5 Mistakes Writers Make (and How to Avoid Them)

1. Thinking that your book will sell itself. I have five books published with Simon & Schuster and let me tell you: They do not walk off the shelves. I made the mistake of becoming complacent and thinking that because I had a huge publisher behind me that I didn’t need to do much PR work to promote myself. In the words of Julia Roberts: "Big mistake. Huge." I watched my friend and author Becky Wicks work like a demon to promote her indie book Before He Was Famous and within 12 hours of it going live on Amazon it had sold nearly 500 copies. She worked her BUTT off for months prior building an audience, interacting on Twitter and Facebook and building a fan base from scratch. She rocks. It’s totally inspired me to do the same.
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1. Thinking that your book will sell itself

I have five books published with Simon & Schuster and let me tell you: They do not walk off the shelves. I made the mistake of becoming complacent and thinking that because I had a huge publisher behind me that I didn’t need to do much PR work to promote myself. In the words of Julia Roberts: "Big mistake. Huge."

I watched my friend and author Becky Wicks work like a demon to promote her indie book Before He Was Famous and within 12 hours of it going live on Amazon it had sold nearly 500 copies. She worked her BUTT off for months prior building an audience, interacting on Twitter and Facebook and building a fan base from scratch. She rocks. It’s totally inspired me to do the same.

(Just starting out as a writer? See a collection of great writing advice for beginners.)

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Column by Sarah Alderson, author of five novels, the most recent of which is
OUT OF CONTROL (May 2014, Simon & Schuster), a fast-paced YA thriller
focusing on human trafficking summed up with the tagline: "Move to a new city.
Meet a hot boy. Run for your life." Having spent most of her life in London,
Sarah quit her job in the non profit sector in 2009 and took off on a round
the world trip with her husband and toddler daughter on a mission to find a
new place to call home. After almost a year spent wandering around India,
Singapore, Australia and the US, they settled in Bali where Sarah now
spends her days writing and trying to machete open coconuts without
severing a limb. As well as Young Adult fiction, Sarah writes New Adult
fiction for Pan Macmillan under the pen name Mila Gray. Her first novel,
COME BACK TO ME, will be out in summer 2014. You can find all
Sarah's books on Amazon here. Connect with her on her website or on Twitter.

If you have written a book and put it on Amazon hoping for the best then good luck with that. If you’ve written a book for a major publisher and expected them to do the hard work for you — good luck with that. You need to act like an indie author — a determined one — if you want to make it in the world of publishing. This means:

  • Spending hours a day on social media interacting with fans, building rapport (and this doesn’t mean shoving your book down their throat but providing interesting content).
  • Studying marketing & promotion, learn everything you can about it -- now!
  • Starting at least 6 months before your book is out.

2. Thinking that people care about your life story

Unless you are an A-list celebrity or have done something truly extraordinary that makes a stranger’s jaw drop, unless it has a hook, then it’s a mistake to assume that your story is of any interest to anyone beyond your immediate circle of friends and family.

I have lost count of the number of acquaintances who’ve come to me and told me they want my help with a “great idea they want to turn into a novel.” Invariably it’s a story about their battle with cancer / divorce / trip around the world. My eyes glaze over. If it means that much to you write it, but don’t expect it to sell. Though I’d be happy to eat my words!

3. Following trends

I made the mistake once of writing a book — a YA dystopia — because I was told that was all the rage at the Frankfurt Book Fair. It was a good book but by the time I’d written it, guess what? Dystopia was yesterday’s news.

Sure, you can always fly in the face of this advice by writing something truly astonishing and amazing, but it’s more likely you won’t. My best suggestion? Write the story you want to read and don’t look at trends. They come and go.

(Tips on how to find more agents who seek your genre/category.)

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4. Expecting overnight success with a debut novel

Sure, this happens. Occasionally. But it’s exceedingly rare. I’m on my fifth book with Simon & Schuster and am yet to earn out my advance with any of them. Sigh. And my advances weren’t even that big to begin with.

My first new adult book — Come Back To Me — is out with Pan Macmillan in three weeks and that’s my first book to earn out its advance before publication thanks to foreign rights sales.

I’m hoping by the time I am on my tenth book I might be making some royalties.

5. That they’ll be able to quit their day job once they sell that first book

Industry advances are shrinking. My advances today are less than they ever were. Factor in that a publisher will only buy roughly one book a year (if you’re lucky) and that your agent will take 15% and the taxman another 20-30% and you’re left with less than you first thought.

I quit my day job, started traveling the world AND then decided to become a writer because I never researched how much authors earn. Doh.

How do I survive financially?
-- I copywrite
-- I have started writing screenplays and earning from that.
-- I’ve optioned my books to production companies
-- I teach / lead retreats
-- I work my ass off!

I’ve had to use my creativity and imagination to find other ways to earn income, in short.

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