Jane Friedman

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

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.