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by Patricia Fry

8 Publishing Mistakes And How to Avoid Them

It happened again at a writers’ conference this weekend. I met two disgruntled, disillusioned, almost bankrupt authors who admitted making most of the mistakes listed below. They both have wonderful books in hand, but little understanding of the publishing industry and even less marketing savvy. They learned too late that the time to ask questions and study options is BEFORE you begin to make random publishing decisions.

First-time authors are eager to see their books in print. I know this. I’ve been there and I’ve made mistakes. As authors, we work long and hard on our projects. The last thing we want to deal with after finishing a manuscript is the learning curve. But the alternative can most certainly lead to failure.

I’ve been observing and participating in the publishing industry for over 30 years. In the course of my career and as the Executive Director of SPAWN, I meet numerous authors every year—authors who are successful and those who are struggling. Some of these authors feel they’ve been mistreated by the industry and they’ve given up writing altogether.

I’m on a mission, folks—a mission to help hopeful authors become more well-educated and informed about this industry so they will make more appropriate choices on behalf of their publishing projects.

Following are 8 mistakes that many new authors make—mistakes that can cost an author large sums of money and dramatically diminish his opportunity for publishing success. Turn them around and you have 8 sure-fire steps to publishing success.

1: Inexperienced authors write a book as the first step. Why is this considered a mistake? It’s not a mistake if you are writing the book for yourself, your family and a few friends. But if you aspire to have your book published and distributed to large segments of readers, this is definitely the wrong approach. Whether you’re writing a how-to book, biography, self-help, romance novel, children’s story, mystery, fantasy, memoir or dictionary for publication, there are 2 things you must do first.

Step #1: Study the publishing industry so you have some understanding of your options, the ramifications of your choices and your responsibility as an author. How does one begin this study?

 • Join organizations such as SPAN, SPAWN and IBPA and participate.

 • Read books by professionals such as Patricia Fry, Dan Poynter, Brian Jud, Marilyn Ross.

 • Get involved in appropriate online forums and discussion groups.

 • Subscribe to appropriate publications and read them from cover to cover.

Step #2: Write a book proposal—and this is recommended whether you plan to self-publish, approach traditional royalty publishers or go with a fee-based POD “self-publishing” company.

In the process of writing a book proposal, you will learn:

 • if you have a book at all.

 • whether it is a viable product—is there a market for this book?

 • who your target audience is.

 • the best way to promote your book.

If you follow the guidelines for writing a complete book proposal, you’ll likely enter into the publishing field with more realistic expectations. You’ll begin to understand your responsibilities as a published author. And you’ll learn how to mold your project to fit within the tremendously competitive publishing arena.

Create a book proposal before sitting down to write and you’re more apt to write the right book for the right audience. How better to snag a traditional royalty publisher or to experience success as an independent publisher than with a promising project?

Recommended Reading:

The books in the left column of this page, all by Patricia Fry

 • Write the Perfect Book Proposal, Jeff Herman and Deborah Adams

2: Eager new authors often go with the first publishing opportunity they stumble across. You don’t make other business decisions this quickly. You research the possibilities and study your options. Many authors forget that publishing is a business. We get so attached to our projects and so eager to see our books in print that we act emotionally rather than logically.

Learn the difference between a traditional royalty publisher and a fee-based print-on-demand publishing service. You’ll find hundreds of traditional royalty publishers listed in Writer’s Market (available in the reference section of your library or for sale for about $30 in most bookstores. A new edition comes out each September).

Visit bookstores in search of books like yours. Find out who published these books and contact those publishers.

Find publishers for books in your category using a Google search.

Another option might be corporate sponsor publishing. If you need help financing the publication of your local history book, for example, contact a local bank. Ask an architectural firm to sponsor your book on architecture for the beginner or one featuring some of the great architectural accomplishments of the century. Maybe the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce or Georgia Historical Society would put up the money to publish your historical novel which is set in this state. Offer the sponsor a percentage of the profits and/or advertising space on the back cover or inside the front cover.

As an author, you have many options. Research them, understand them and scrutinize them in order to choose the one that is right for your project.

