7 Sales-Stymieing Mistakes Most First-Time Authors Make (and How to Fix Them)

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Warning! First-time authors: Are you making these sales-stymieing mistakes before you even publish?

I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count.

A brand new author publishes their first book.

They’re not expecting it to become a New York Times bestseller, but they do expect to see some sales.

They publish the book and anxiously wait for the sales to roll in, hitting refresh on their sales dashboard every ten minutes.

Do they see new sales rolling in? No. In fact, after a few days, their book sales are slim to none.

The kicker? They’re genuinely surprised at the results.

Why First-Time Authors Fail

As human beings, we’re all a bit self-centered. We expect good things to happen to us because we’re good people, we try hard, and we feel we deserve to be successful.

Here’s the problem — the way you feel means nothing in terms of real world success.

Everybody feels like they deserve more for their life and career.

You’re not special.

But you think you are. You have big dreams of becoming a best-selling author, an influencer, or a thought leader, but your dreams ain’t worth a penny.

Instead, you need a plan. You need to avoid the costly mistakes most first time authors make.

I had to learn this the hard way. My first book sold a decent amount of copies, but I made many costly mistakes along the way. My second book has sold ten times as many copies as the first because I corrected the mistakes the second time around.

Don’t find out the hard way. Avoid these sales-stymieing mistakes your first time around and become a first-time author who succeeds.

Mistake # 1 – Shouting in an Empty Room

Here’s what most first time authors do. They write their book in complete obscurity, put it on Amazon, hit publish, and wait. Even a traditionally published author can make the mistake of relying on their publisher for the marketing.

Said author has no real audience of their own yet. He or she hopes people will magically find their book.

It doesn’t work that way.

Successful authors build their audience first and write their book second.

Prior to publishing my first book, I had no email subscribers. This time around, I had a list of thousands.

You can imagine the difference in my results.

As tempting as it is to throw your book out there without an email list, don’t do it.

Be patient and use the following techniques to build your fan base first:

  1. Republish your work on blog platforms like Medium – Top Medium writer, Benjamin Hardy, built an email list of 50,000 people solely using Medium. Create a Medium account, find publications within Medium to write for, hit publish often, and watch your readership grow.
  2. Guest post on popular blogs – Guest posting still provides a great return on investment in terms of email subscribers. The recipe is simple — find guest blogs in your niche, pitch them with respect and courtesy, and of course, write amazing guest posts.
  3. Create incentives and freebies for readers to join your list – Give people a taste of what they can expect from you in the future and they’ll be dying to read your book. You can create a tantalizing opt-in gift in five hours or less. Once you’ve created your gift, you’ll have something of value to exchange with readers and grow your email list.

Once you have a decent fan base — 1,000 subscribers or more — you can begin to think about writing and publishing your book.

Mistake # 2 – Trying to Write a New York Times Best Selling Memoir

For every Eat, Pray, Love there are a thousand stories of people’s lives no one really wants to hear.

I’m not saying don’t write a memoir or a book on the War of 1812 or a how-to book on folding origami napkins, but know what you’re getting into when writing on a more obscure topic or random musings from your life.

In both fiction and nonfiction, there are proven markets that work. You can do research, write to the market, and publish something you care about while also attracting readers.

Too often I see writers who think other people are as interested in certain subjects as they are.

Successful authors mix business and art. You can try to be Elizabeth Gilbert if you want, but you’re probably going to fail.

I suggest entering tried and true niches, validating your idea, and injecting your personality into proven topics.

Some great guides on market research for books and validating your idea are:

Mistake # 3 – Trying to Become Ernest Hemingway

I hate to break it to you, but the odds of you becoming the next Hemingway, Kafka, Plath, Bukowski, or Tolkien are essentially zero.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be an amazing writer.

Too many writers have issues with perfectionism. They’re trying to write the next great American novel on their first try.

They think their book has to be a literary masterpiece before they can send it out to the world.

Are you really trying to make your book the best it can be by toiling away at it for years or are you just hiding?

The problem with trying to be the next Hemingway is two-fold.

  • First, you can’t make any sales if you never publish your book.
  • Second, if you publish your book with such high standards in mind, you’ll be in for a rude awakening when you don’t get a Kirkus review and a literary award.

There are a lot of technically gifted writers who pen pretty words that make no money.

Is that what you want?

I suspect you want people to, you know, buy your book.

To do that, focus on becoming the best writer you can be and publish the best book you can write without paralyzing yourself with analysis.

Mistake # 4 – Trying to Do it Yourself

No one succeeds alone.

It’s true you must wear many hats as a first-time author — writer, head of marketing, head of public relations, etc. But still, you need people on your side to help make your book a success.

That means finding people to help you promote your book when you launch it.

When you see the big-shot author with a six-figure book launch, realize there were probably dozens or even hundreds of people involved in making that happen.

