1. Listening to advice from authors in other genres.
When I first started out as a self-published author, I was a sponge. I listened to advice from anyone willing to give it. I read everything I could.
But what I came to realise is that what you do to promote your book depends on two things: your genre and your ideal reader.
I spent countless hours on other platforms, killing myself trying to make content, but I was like a hamster on a never-ending cycle. Once I stopped listening and understood my ideal reader, I became intentional about what I posted. That’s when I saw progress.
2. Not knowing who my ideal reader is.
Which brings me to this point. Without really knowing who you are marketing to, you will continue to be on the hamster wheel. I realized my writing was not just for myself, but for someone else too. When I wrote who this person was, like a character outline, I truly grasped my ideal reader. And I’ve given her a name: Tessa.
Now I’ve gone through that exercise, I know where Tessa hangs out online. I know what her interests are, what her pet peeves are, etc… With this knowledge, I can market clearly to Tessa, so she knows where I am and when I’m posting (hello ‘Tessa’!). And, understanding her, I also know she enjoys the content I’m putting out into the world. And not just my books and short stories, but my blog posts, my Substack posts, my book reviews, etc. With Tessa always at the forefront of my mind, I’m putting out content SHE wants to read.
3. Not investing in education from marketing experts.
I have been listening to a podcast called “Book Marketing Simplified” for a few years now. When Jenn Hanson-dePaula began talking repeatedly about ideal readers, it was like a virtual smack to the head. I listened. And I kept listening.
What Jenn says makes sense. It‘s logical and exactly what I need to hear, and what she shares is for all levels of authorship. It doesn’t matter if you’re new or experienced. After four years of being an author, I’m STILL learning from Jenn. I have joined her “Author Circle” which is a membership for marketing information for authors. It’s not cheap, I admit, especially for those starting out, and it’s not open year round, but the information is gold. It’s worth the investment. And while I’ve probably learned all I can from Jenn, I’ll stick around to be reminded of the basics of marketing. With all the noise, those elements are easy to forget.
But there are other experts out there as well. Joanna Penn’s podcast, The Creative Penn, is great for marketing tips. It took me a bit to really get into Joanna’s style, but I look forward to her publications now. I’ve even become one of her patrons! David Gaughran is another. His posts can ramble, but he is of the believer that authors need to ‘give, give, give, ask’. As in, give away three things before you ask for one. It’s sound advice.
4. Throwing money randomly at advertising.
When you’re starting out, trying to make a name for yourself, it’s easy to throw money at advertising. But this can be a serious money pit. I spent thousands of dollars on Amazon advertising in the first two years as an author. Did I sell books? Sure, but not enough to justify the expense. That’s when I put the brakes on. By reevaluating my marketing tactics and targeting Tessa as my audience, I could determine where to invest in advertising..
Doing this, I learned something interesting. Most of my readers are NOT in the United States, but in the United Kingdom and Australia. Knowing just that little nugget saved me hundreds of dollars.
I also take part in promos to build newsletter subscribers, because those are the readers I want. I’m not looking for people just out for the freebies. I don’t want people who click on my links but don’t buy. I want people who are here for ALL the content. Not just for the free stuff I share, but who also wants to buy my books, short stories etc, when I release them. But just as important, people who can relate to my journey.
5. Not believing in myself, or putting myself out there.
For someone wanting to call themselves a published author, there’s an enormous chasm between writing a story and publishing a book. BENEATH THE SURFACE was the first book I wrote, and while I knew it was a good story, I wasn’t ready to release it into the world in 2018. It took nine rewrites to get it right. In between that time, I wrote CAMINO WANDERING, which was a book I was itching to release.
But I faced a hurdle: CAMINO WANDERING wasn’t like any other Camino book. There was an eager audience waiting, sure, but my novel wasn’t a memoir and it wasn’t a guidebook. I had serious doubts. But I knew, if was going to achieve my goal of being published, I had to get over myself and just put myself out there. In the end, I released that book for myself. I was proud of the story and it represented my initial Camino with the relationships between characters. It’s just lovely to know other people have enjoyed the book too.
