July 17th, 2015

10 Mistakes Authors Make that Can Cost them a Fortune (and How to Avoid Them)

Penny Sansevieri

When it comes to writing books and book promotion, I know that it can sometimes feel like a confusing odyssey of choices. And while I can’t address each of these in detail, there are a number of areas that are keenly tied to a book’s success (or lack thereof). Here are ten for you to consider:

1. Not Understanding the Importance of a Book Cover

I always find it interesting that authors will sometimes spend years writing their books and then leave the cover design to someone who either isn’t a designer – or worse, they design their own book cover. Consider these facts for a minute: shoppers in a bookstore (online or brick and mortar) spend an average of 3 seconds looking at the front cover of a book and 7 seconds looking at the back before deciding whether to buy it. Further, a survey of booksellers showed that 75% of them found the book cover to be the most important element of the book. Also, sales teams for publishers or book distributors often only take the book cover with them when they shop titles into stores.

2. Sometimes You Get What You Pay For

There’s an old saying that goes: “You can find a cheap lawyer and a good lawyer, but you can’t find a good lawyer who is cheap.” Though this is a very different market, it’s kind of the same thing. Yes, there are deals out there and that’s not to say that you have to pay a good publicity person tens of thousands of dollars, but if you find someone who’s willing to market you for $200 or something like that, I’d be asking questions about what you get for your money, because while $200 dollars isn’t much, it’s $200 here and $99 there. Eventually, it all adds up. If a deal seems too good to be true, make sure that you’re getting all the facts. Just because they aren’t charging you a lot doesn’t mean they shouldn’t put it in writing. And by in writing, I mean you should get a detailed list of deliverables. Finding a deal isn’t a bad thing, but if you’re not careful it might just be a waste of money.

3. Listening to People Who Aren’t Experts

When you ask someone’s opinion about your book, direction or topic, make sure they are either working in your industry, or know your consumer. If, for example, you have written a young adult (YA) book, don’t give it to your co-workers to read and get feedback (yes, I know some YA books have adult market crossover appeal, but this is different). If you’ve written a book for teens, then give it to teens to read. Same is true for self-help, diet, romance. Align yourself with your market. You want the book to be right for the reader; in the end that’s all that matters. Also, let’s face it, since your coworkers have to see you everyday they probably won’t tell you if they don’t like your book.

4. Hope is Not a Marketing Plan

I love hope. Hope is a wonderful thing, but one thing it isn’t, is a marketing plan. Hoping that something will happen is one thing, but leaving your marketing to “fate” is quite another. Even though you wrote the book and put in hours of sweat equity making it perfect, you still have to market it. More often than not authors tell me that they can’t seem to get family or friends to buy their book (this isn’t uncommon by the way). But even if they do buy a book that’s what? One hundred copies at the most? While family and friends do want to help, you shouldn’t bank on them for success. So when it comes time to get your book out there, you need to have a solid plan in place, or at the very least a set of actions you feel comfortable working on. Waiting on a miracle, a sale, or a sign from above will cost you a lot in terms of book aging. Once your book is past a certain “age” it gets harder and harder to get it reviewed, so don’t sit idly by and hope for something to happen – or HBO to call. Make it happen. A book is not the field of dreams, just because you wrote it doesn’t mean readers will beat a path to your door.

5. Work It, or Not

There’s a real fallacy that exists in publishing and it’s this: “instant bestseller.” Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the industry knows there is no such thing as “instant” and certainly the words “overnight success” are generally not reserved for books. Overnight success is also never really overnight, per se. There is this odd belief that a “miracle” will just happen when you publish. Personally, I love miracles, but they tend to not happen with books, sadly. Book promotion should be viewed as a long runway. Meaning that you should plan for the long term. Don’t spend all your marketing dollars in the first few months of a campaign, make sure you have enough money or personal momentum to keep it going. Whether or not you hire a firm you must “work it” – meaning working your marketing plan, working your goals, whatever. Publishing is a business. You’d never open up a store and then just sit around hoping people show up to buy your stuff. You advertise, you run specials, you pitch yourself to local media. You work it. But what does “working it” mean? Well, it means that if you have a full-time job, you find time each week to push the book in some form or fashion. You find time. You make time. You should be engaged in your own success, even if you hire someone to do this for you, you should still be involved. Sometimes it doesn’t take much, but it does take a consistent effort. I also call it the compound effect: everything you do adds up.

