5 Mistakes You’ll Make on the Way to Publishing Success

Illustration by Helena Perez / Flickr

Illustration by Helena Perez / Flickr

Today’s guest post is by Carmen Amato (@CarmenConnects), author of The Hidden Light of Mexico City and the Emilia Cruz series.

You have a polished manuscript in hand, and you’re ready to publish. But the road from finished manuscript to bestseller list is more like a labyrinth rather than a straight path.

There are dozens of choices and decisions ahead. Here are the 5 mistakes authors make along the way. Each represents a great learning experience, and ultimately, a steppingstone to your publishing success.

1. You’re in a rush.

As soon as that manuscript is ready, you’ll want to see it available for sale and on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. But don’t be in a rush to give up creative control of your work.

Take time to thoroughly research your publishing options. Ask questions of potential partners, such as agents and editors; get references for anyone you hire; realistically assess costs versus risks; and verify reliability of your partners. It’s often helpful to interview authors who have recently accomplished what you’ve just embarking upon, and find out what their lessons have been.

Before signing any kind of publishing or service contract, make sure you understand your legal responsibilities as an author. Consult an intellectual property rights attorney if you don’t understand copyright issues, royalties, and/or the legal constraints of any contract under consideration.

I made the mistake of rushing into a contract with a small publishing company without due diligence. If I had, I would have learned about the company’s problems. In the end, the book proof was a design disaster and the editor was missing in action, but because I had a good team of advisers outside of the publisher, I was able to withdraw from the contract and begin again.

2. You won’t have a marketing plan.

Most authors start off with a plan to use social media, have family and friends write book reviews, and do giveaways.

This general approach won’t be enough.

When I published my first book, a political thriller set in Mexico, I thought I had a great marketing plan. I’d target three different reader groups: the Latino audience, expatriates who love Mexico, and thriller readers. This market segmentation plan guided the blogs I contacted for reviews, the categories in which the book was placed on Amazon, what I blogged about, and who I followed on Twitter.

It all worked, up to a point. But it was a one-way approach that didn’t build a loyal readership. For that, I needed a strategic plan for long-term engagement, with tactical action items that didn’t swallow up all my time.

The best advice I found was Tim Grahl’s Your First 1,000 Copies and his Instant Bestseller online course. Following Tim’s blueprint, I was able to build a marketing plan, including an email list, to connect with readers on a monthly basis, offer free stories to introduce new readers to my mystery series, and repurpose blog content to extend my reach. The plan gives me an engagement vehicle—email—and specific steps to take to build connections with readers.

3. You’ll spend too much on promotions that don’t sell books.

Everyone wants your advertising dollars, and they’ll promise a lot with no guarantee of sales. Without a plan, you’ll be tempted to spend and spend. If you do, much of your money will be wasted because it won’t be targeted to your book’s specific audience.

Falling into this trap is easy because advertising takes so little effort. I spent $100 on a Goodreads ad, which is shown indiscriminately to users. No sales. I spent $200 on an ad for The Millions, before realizing that the site is more focused on literary fiction than a commercial mystery series. Again, no sales. My fellow authors have shared similar stories of either mistargeted advertising or ads aimed at everyone and no one.

To avoid this mistake, look for email newsletters, blog advertising, and other opportunities that cater to readers of your genre. The more specific the better. Stretch your advertising dollar as well, by including a clickable link in the book for readers to sign up for your email list. That’s the best way to connect with your readership.

4. You’ll think Twitter is for selling books.

A few years ago, when Twitter was still shiny and new, the micro-blogging service was hailed as a cost-free way to advertise and sell books. But a few marketers, including Tim Grahl, have looked at the sales statistics for sales generated by Twitter versus sales generated via emails. Bottom line, email far outsells Twitter.

The new #AmazonCart feature may help drive sales but that remains to be seen.

What makes Twitter essential for authors, in my view, is the ability to find book bloggers, guest posts, and research virtually any issue.

There are subtle ways to raise awareness of your books on Twitter and it is currently the second largest driver of traffic to my website. Highlight book quotes and catchy tag lines. Share links to blog posts and reviews, and build your virtual “street team” of fellow authors and reviewers. “Buy my book” tweets are obnoxious and to be avoided.

5. It’s easy to think no one is watching.

Building your author platform—website, social media accounts, guest blog posts, author pages on Amazon—is important because it projects what you represent as an author.

But if you are starting off, it’s easy to think that no one is watching. Unfortunately, if your dog is the star of your Facebook page; if your blog has a purple background with hard-to-read curly pink text; and if your Twitter picture is Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan, then people won’t be inclined to stick around.

Thankfully, this was a lesson I learned by watching, not by doing. Before creating my website and social media accounts, I researched the most successful authors in my genre. Like companies we recognize on sight—Coke, Disney, Apple—successful authors use design that is consistent across platforms to project quality, consistency, style, and genre.

Carry this consistent design over to your book covers. Using the same font for your name on covers, especially if you write a series, is a tried-and-true tactic to create name recognition. Repeat the same font and colors on your website and social media accounts.

You might not think anyone is watching. But they are. Make that first impression count.


Mistakes are part of the process in today’s publishing landscape—things change quickly and new services come and go. If you make a few mistakes, don’t worry. Fix them and move on. You’ll only be smarter and more prepared for each new book launch.

Posted in Getting Published.