Recommended Reading:

 • The Fine Print of Self-Publishing; The Contracts, and Services of 48 Self-Publishing Companies—Analyzed, Ranked and Exposed by Mark Levine.

3: New authors believe that they don’t have a chance with a traditional royalty publisher. This is simply not true. If you have a viable project, you arm yourself with knowledge and you approach the publisher in a professional manner, you have a definite chance of landing a traditional royalty publisher.

Find publishers who produce books like yours. Study their Submission Guidelines. Follow these guidelines in approaching them with your project. If they request a query letter first, do NOT send your complete manuscript. If you don’t understand what goes into a query letter, study books and articles about writing a query letter. Take an online class or an extension course through your local community college. Read some of the books recommended in this article.

Some naïve authors believe that there are just 6 publishing companies—the majors. Not so. There are hundreds of small to medium-sized publishers eager for good, marketable books. For example, everyone knows that poetry books are a hard sell. Yet, Writer’s Market lists over 40 traditional royalty publishers who publish books of poetry. There are at least 125 publishers of mysteries and about the same number who produce historical novels. There are over 200 traditional royalty publishers that publish biographies and more than 175 who produce children’s books. Encouraging, isn’t it?

4: Newby authors don’t generally solicit advice from professionals until it is too late. Do NOT sign a contract with any publisher or purveyor of publishing services without hiring a literary or intellectual properties attorney. This should go without saying, yet thousands of authors each year bypass this important step.

I also recommend that inexperienced authors talk to other authors who have used the services they are considering. Contact organizations such as Small Publishers Association of North America (SPAN), SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) and IBPA The Independent Book Publishers Association.

5: Authors neglect to have their manuscripts professionally edited. We all need the services of an editor—some more than others. Authors are often in a hurry to start showing their books around, however, and neglect this important step. Whether you plan to approach publishers or take on the task of publishing yourself, hire a good editor. You will be glad that you did.

6: Insecure authors shy away from self-publishing. Self-publishing seems like a daunting undertaking for an inexperienced author. What better way to learn the biz, though. In fact, I suggest that hopeful authors self-publish a how-to book or booklet as a way to familiarize themselves with the publishing industry and the publishing process.

Set aside that novel, memoir or children’s book for now. Instead, produce a book on a topic you know well—one that has an audience that you know how to reach. Maybe you teach scrapbooking; are an excellent cook; raise pugs, pigs or pigeons; have success tips for hairdressers or you homeschool your children. Write a booklet telling how to design a baby’s scrapbook, for example. Put together a small book of your favorite one-dish meal recipes for busy moms. Produce a pamphlet for pug or pig owners or publish one for parents who are thinking about homeschooling their kids.

Before going too much further with your idea, evaluate whether there is a market for this book. Who is your target audience and how will you reach them? You might promote the homeschool book through Homeschooling Today, Christian Home and School and other homeschool and education-related magazines; through education-related and homeschool Web sites; through your local school district; through religious magazines, bulletins and Web sites and possibly through homeschool organizations.

Your recipe book could be marketed through cookbook bookstores (there are scads of them throughout the U.S.); cooking, women’s and family newsletters and magazines; the food section of newspapers nationwide; in grocery stores and kitchen stores and that’s just a start.

Recommended Reading:

 • Self-Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter

 • The books in the left column of this page by Patricia Fry

Here are a few things to consider when designing your how-to book:

 • Build promotion into your book.

 • Design the book for your target audience from start to finish.

 • Collect promotional ideas as you work on your book.

7: Authors avoid the reality of promotion. Few authors derive as much pleasure from promoting their books as they do writing them. Some choose to believe that they do not need to promote their books. Others simply don’t understand that promotion is part of a successful publishing project.

It does no good to produce an excellent product and then let it sit on the shelf waiting to be discovered. In order to experience success in this fiercely competitive publishing climate, the author must have an aggressive promotional plan in place.

8: Authors are accustomed to writing alone and often make publishing a lone venture, as well. I tell authors, that when you become serious about writing as a career or even if you want to publish just one book, it is important to connect with others who can share in your journey. Join publishing organizations and join in. There are thousands of authors with unique experiences. Reach out and learn from them.


Patricia Fry is the Executive Director of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) and the author of 29 books. See her most recent books in the left column of this page.

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