creative writing for five years. As Editing & Illustrations Coordinator, Astra also manages, coordinates, and vets FriesenPress’s industry-leading editing and illustrations teams.