Carmen Amato is the author of political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. Originally from New York, her novels are sharp-edged stories that combine complex plots with characters and settings drawn from her experiences living in Mexico and Central America. Connect with her on Twitter @CarmenConnects and via email: Carmen@carmenamato.net. Visit http://carmenamato.net to get a free copy of THE BEAST, the short story that reveals how Emilia Cruz came to be the first and only female police detective in Acapulco.

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mikel millerSchuyler ThorpeCheri- CreationScience4kidsGerry AldridgeLeni Leanne Phillips Recent comment authors

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[…] Illustration by Helena Perez / Flickr Today’s guest post is by Carmen Amato (@CarmenConnects), author of The Hidden Light of Mexico City and the Emilia Cruz series. You have a polished manuscript in hand, and you’re ready to publish.  […]

Jane Taylor Starwood

Great post, Carmen. Excellent advice for beginners, but even those of us who’ve been doing this for a while need to be reminded of best practices and new approaches from time to time.

Carmen Amato

Thanks, Jane. Experience makes us wiser–most of the time!

Jane Taylor Starwood

Quick note: The link to Tim Grahl’s book isn’t working (at least not for me).

Jane Friedman

Oops, should be fixed now.

Carmen Amato

Here’s the link to Tim’s book on Amazon. Cut and paste into your browser. I highly recommend it: http://www.amazon.com/Your-First-Copies-Step—Step-ebook/dp/B00DMIWAIC/

Yi Shun Lai

These last two tips are important on so many levels: When it comes to social media, the bottom line should be that if you wouldn’t do it in real life, don’t do it in social media. Certainly you wouldn’t walk up to someone you just met and harangue them with news of your book, your book, your book, ad nauseum, so don’t do it on Twitter or facebook. You’re absolutely right, Carmen. The Internet is forever, and someone is, indeed, watching.

Olivia Marcus
Olivia Marcus

This was awesome! I’ll be 21 soon and am looking to publish my first book (a military sci-fi story). I especially like 2 and 5 because I haven’t marketed anything before and it’s a good idea to make your website look good and professional!

Mona AlvaradoFrazier

Excellent tips and specific suggestions for those of us who are about to embark on the publishing adventure. Thanks!
I looked up Grahl’s book and found that it had great reviews.

DT Krippene
DT Krippene

Excellent post, Carmen. Thanks for reminding us that impatience and social media can be detrimental to getting a good story told.


I’m highly suspicious of advertising in general and your point about Goodreads, etc. Although I have no experience doing any of this, I appreciate your sharing your own experiences 🙂

I’m not sure how this translates to book sales but I’m in the midst of a successful book-funding kickstarter campaign and my backers have overwhelmingly come from my email list. Twitter and surprisingly, my own website have been pretty minimal. So I’m definitely on the “build the email list” bandwagon because my Kickstarter wouldn’t have worked out without it!


[…] Tessa Gratton points out that success usually comes slowly in writing, so we need to think of writing as a long game, and Carmen Amato lists 5 mistakes you will make on the way to publishing success. […]


You are so right relating Disney or Coke with an author’s strategy, because this is not just about making your site or your book cover look nice, it is about branding. Your name logo, your website look, your book covers, all your design elements need to be consistent with the image you want to portray. True Crime fans are very different from Historical novel or SciFi ones; you need to position yourself in the right genre, or niche, in order to market your book successfully.

Leni Leanne Phillips
Leni Leanne Phillips

Terrific post, thank you! I appreciate the practical tips and the reminder to have a plan.

Gerry Aldridge
Gerry Aldridge


Cheri- CreationScience4kids

I’m starting to plan my self publishing debut, it hadn’t occurred to me I’ll want my book cover to fit in with my brand look. Do you think it’s OK to have subtle connections like fonts (thanks for mentioning this) and background colors? Or would it be worth the hassle to start including elements from my book cover in my branding now?

Schuyler Thorpe
Schuyler Thorpe

Meh. I’m not worried about these sort of things. My target audience is going to be woefully small to non-existent anyways, so why try to burn myself out reaching out to people who won’t be reading what I publish? I watch other people do a lot of marketing, planning, and “reaching out” so often that 9 times out of 10, they don’t get what they want the most and spend the bulk of their time bitching about their lack of success. I’ve only seen a few dedicated authors anywhere be able to hold their own, but again, they are in… Read more »


[…] found this post called ’5 Mistakes you’ll make on your way to publishing success‘ through Jane Friedman’s website and it got me thinking about my own journey to […]


[…] There are subtle ways to raise awareness of your books […]. “Buy my book” tweets are obnoxious and to be avoided. (5 Mistakes You’ll Make on the Way to Publishing Success) […]


[…] You have a polished manuscript in hand, and you’re ready to publish. But the road from finished manuscript to bestseller list is more like a labyrinth rather than a straight path. There are dozens of choices and decisions ahead (5 Mistakes You’ll Make on the Way to Publishing Success) […]


[…] Mistakes You’ll Make on the Way to Publishing Success,” Carmen Amato via Jane […]


[…] 5 Mistakes You’ll Make on the Way to Publishing Success on Jane Friedman […]


[…] 5 Mistakes You’ll Make on the Way to Publishing Success on Jane Friedman […]

mikel miller

Hi all – I’m arriving late to this thread (almost six years after it began) and found it just today while researching how Carmen Amato connects with readers. An impressive article, and thanks to Jane Friedman for publishing it. I’ve been following Carmen for about four years and have read several of her Emilia Cruz books. Now, I’m going to capture this article and post it on my FB page about Publishing & Promoting Books (see https://www.facebook.com/IndieBookTips/?modal=admin_todo_tour). Here’s hoping it will inspire other authors.