6. Living by Metrics

Metrics is a funny thing; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Often I find in the book world it just doesn’t. I speak with authors who want metrics on everything and that, frankly, isn’t realistic. For this reason, authors often forgo getting reader reviews because: What’s the metric in that? Well there isn’t one, technically but you never know if a new buyer will see that particular review and be prompted to buy your book. Metrics when it comes to things you can actually measure is great, but for everything else, it’s a waste of time. Again for most of what we do, it’s the compound effect. Yes, you could pitch 100 bloggers, and get only one response and you think: the metrics of pitching bloggers is terrible, I won’t do that again. When in reality, maybe it was your pitch that was weak, or your email subject line, or maybe the book wasn’t right for them. I know that sometimes it’s easier to blame metrics, but in most cases, metrics aren’t the issue.

7. Not Understanding Timing

To a certain extent, timing in publishing has essentially become obsolete;things like advanced reviews, advanced pitching and early sales into bookstores aren’t the be-all-end-all they once were. Still, timing is important. While it’s true that sometimes older books can see a surge of success, it’s not the rule. You’ll want to be prepared with your marketing early. In fact, you should have a plan in place months before the book is out. That doesn’t mean that you’re sending 200 review copies out, that just means you have your ducks in a row, so to speak, and you know what your plan will be. Also, timing can affect things like book events (especially if you’re trying to get into bookstores). To understand when you should pitch your book for review, start to get to know your market and the bloggers you plan to pitch. Create a list, and keep close track of who to contact, and when you need to get your review pitch out there. Though many things have changed in regards to timing, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan. A missed date is akin to a missed opportunity.

8. Designing your Own Website

You should never cut your own hair or design your own site. End of story. But , let me elaborate. Let’s say you designed your own site, which saved you a few thousand dollars paying a web designer. Now you’re off promoting your book and suddenly you’re getting a gazillion hits to your site. The problem is the site is not converting these visitors into a sale. How much money did you lose by punting the web designer and doing it yourself? Hard to know. Scary, isn’t it?

9. Becoming a Media Diva

Let’s face it; you need the media more than they need you. I know. Ouch. But it’s the unfortunate truth. So here’s the thing: be grateful. Thank the interviewer, and send a follow up thank-you note after the interview. Don’t expect the interviewer to read your book and don’t get upset if they get some facts wrong. Most media people don’t have the time to read your book; carry an index card with book highlights on it and hand it to them prior to the interview. And please never, ever ask for an interview to be redone. I mention this, because it actually happened to a producer friend of mine who did an interview with a guy, and he decided he didn’t like it and wanted a second shot. Not gonna happen. The thing is, until you get a dressing room with specially designed purple M&M’s, don’t even think about becoming a diva. The best thing you can do is create relationships. Show up on time, show up prepared, and always, always, always be grateful.

10. Don’t Drink Dirty Water

There’s a lot of negativity out there. Between bashing Amazon, or saying that Goodreads is just a haven for negative reviews. Let’s face it, there’s a lot to complain about. I get it. And while I’m not trying to go all Tony Robbins on you here, your mental attitude has a lot to do with your success and your personal stamina to keep going and keep marketing. Yes, there are a lot of books out there, and a lot of other authors competing for the same virtual shelf space you are. So then you go to conferences to try and learn how to sell more than the 100 books, and someone just tells you they hit their 10,000th book sale and you feel like never writing again. The thing is, the more you can stay positive, the more wind you will have in your sails. Believe me, this is true. I don’t mean to ignore the realities of being in publishing but I would advise you to just stay above it all. I once worked with an author who was one of the most amazing writers I’ve ever seen. Honestly. Every book this author wrote had mega-bestseller written all over it. But he was always, always negative – about everything. He didn’t get enough reviews, he wasn’t making enough sales (though I know his books were selling really well). Then, one day, despite his “everyone hates me” attitude, he got a publishing deal. They published one of his books, and then dropped him. I had a friend who worked at this publishing house, and I asked her what the scoop was, she said that he was so negative, so hard to please and so hard to work with that no one could stand him. Don’t drink dirty water.

These days, there is a lot an author can do on their own to make their book soar. There are a ton of resources out there for you. Seriously. Compared to when I was first in business almost 16 years ago, the resources and free promotional tools that are out there now are almost mind-boggling, and the fact that so many authors don’t take advantage of them is even crazier. Remember the compound effect I mentioned earlier? It all adds up.

When it comes to marketing, the mistakes can cost you more than anything both in time and money. Knowing what to do to market your book is important, but knowing what to avoid may be equally as significant.

What tips do you have for marketing success?



Author MarkketingPenny C. Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert and an Adjunct Professor with NYU. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. She is the author of fourteen books, including How to Sell Books by the Truckload. AME is the first marketing and publicity firm to use Internet promotion to its full impact through online promotion and their signature program called: The Virtual Author Tour™

To learn more about Penny’s books or her promotional services, you can visit her web site at http://www.amarketingexpert.com. To subscribe to her free newsletter, send a blank email to: mailto:subscribe@amarketingexpert.com

Copyright @2015 Penny C. Sansevieri


38 comments to 10 Mistakes Authors Make that Can Cost them a Fortune (and How to Avoid Them)

  • This was a very helpful post! I am a new author, so this is all very relevant to me right now! Thanks for all of the advice.

