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5 Common Indie Author Mistakes

“Dude, suckin’ at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.”

You might think that’s a quote from Abraham Lincoln or Queen Victoria, but no. It was actually Jake, a yellow talking bulldog from the popular cartoon Adventure Time. Despite the source, he’s right. The only way to excel at a job is by making mistakes and learning from them. As authors, we need to master multiple disciplines and make hundreds of blunders to grow our careers. In fact, the bestsellers among us have probably made more than most newbies. They don’t shy away from failure; they fail often and learn from disasters quickly to keep improving.

That’s easier said than done. Sure, if you accidentally publish a rough draft of your book and get a tsunami of seething reviews, that’s a simple mistake to identify. But sometimes we can’t work out why our efforts are falling flat. Solving that puzzle can take humility, a growth mindset and a heightened level of self-awareness that many people never unlock.

Nobody is perfect but, by reading about the mistakes of others, you can more objectively evaluate your own behaviour and identify what might be impeding your progress. There isn’t a prescriptive solution that works for everyone. However, analysis does often reveal traits shared by the frontrunners and missteps that are prevalent among those left floundering. Read on to see five of the most common indie authors mistakes. Who knows: it could lead to a breakthrough in your own publishing career.

Lacking Professionalism

Professionalism has many meanings. For some, it’s a code of conduct – the way you dress and talk to peers. For others it’s the ability hit deadlines and produce typo-free books with professional covers. If you find yourself ruffling feathers on Twitter or at networking events, then you might be alienating your readers and peers, thereby failing to hit these basic professional standards that you need to see your work thrive. Similarly, if you always send manuscripts to editors at the eleventh hour and expect an overnight turnaround, that could be leading to rushed work and lacklustre books.

Without good people skills and a competent grasp of time management, you could be ruining your own chances. Thankfully, these mistakes can be corrected. All you need to do is polish your behaviour, organisation and attention to detail. By ensuring that you stay on schedule and produce great work without cutting corners, you will see better results, both in your relationships and in how readers react to your work. Yes, confronting your flaws can be frustrating, but becoming more self-aware and raising your standards will improve your business.

Not Checking the Competition

Media stories about authors who write quirky passion projects that go on to sell millions of copies are fun to read. They sell the dream and get clicks on articles. What they don’t mention is that these scenarios are lottery-win rare. Most authors who write unusual, cross-genre books fail to attract readers while many that stick to familiar genre tropes become perennial sellers. It’s easy to think overwise. The human mind fixates on outliers and overlooks the mundane masses. As a result, by the time most of us realise our mistake we’ve already invested too much in a vigilante unicorn novel to abandon it.

If you’re new to writing, you might want to avoid this pitfall by checking out what ballpark sales figures books in different genres achieve before you start writing. That way you can manage your expectations, avoid disappointment, and make wiser creative decisions. Once you select a genre that attracts lots of hungry readers, you can then research what tropes you need to include in your plots to ensure they are received favourably. This might seem like a cold way to write but it still provides lots of opportunities for originality. After all, no two books have an identical plot, characters and writing style. Sometimes, you just need to see what is selling and make a few creative compromises to build your initial audience. There’s nothing to stop you getting experimental after you’ve amassed a loyal following.

Relying on One Book

Not every full-time author writes a book a month, nor is it necessary to build your career. However, few manage to make a living off a single title. In fact, stats indicate that six-figure authors generally have to write over 25 books before they achieve that income and most readers don’t even remember an author’s name until they’ve read at least four of their novels. Add to that the fact that marketing becomes easier as you increase the amount of cross-promoting titles in your backlist, and you quickly realise that more books equates to more money.

Despite this prevailing logic, though, new authors commonly believe that they will be the exception then get frustrated when they don’t make life-changing money from one release. Fortunately, the path to success is obvious. Most authors talk about the merits of a long backlist and see a hike in overall sales every time they enter a new launch cycle. The data is clear: if you want to avoid spinning your wheels then you need to focus on building your backlist, not advertising your first few titles. Remember, in the early days, the best way to promote your last book is to write another one.

Misunderstanding Business Models

A lot of angst many authors experience stems from not understanding the limitations of their business model, particularly when pursuing traditional publishing. Consumed by the novel-writing process and reluctant to learn the business, they assume that their book is “special” and that people working on it see it as a priority. When this doesn’t happen, they get frustrated by issues like:

  • The time it takes agents to reply to submissions
  • Their publisher’s cover design choices
  • A lack of marketing resources funnelled towards their book

In essence, they forget that their book isn’t seen as their “baby” by publishing professionals. To them, it’s one product in a vast portfolio. Agents can’t tackle their slush pile immediately because their main job is representing existing clients. And publishers aim to create book covers that sell, not ones that please their authors. They also only funnel marketing spend to books that are already selling well because they have proven that they can convert browsers into readers.

In a similar vein, many indie authors get frustrated after their unedited book with a self-designed cover and no marketing budget fails to sell. They bemoan self-publishing because it hasn’t worked for them, yet fail to realise that to succeed they need to emulate the dominant authors in their genres who have editing teams, marketing plans and four-figure budgets. No matter your publishing method, understanding how it works and knowing how best to stack the system in your favour is key to avoiding frustration and establishing a distinguished career.

Failing to Upskill

Fledgling authors often believe that they can simply churn out a series of well-written books and enjoy ever-growing royalties. Unless you get lucky, however, the job involves much more than just writing books. To stay ahead, many writers become accomplished public speakers or manage a team of freelancers to bring books to market at a professional standard. They also become proficient at making their finances tax efficient and master intellectual property law to maximise their licensing income. Some release courses and most dive into online advertising, which is an ever-changing landscape.

Those are just a fraction of the skills successful authors use to get and stay ahead of the crowds rallying to take their spots on the bestseller list. Now more than ever, identifying yourself as a life-long learner and being prepared to upskill on a constant basis is crucial, not just to become a bestselling author but to ensure you aren’t knocked off your pedestal by more innovative players coming in behind you. The moment you stop thinking that you can rely solely on the quality of your words to reach readers is the moment you find a way to make it happen. Publishing is an uncertain business even when you think you’ve cracked it. One thing, however, remains constant. You will make a lot of mistakes, both when you first get started and further into your career. The process doesn’t get easier; it just keeps evolving with ever-growing stakes. If you keep writing, testing and learning, you will build a powerful author brand and a lifestyle that many people want but few believe is possible.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.