10 Mistakes Authors Make that Can Cost a Fortune (and how to avoid them)

When it comes to books, promotion, and book production I know that it can sometimes feel like a minefield of choices. And while I can’t address each of these in minutia, there are a number of areas that are keenly tied to a books 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 an author will sometimes spend years writing their book and then leave the cover design to someone who either isn’t a designer, doesn’t have a working knowledge of book design or the publishing industry. Or, worse, they create a design without having done the proper market research. Consider these facts for a minute: shoppers in a bookstore spend on average of 8 seconds looking at the front cover of a book and 15 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 at book distribution often only take the book cover with them when they shop titles into stores. And finally please don’t attempt do design your own book cover. Much like cutting your own hair this is never a good idea.

2)      Trusting someone who has limited or no track record

When you hire a team, make sure you ask the service provider for their track record. Often I see an author who successfully marketed their single title now feel they have all the marketing knowledge they need to help you market yours. Unless you are in similar markets I would avoid this at all costs. You want people who have worked in the industry and know the needs of the market beyond just one title. You also want someone who has some history. Ask for referrals, and success stories. I give references all the time to potential new clients but when I am the one interviewing a new service provider I will ask for them but never call them. I mean who’s going to give you a bad referral? I want to see that they have some names they can give me then I’ll go online and Google them to gain some insight into their history and online reputation.

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.

4)      Trusting Oprah to solve all your problems

Getting on Oprah is an article in and of itself but let me say this: the quickest way to turn off a publicist is to use the “O” word. Why? Because anyone worth their salt knows how tough a road the Oprah pitch can be. Not just that, but sometimes authors will become so myopic and obsessed about this show that they lose sight of other, maybe better opportunities. And trust me on another point: someone (friend, co-worker, family, spouse), somewhere will tell you “You should go on Oprah” and while you might be 100% perfect Oprah material, the only people who can determine if you should be on her show are her producers. Shoot for the stars, dream big, but keep a realism about your campaign otherwise you’ll spend a lot of time and a lot of money chasing a potentially elusive target.

5)      Planning for the short term only:

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. 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. We find this especially true for self-published titles that need a little more TLC than their traditionally published counterparts. We offer campaigns that last 90-days but that’s not because we think 90 days is all it will take to make your book a success, it’s because we find it’s a reasonable time to get started, get a foot hold and start your progress down the runway of success.

6)      Not understanding timing

Timing is a funny issue. First, there’s the timing that books follow to get reviewed, so lead times as it were. Then there’s production timing, and if you’re lucky enough to get a distributor there’s the time it will take for a distributor to get your book into the proper channels. A book launch should be planned carefully and then leave wiggle room for slipped dates and late deliveries (which will happen). I recommend that you sit down with someone who can help you strategize timing so you can plan appropriately for your book launch. A missed date is akin to a missed opportunity.

7)      Hiring people who aren’t in the book industry

Let’s face it, even to those of us who have been in this industry for a while it still doesn’t always make sense. So hiring someone who has no book or publishing experience isn’t just a mistake, but it could be a costly one. With some vendors like web designers you can get away with that. But someone who has only designed business cards can’t, for example, design a book cover. Make sure you hire the right specialist for the right project. Also, you’ve likely spent years putting together this project, make sure you make choices based on what’s right and not what’s cheapest. If you shop right you can often find vendors who are perfect for your project and who fit your budget. There’s an old saying that goes: You can find a good lawyer and you can find a cheap lawyer but it’s hard or near impossible to find a good, cheap lawyer. The same applies in the book world.

8)      Designing your own website

You should never cut your own hair or design your own site. Period. End of story. But ok, 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, 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. Just gently, but professionally correct them in such a way that they don’t look bad or stupid. Never ask for an interview to be done over. Most media people don’t have the time. 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)  Hiring the best and then not trusting their advice.

So, here’s the thing that’s always confused me. You hire me then don’t listen to my advice. And it’s not just me, I hear this all the time from other industry professionals. Look, it’s not an ego thing, it really isn’t. It’s just this: if you’re paying good money to your vendors, asking them for advice and then not taking it you might have a disconnect. Perhaps a breakdown in communication, maybe you don’t trust the person you hired. If you don’t trust them then you should part ways and find someone you have some chemistry with. Otherwise what’s the point? Build your team with people you enjoy working with and respect. Then when they try and guide you or save you some money, take the time to listen.

Penny C. Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. 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 five books, including Book to Bestseller which has been called the “road map to publishing success.” AME is the first marketing and publicity firm to use Internet promotion to its full impact through The Virtual Author Tour™, which strategically works with social networking sites, blogs, Twitter, ezines, video sites, and relevant sites to push an authors message into the virtual community and connect with sites related to the book’s topic, positioning the author in his or her market. In the past 15 months their creative marketing strategies have helped land 10 books on the New York Times Bestseller list. To learn more about Penny’s books or her promotional services, you can visit her web site at http://www.amarketingexpert.com.

Copyright Penny C. Sansevieri


  1. says

    Yes, I learned a lot here. Sometimes you need to hear something more than once before you fully take it in. Perhaps I should print this out and read it again. And again.

  2. says

    Janet, most authors are not professional designers. And when they do their own covers and websites it becomes painfully apparent.

    Penny’s point was that the design must be professionally done. If you are a professional designer, go for it!