Do This, Not That: 5 Mistakes for New Authors to Avoid

Do This, Not That: 5 Mistakes for New Authors to Avoid

When I first began publishing picture books in 2012, it was all about getting my work turned into a printed version so readers could enjoy the story. It’s amazing how things can change over a decade. Back then, I wanted it done fast and free, or at least as free as possible because I didn’t understand the value of investing in my work.

What did this mean? Ultimately, this meant my finished product turned out to be something I wasn’t quite proud of so I wasn’t excited about promoting it. Any published author will tell you, if you are not excited to promote your product, your book will not sell.  

My hand-drawn illustrations didn’t translate well when they were scanned into the printer so I decided to use the standard paint program on my computer to fix what I could. (Just for fun, I had to see if that program still exists, it does so I don’t feel SUPER old but still old.) Next, I didn’t have much knowledge about formatting and bleed, so I used a free template from my publishing platform. The template caused my illustrations to have a white border around them. Lastly, I hadn’t done any research about target audience or marketing so I threw a primitive cover on the front and said, “Oh well, if they buy it, they buy it.”

Over the years, technology has advanced and there are a lot more things available which I did not have knowledge about or access to when I first started. Since I don’t have a time machine to return to 2012 and educate my old self, perhaps there are some things you can take away from the knowledge I have gained. Here are five mistakes I wish I would have avoided:

  1. Underestimating the Value of My Story

Over the years, I have helped many authors write and publish their stories. One of the biggest mistakes I see authors make is undervaluing their story. I wanted to print my story and get it into the hands of readers. I didn’t want to invest a lot of money into the production of the book nor did I want to waste much time researching my market or best practices. So, I threw a product out there which was less than ideal. The very first version of The Little Princess Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair was awful. The story was cute, the illustrations were cute but overall, the quality was not professional grade.

Perhaps if I would have placed a higher value on the story I had written and the illustrations I had drawn, I would have exercised the patience to ensure my final product was something I would be proud to have my name on and confidant to share with readers.

I remember reading once about director James Cameron waiting fifteen years before moving forward with Avatar because the technology to make it great wasn’t yet available. Can you imagine how different Avatar would have been if he had started production in 1990 instead of waiting until 2007?

When an author understands the value of their story, they are more likely to take the time needed to produce a quality book. They will research which publishing option is best for them, ensure they have the funds to hire a professional editor and ultimately create a book they are proud to market.

  1. Saying that “FREE” Was Made for Me

When I found out there was a publishing platform online that would allow me to print my book, FOR FREE, I was all in. Little did I know, those “free” options would limit my writing career and cause me more work in the future. The biggest “free” thing I would recommend new authors to carefully consider is the ISBN provided by publishing platforms. This is the route I took on ALL of the first books I published which has led to multiple versions of my books on the market.

When you utilize a platform’s free ISBN, your book is now stuck on that site. However, when you purchase your own ISBNs, you are free to publish your book on other platforms, print copies through your local printer or even print large volumes overseas.

There are going to be many free and low-cost options available to you on the market. While some of these are fine to utilize, there are others which will limit your expansion. Be sure to choose options which will allow your books the freedom to reach more readers.

  1. Forgetting to Slow Down So I Could Speed Up

With today’s technology, it is so simple to upload a manuscript to a publishing platform and have printed books available on demand. However, just because you can do something fast doesn’t mean you necessarily should do it fast. There is value in taking the time to research your intended audience, find an editor, establish a preorder campaign and plan out what your author journey will look like.

In the early days of my author career, there was little planning that went in to publishing. Publishing a book is super exciting. For some people, they are content with a one-hit-wonder. They want to publish a book and after the NEW sticker fades, they are on to the next exciting thing.

A good story can continue to entertain, educate and inspire others throughout the years when the author is willing to take the time to plan.

I understand there are many reasons why authors decide to publish books. Some want to leave a legacy; some want to start a career and others want to elevate the career they already have. Publishing a book can open many opportunities so be sure to take some time to consider all the options a published book can provide you. Then, take the time to produce a quality book the first time.

  1. Neglecting My Industry and Audience Knowledge

Part of me forgetting to slow down was not taking the time to understand the publishing industry or my audience. I wrote a picture book so I figured it was for kids but I hadn’t considered narrowing down my audience. Was my book for children who were being read to or independent readers? Was it for preschoolers through first graders or older elementary students?

The very first cover for The Little Princess Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair was not marketed to anybody at all. I didn’t look at other books about hair care for little children. Sadly, I didn’t look at or care about comparable books to mine in any way. When I finally did take an honest look at the industry, I decided to change my cover and received some sales, including some international sales. This was very exciting.

Then last year, I decided it was time for me to implement the publishing knowledge I had gathered over the past 17 years and give The Little Princess a makeover for the market. I refreshed all the original illustrations, added some new illustrations and created a brand-new cover for this second edition. In addition, I plan to have a hardcover version available within the next few months because I know hardcover books are preferred by parents of my target readers.

Understanding who your reader is will be the first step to making your book great. Next, you will want to ensure the cover will appeal to them. This is not the time to reinvent the wheel. Market research is your friend. You don’t have to follow what’s currently trending but you do have to have an understanding of who you are writing for and what they are interested in.

  1. Refusing to Hire Professionals

Just because you can do something yourself doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it yourself. This past weekend, my husband and I installed an under-the-counter water filtration system. We were able to get it done without any issues. Could we have figured out how to fix our leaky upstairs shower as well? Probably, but since the issue was inside the wall it would have cost us a lot more time and research along with money if we had to call someone to fix our attempt. For the leaky shower, it was better to pay the professional to find and fix the leak instead of attempting it on our own.

When it comes to publishing your book, there may be things that you are able to do yourself. I know authors who have designed covers or formatted their books using software that is available to anyone at affordable pricing. They ended up with some beautiful books. However, I have known other authors who have attempted the same and ended up having to pay to get their books fixed.

There is no shame in understanding your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to hire a professional to help you produce a book you’re proud of. Or, invest in yourself to build the skills you need.

No matter where you are in your author journey, you will most likely encounter some “mistakes you wish you had avoided”. Be sure to give yourself some grace and patience as you’re navigating. No author knows everything their first time around. We are all learning and growing in our knowledge. Overall, the best advice I can share from my own publishing experience is DON’T

  • Sell yourself short,
  • Settle for inferior,
  • Rush yourself out of a quality product,
  • Neglect your audience or
  • Refuse to ask for help.
Doing any of these five things will delay your journey. So, do yourself a favor, and learn from my mistakes. Understand the value your story can bring to the market, seek out quality, slow down to research, know your audience and ask for help from others who are further along in their journey.
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