In my work with authors, I’ve noticed that authors seem to make these same easy-to-avoid mistakes when they publish their first book. Here are the most common misses and how to sidestep them!
#1. A Too-Clever Title
I love a double entendre, pun, or sideways cultural reference as much as any literary type, but best-selling ebook titles signal to the reader exactly what they will get when they buy the book. Instead of being clever, aim to be clear, especially for non-fiction. Your title and subtitle should include the words that your readers will search for when looking for a book like yours.
#2. Not Delivering on Reader Expectations
The top reason for poor book reviews is that the actual book does not align with the readers’ expectations. Romance readers have expectations of what should or should not happen in “sweet” or “steamy” novels. The best way to avoid this problem is to recruit a group of early readers (or beta readers) who read widely in your genre to give you feedback on your book description and category before you publish.
#3. A Weak Book Description
The book description that goes along with your book should be as long and detailed as allowed by the distribution site. Amazon allows up to 4000 characters, approximately 750 words, and few listings contain even half that number. Make your book description simple, benefits-oriented (if you are promoting a novel, use sensory benefits: thrilling, absorbing, steamy… etc.), and easy to understand. Consider including a bolded 1-sentence headline at the beginning of the description that grabs your reader’s attention right away. Study the descriptions of other best-selling books in your category when you write yours.
#4. Pricing Too Low or Too High
Because of the rules Amazon imposes on their exclusive royalty structure, almost all ebooks in the U.S. fit within the Amazon pricing window of $2.99-$9.99. When you publish widely, you have broader control over your pricing. Things to consider when you are pricing your book have to do with the value you are offering. If your book is a brief introduction to a topic that promotes your business or brand or short story or novella, the price should be low to maximize readership, $.99 to $4.99. If your book competes with similar ebooks sold on Amazon, use the recommended price of $5.99-$9.99, and if your book offers extraordinary value, such as a technical manual or coursebook, charge $19.99-$49.99. Because it is easy to change prices in the StreetLib dashboard, it’s useful to run experiments and discover for yourself what works best.
#5. Not Promoting Your Book
This is a biggie. Many authors expect that just putting their book in distribution and sending an email or two will help people find and buy their books, but with thousands of books being published every month, it’s almost impossible to stand out without a promotional plan. By far the most effective way to market your books is by building an audience with an email newsletter, social media presence or some kind of public platform. We suggest you promote your book and grow your list before publication, and after publication, continue to promote your book for at least a year.
#6. Relying on Amazon-only Tactics
So much of ebook publishing in the U.S. is centered on publishing on Amazon’s Kindle Store that authors will do everything they can to “optimize” Amazon, including an exclusive listing, running sponsored ads, and doing sophisticated keyword research, but bots and algorithms don’t buy your books, readers do! Before you try technical solutions to book sales, talk to some of your readers and promote your book in the publications they read and in stores where they shop.
7. Lack of Reviews
There are two kinds of book reviews — professional reviews and reader reviews. Most book buyers consult reviews before purchasing, and research shows that a book with even a single one-star review is likely to sell better than one with no reviews at all! It might seem old-school to send your book out to journalists for reviews, but it’s still a great idea. Submit your book for review to journalists and bloggers through a service like NetGalley. You can get early reader reviews by offering free copies to readers at Goodreads before publication and to encourage your fans and early book buyers to post reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, Kobo, and other retail platforms!
8. Not Networking with Other Authors
Books differ from most other consumer products—they’re relatively inexpensive, and people who buy them buy many! That means that the readers who will buy your book will also buy books on the same topic by other authors and vice versa. One of the best marketing strategies for expanding your sales is by recommending other author’s books and having them recommend yours. Start networking with other authors and you’ll be surprised how many doors will open!
9. Not Understanding the Marketplace
As a book acquisitions editor for a major publisher, my first step in acquiring a new book for publication is to do a round of market research. What are the newest books in your category? Who wrote them? What does the cover look like? Who reviewed it? What are the key selling points? Then ask, how does your book meet the same need, but uniquely? Answer these questions for your book and market and you’re more likely to publish a book that readers will love and recommend.
10. Quitting too Soon
See #5 above. Plan to promote your book for at least a year. The world is enormous. It will take some time for readers to find you. You learn so much about the publishing process just by publishing a single book. Don’t waste the learning. Leverage that knowledge by publishing a series of books. Or, now that you have the skills—consider publishing books by colleagues or other experts in your field or budding writers in your genre.
I’d love to hear from you if you have other tips or if you made a different, preventable publishing mistake! Please comment on the post and share!