  • Thank you so much for this post! You had several tips i never would have thought of. Definitely sharing!

  • Wonderful advice, so much I didn’t know.

  • Love this, Penny, especially the bit about hope not being a marketing plan, and the advice to NOT drink the dirty water. Clever, yet profound advice all the way through this post. Thank you!

  • biancaree

    I just went to one of your workshops in Apple Valley, California. I can’t wait to devour your books next week. One question why are you against designing your own web site?

    • Mostly for the reasons I indicated, but also most of us don’t have a design eye for that kind of stuff. I know I don’t – and I also DID design my first website and I lost a ton of business because it wasn’t converting so you know, I learned this lesson first 🙂 That said, some folks *can* design their own site and do it well, but I find that’s not the majority! Thanks for being at the event in Apple Valley – I had such a great time!!

  • This is a terrific article! Thanks for these great reminders and tips, Penny. Just subscribed to your newsletter.

  • Fae Rowen

    Wow, Penny! Every one of your “ten” is something that this marketing-phobe can understand, and better yet, see the inherent value. Thanks for demystifying so much.

  • Marketing can be overwhelming and too often depressing (when results are poor). Hate feeling like a smarmy used car salesman for a book, but realize the value in a well timed and targeted campaign. Thanks for the insights. I’m coming around to thinking I need professional marketing help.

    • Well let me recommend something… hire out the pieces you don’t like or don’t know how to do. It’s sort of like when I hired an accountant for my business. I dislike accounting – and I’m not good at it. Doing so freed me up to do more things, to grow my biz etc. So find someone who can free you up so you can write more!!

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    Great tips, Penny. Thanks so much for the insight!

  • This is an excellent post, thanks so much. I’m going to bookmark this to read again when time permits. I want to consider each point you’ve made in more depth and work on them too. You’ve brought up some things to consider that I hadn’t really thought of before, as an indie author. Well done! 🙂

  • I would add only one thing. Marketing a book isn’t what you do when you market a book. Like anything else, you are marketing yourself. You already know how hard you worked, but everyone else doesn’t, and doesn’t need or want to know. They want to be informed, educated and entertained. Marketing is making new friends. Really. It’s that simple.

  • Thanks, Penny, for the helpful reminders to stay positive, targeted and always have a plan! My favorite is “engaged in your own success”

  • You left out, “Thinking we can do it all ourselves better than anyone else.” 🙂 Great set of mistakes Penny.

  • Fabulous tips! The only piece of advice I’d add is the following:

    This is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve got to be committed as an author to go the distance. It takes a lot of trial and error (especially in book promotion) to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Don’t get discouraged; keep going. 😉

  • Jacqueline Perry

    Thanks for the advice, these tips are enlightening and I will use them to assist when I begin to write my first book. Again, thanks!

  • Loved your ‘ Don’t drink dirty water.’ It’s all about mindset.

  • I’d also add: keep writing new content even as you market your first book. I’ve heard many times that the best marketing for a book is another book.

  • YES!! The best way to marketing your first book is with your second and so on~! Excellent addition, thank you!

  • Hey, thanks for posting this. A terrific article full of no flannel. Great

  • Great post! I’m so Excited I get to sit down with a group of nine 10 to 16 year olds that have read my MG / YA book to do an impromptu focus group on its strengths and weaknesses. Can’t wait!

  • Well done, Penny. I have a marketing background, and this post is the best, most practical advice for authors on marketing that I have read.

  • Carol thank you so much! I am so glad you liked it – thanks for the feedback!

  • Number three was a surprising first lesson for me.

    The worst criticism I ever got was from a woman who had some dead on thoughts, some completely ridiculous thoughts, and a whole lot of ambiguous ones. (It was the worst because it wasn’t completely wrong, but also wasn’t completely dependable either.) But mostly, she had this condescending tone and really just seemed to hate it. I was down in the dumps about it when, after talking to a fellow author who knew her, he said, “Yeah, she doesn’t like science fiction at ALL. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

    I will say that people outside your audience and those who don’t understand the industry can give great criticism, but it’s so important to find people actually in your audience.

  • A lot of really great advice. Thank you! Love the line, hope is not a marketing plan.

  • […] 10 Mistakes Authors Make That Can Cost Them a Fortune and How to Avoid Them […]

  • I am doing a redirect on my blog to have people read this! Wonderful!