As an author of two digital marketing books and a yet-to-be-published sci-fi thriller, I’m no stranger to author mistakes. I may not have collected them all, but I’m trying. Someone has to learn these lessons the hard way. May as well be me.
Every first-time author is really an indie author until they get a publishing contract. Some of us “graduate” to become a traditionally published author, while others decide that indie publishing is right for them. While traditionally published books are often no better than indie books, traditionally published authors do have one advantage: help.
Trad-Pub authors have access to resources that indie authors don’t. This means indie authors are likely going to make more mistakes. But if G.I. Joe was right when he said, “Knowledge is half the battle,” let’s beat a bad book back by going into battle with a few nuggets of knowledge that will help you on your writing journey.
Mistake #1 – Publishing the first book you write
I’m going to start with one I’ve heard this bit multiple times recently, but one I don’t necessarily agree with. It’s said your first book is for learning how to write, and only after you’ve written two or three will you have a book good enough to publish. Do you agree?
I see the truth in this. Instead of taking the time to fix what is quite possibly unfixable, spend your time on a new story that won’t have the same problems. You’ve grown as an author! But I don’t think it’s a universal truth that you can’t make your first novel great. The question is, is it worth the time?
Every author needs to weigh this warning. If you think your first book is awesome, it probably isn’t. You can chip away at the edges or set it aside and work on another book. Take what you learned from the writing process and apply it to the next to create a much better book.
Mistake #2 – Perfecting as you go
About 25 years ago, I started writing a novel. Every time I picked it up, I started at the beginning and edited everything I wrote previously. I was doing all I could to perfect it and make it just right. Then I’d set the book down, come back to it another day and do it again. Needless to say, I didn’t get very far. Three chapters, maybe.
When I sat down to write my “first” novel, I was determined to get through it. I didn’t yet know it was a bad idea to edit as you go, but I figured that out on my own. I was determined to finish the story and not get bogged down in the editing process.
Progress is key. Making progress and “completing” the first draft is more important than perfecting it. You can always edit later. Finishing the book first is harder. Expect to write an awful first draft. Then take whatever time you need to make it a great novel.
Mistake #3 – Not having a “professional” cover
We’re not supposed to judge books by their cover, but guess what? We do anyway. Personally, I think an amateur cover is one of the top things that makes an indie book stand out as an indie book. I’ve talked to a lot of indie authors who are in love with their covers even though they scream out, “I just learned photoshop!”
Think about it this way, when you’re scrolling Netflix or Prime, are you reading the titles of every movie, or are you scanning the covers looking for something that “looks” interesting? Only after you see something that looks like you might like it do you read the title or what it’s about. Readers do the same thing. Your cover is one of the most important attention getters you have available. Make it count.
Mistake #4 – Not polishing your writing
There’s more to good writing than proper grammar. I ran my second draft through Grammarly fixing thousands of issues. But very little of that actually helped improve my writing. It just helped me not look like an idiot who, doesn’t know how to use Commas, capitalization’s or apostlefees.
Look, spelling and grammar checks are the basics. Anyone can do that. What is more difficult is rooting out passive tense, weak verbs, over-wordiness, and overly simplistic story elements. These are all things that can keep an otherwise fun and compelling story from capturing the mind and imaginations of your readers.
Mistake #5 – Not hiring a professional editor
An editor is worth their weight in gold. Even one who weighs 600lbs, which means the average editor is worth roughly 3x their weight. That’s a bargain!
Seriously though, this is one area where authors should never skimp. Not only will editors catch all the stupid mistakes that somehow got past Word and Grammarly, but they can help you level up your story. Good editors assist in filling plot holes, adding emotional resonance, and helping you achieve better character motivations.
There are many types of editors. You may not be able to hire one of each as you go through the editing process, but you do need at least one. Find the one that will provide the most value for your story.
Mistake #6 – Not using beta readers
Beta readers are worth their weight in gold. Even… wait, did I already use that analogy?
I wrote a whole post on questions to ask beta readers, so I won’t repeat repeat myself here, but you can learn a lot from them. I recommend using betas at various stages of the book. Not just once but two to three times as you work through different drafts. Each group of beta readers will provide valuable information that will help you improve your story.
Mistake #7 – Publishing too soon
Once your story is published, it’s published. While you can go back and fix those typos that always find a way to slip through the praetorian guard, the story is the story. If you want to go back and rework it, you’re better off pulling the book completely and re-releasing it under a new title. “New and Improved” doesn’t really work in publishing.
There isn’t an “undo” option after you publish your story. This means you really want to make sure it is the best you’re going to be able to get it. If you feel like your book is good enough, maybe it’s not.
Mistake #8 – Not developing a marketing plan
Most authors are disappointed with their sales. They release a book and wait for it to “take off,” but it never does. But like most things, creating it isn’t the same as selling it. If authors want to sell books, they have to have a plan for that.
Whether you are self-publishing or going traditional, you need a marketing plan. The only marketer an indie author has is themselves. Traditionally published authors may get some marketing help, but even then, no publisher will do it all. Marketing falls directly in the author’s lap of responsibility.
I haven’t gotten to this stage yet (finalizing one more edit on my novel), but I plan to spend several months building out a marketing plan for it. Whether I self-publish or end up with an agent, the marketing plan will be essential. My goal is to know what I need to do and build all the resources needed so the marketing plan can work on autopilot as much as possible. I’m not entirely sure what this means, but I will once I start doing the research. You can do the same.
One of the great things about the writing community is we can all learn from each other. I hope this post is helpful to you and can steer you away from some common mistakes many authors make.
So now it’s your turn. Do you agree or disagree with these? What mistakes have you made that I have not mentioned here?