I’m speaking from the perspective of a self-publisher, but you launch a book successfully you need:

  • A street team – A street team is a group of people who will read an advance reader copy of your book, review it when it comes out, and help promote it during the book launch.
  • Freelance help – Unless you’re a savvy at designing and formatting, you’ll need to outsource that work. You’ll also need an editor. You can even consider hiring a marketing company to help with your book.
  • Influencer mentions – You don’t have to get a blurb from a major influencer to succeed, but having well-known people mention your book definitely lends to your book’s credibility.

If you’re currently working isolation, it’s time to rethink the way you work moving forward. Gain friends, find fans to help you and offer a lending hand when you can help others. You’ll see karma come your way when you need it.

Some great guides on winning friends online and building a community are:

Some great guides on building street teams for your book launch are:

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Mistake # 5 – Publishing and Praying

Imagine you’re starting a business.

You’ve done all the hard work of creating a business plan, buying inventory, registering yourself as a company, etc.

When you’re about to launch your business, would you just tell a handful of people?

Would you stop actively marketing your business after a week?

No. You’d have a plan for the next 6 months, the next year and the next five years. You’d use paid advertisements along with making your best efforts toward building a word of mouth campaign.

No smart business owner would leave her success to “chance” but many authors do. I did.
With my first book, I hit publish, posted a bit on social media, and waited.

I’d heard that Amazon helps people promote their books, which is in a sense true, but it doesn’t do it for you.

In the publishing space, especially the self-publishing space, there seems to be the belief in a malevolent Amazon algorithm dead-set on helping every author succeed.

Some books do just take off, but they’re the exception, not the rule. Amazon’s algorithm helps promote authors who appear to be doing well on their own. If you have a steady stream of sales coming in it lets the algorithm know you’re worthy of helping.

You want to set your book up for long term success. To do so, consider doing the following:

Launch With a Bang

You can gain a ton of momentum during your launch week. When your book comes out, you should promote your book to your audience aggressively. You just poured your blood, sweat, and tears into that book, so why wouldn’t you do everything you can to sell it? Also, consider additional ways to increase awareness around your book.

For my latest book, I ran a 30-day content marketing campaign where I published a new blog post every day with excerpts from the book, chapters that didn’t make the cut, and original posts based on my books ideas.

In addition, I partnered with blogging friends who helped spread the word about the book. I gave away bonuses for people who bought the book during the first 30 days and ran advertisements on multiple book promotion websites. You must gain traction during your launch week to succeed, but you shouldn’t stop there.

Commit to Long Term Sales

Without a system in place to keep sales coming in long term, your book will fail. When you launch your book, commit to a full year of marketing it.

I continue to publish 1-2 blog posts per week mentioning the book with an incentive offer where new readers receive the first two chapters for free along with a 5-day course with ideas from the book. I use paid ads on Amazon to gain new sales on autopilot.
Once your book is out, think of 1 or 2 things you can do each week to continue promoting it.

Maintain a Business Owner’s Mindset

Many authors fail to grasp the importance of marketing because they believe the “art should speak for itself.” This is 2017. Your writing competes with a myriad of other media. Like it or not, as an author you’re either a business owner or a failure.

Mistake # 6 – Penny Pinching

The product you put into the world represents the value you place on your art.

Why spend months or years writing a book, only to pay $50 for the cover? Why take the time to write 80,000 words yet be reluctant to pay for advertising?

I believe in bootstrapping your way to success and I don’t think you need to go overboard financing your book, but it doesn’t have to go above and beyond work done on sites like fiverr.com

You must think of spending money on your book as an investment, not a cost. If you think of spending on your book as a cost, you’re operating from a fear based mindset. If you spend with the intention of making your book a more sellable product, you’ll package your words in the best way possible.

Here are a couple key items worth spending some dough on:

Successful self-publisher James Altucher spent $33,000 on one of his books.

It went on to sell 500,000 copies, giving him a great return on his investment.

This goes back to the business owner’s mindset I mentioned before. You’re not just writing and publishing a book, you’re creating a product for sale. Packaging and presentation matters for any product.

Set a budget you’re comfortable with yet stretches your investment at the same time.

Some great guides on putting together a budget for a book are:

Mistake # 7 – Stealing

I suffer from imposter syndrome. At times, I feel like I’m “stealing” when someone buys my book because they don’t know I’m not a real author.

Maybe you feel the same way.

You think people enjoying your work is a result of either pity or failure to understand how poor your writing is.

It’s okay to have this nagging feeling, but it’s not okay to let it overcome you.

You must cultivate the feeling that the transaction between you and a reader is mutual. They’re giving you money and you’re giving them a great story, useful information, inspiration — value.

Maybe you’ll never be a legendary writer, but with practice and patience, you can pen worthwhile words people are dying to read.

Keep doing the work, put it out into the world, and you’ll be rewarded for it.


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Ayodeji Awosika

Ayodeji is a writing coach, author, and digital marketing director at an SEO services company.

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