But as I continue writing novels, that self-doubt returns. Again and again and again. I sometimes sit and wonder: Was CAMINO WANDERING a fluke? Will people keep buying my books, the ones I’ve already written, and the ones I still plan to release? Will people who bought a Camino book be interested in other stuff I write, especially if it’s not women’s fiction?
Being a self-published author, I found I had to put myself out there. Marketing and promotion doesn’t just happen when you publish. You have to put yourself in front of people, whether that’s via book launches or book fairs, festivals or other events. This was such a hard lesson for me because I hate public speaking. It doesn’t matter how well I know the topic or how comfortable I am talking about it; I have this anxiety rash that grows from my neck to my face as soon as I become the centre of attention. It’s embarrassing.
But I also know the importance of promotion. When I was getting ready to launch THE DECISIONS WE MAKE, I wanted to do a book launch at a popular bookshop in Hobart, known for its book launches. The problem was, I didn’t know anyone who could sit in the moderator chair. My name was not known in Tasmania at that point. So, I made it a mission to get my name out there, to meet other authors and meet other people in the writing community. It took a while to do this, but being known in the community helps with promotion considerably.
It’s important to network with other authors too. Without a supportive author network, it’s a lonely world to be in, and where else can you get ‘inside’ information on the best places to promote your books?
6. Not focusing on my writing.
I can easily fixate on things other than my novels. Especially on effortless tasks. For me, marketing is easy. Graphics are easy. Communications are easy. Blog posts are easy. But, when focused only on these tasks, the day is gone before I know it. And I’ve done little to no work on my money-maker efforts: my books.
My priorities are not where they need to be. I’ve read many writers spend 3-4 hours in the morning working on their novels, then take a break to exercise before moving on to other tasks in the afternoon. Not me. Somehow I feel compelled to get ‘the simple tasks’ out of the way – tick off those boxes – before I can do some serious work. Except I run out of time, and the serious work gets put aside.
But where I really get into trouble is when I focus on other people’s needs, rather than focusing on my stuff first. I say yes, when I should say no. I’m overextending myself. If someone asks for help, I think, ‘That’s easy.’ However, I end up getting roped in and volunteering for more tasks, without fully understanding what is required initially. And that’s when a day turns into weeks – or months – and suddenly I wonder how I ended up with no time for my stuff, and whether anyone even values my worth. Me included.
When this happens, I don’t meet my self-imposed deadlines, and I lose all the momentum I had for my novel. I’ll learn eventually to say no.
7. Hiring someone else to write my blurb/copy.
No one knows your book like you do. This can be a benefit – and a curse – when writing the blurb or writing marketing copy. But writing blurbs and copy is a completely different mindset than writing fiction. You are summarising your book into 200 words – or fewer. Then, it needs to be compelling enough for people to decide, right there and then, to buy the book.
Of course, you can hire someone to do this for you. I’ve done this. It was the biggest waste of $300 I’ve ever spent.
Why? Because they didn’t even read the book AND I had to fill out a multiple-page questionnaire that equated to Cliff Notes. I could have spent that time doing more research looking at comparative books. And I ended up doing that, after the fact, and rewrote the copy. Mainly because it was so out of line and so cheesy, it was laughable.
I know this next comment is going to be controversial, but I have found ChatGPT to be great for writing copy and blurbs. Sudowrite is better. Like everything, you need to use AI as a tool. It’s not a ‘write this for me’ and it spits out the perfect solution. Start with a line or two. Play with it. Try different ways to phrase what you want to say. Kick things back. Ask another way. Once you have something you’re happy with, try a few more lines. In the end, you will have something you’re happy with.
Your time is your investment. And best of all, as a self-published author, you can always change the blurb if it doesn’t work! It’s called taking control. LOL.
8. Not tracking my progress.
When people ask for my advice as an author, the first thing I want to know is whether they are publishing as a career, or as a hobby. Their answer dictates mine. One of the biggest mistakes I made when I started my career as an author was not tracking my progress from the day I started my business.
Here’s how it went: I wrote a book. I published that book. I sold some books. Then didn’t. But I didn’t know why, so I threw a bunch of money at it. I made more sales. I wrote another book and repeated the same stupid process. It wasn’t until my third book that I thought, ‘Hang on. This didn’t work last time. Let’s put my past career’s process analytics hat on and look at what worked and what didn’t.’
Funnily enough, my mentor, Sharon Boggon (PINTANGLE.com), reminded me of the importance of tracking during one conversation. It was a major DOH moment. I knew how important tracking is! I was tracking data on book sales, where I was spending, etc. But I had nothing showing whether I was growing my readership, or what book promotions were working, etc.
Once I started tracking these things weekly, through a very simple spreadsheet, I saw progress. I finally understood which social media platforms worked. What advertising was seeing a return on investment. And what was resonating with my readers in my newsletters.
I haven’t reached my goals yet, but I’m getting there.
9. Not investing in the right tools.
When starting out, it can be a total trial and error discovering what works for you. And it can be expensive. Especially with all the bright shiny apps and resources being tossed around the Indie community. I am embarrassed to say how much I’ve spent on courses and books and quick fixes.
But let to emphasise something here: You have to find what works for you.
I’ve written a post sharing some great tools and resources I’ve discovered, and I update the post about once a year. But these are things I’ve found work for my business. They may work for you – and I hope they do – but these work with my style, my readers, and my strategy.
Besides the basic writing and tracking tools, you don’t need a lot. But you need a newsletter (and, speaking of great tools, I find Mailerlite better than the rest). Those are the bare minimum things you need to start out.
When you have the basics sorted, and you’re comfortable with where you are, you may look for more help. To begin with, there is an abundance of free resources that can be helpful for beginners, such as Mixtus Media for marketing or Bryan Cohen’s 5 Day Amazon Ad challenge.
But say you’re not sure what tools are best to invest money in. For example, does it make sense to buy Vellum (Mac users) if you’re only publishing one book? No. But if you’re intending to do this as a career? Absolutely! Or, say you’re looking at a marketing course that costs $3000, but you’re not sure if it’s right for you. I suggest you check out some of the Facebook groups I listed on the tools/resources post. Ask around. Some are great. Some are just snake oil salespeople.
With advertising, it can really get expensive. My best advice is to ignore those who say ‘test, test, test’ when starting out. Instead, learn who your ideal reader is first. Know where they hang on on social media. How they buy books. What kinds of things pique their interest? Then start some ads. Try two different images and the same ad copy, then watch it closely. If nothing is happening after two weeks, tweak the copy. You can always increase the budget, but if you throw money at it to start and there’s no return on investment, that money is gone.
10. Giving everything to the story.
This has been the biggest lesson for me to learn. I began writing my first manuscript in 2016, but began my author career in 2020. I consider this my vocation, rather than my career, as I LOVE what I do. But I also know I’m a workaholic. My brain does not shut off. (I initially wrote my brain does not shut up – also true).
When I first began writing CAMINO WANDERING, I was obsessed. The story devoured me. I loved the process. I loved I couldn’t sleep because the characters talked to me there. The story and the characters consumed every moment of the day. Then I repeated the process with the next book. And the next. And again, with the next.
But by 2023, my body was screaming at me to find some balance. I knew in my head – and through words I was writing – that I needed to find better balance. And I noted what was happening with my body. I even brought it up with my doctor. (You can read about that, here.)
But for me and writing, it’s as if something takes hold and doesn’t let go. Initially, I was determined to get every story within me published before I reached 56. Why then? Because it was the age my mother died, and it’s always been in the back of my head that I, too, could be dead at an early age. Ridiculous, right? Especially given that what I was doing, WOULD put me in an early grave.
Obsessively writing, not letting it go, can work for some. But it doesn’t work for me. And it took emergency spine surgery for me to learn that lesson.
If you want to be an author, find balance in your life first. Make a schedule. Stick to that schedule. Include having a life. Include exercising and stretching. Don’t sit in a chair all day and manically write. It’s not good for you.