GUEST POST by Desiree Villena
“Failures are just learning opportunities that have presented themselves successfully.” If you’ve come across that before, it’s probably because there are countless quotes about the value in making mistakes. And yet, this sentiment is so pervasive because it’s true — especially when it comes to publishing!
Publishing a book requires a mixed bag of skills: writing, editing, and marketing, at least. There are so many opportunities for an entrepreneurial indie author to make mistakes, but that’s okay, because those are also chances to get better and better at conquering the publishing process.
To help you out on that road, we’re covering five common publishing mistakes authors make — so you can take them out with a preemptive strike!
1. Writing Mistake: Head-hopping
Head-hopping is when a story is being told from the viewpoint of one character before abruptly changing to the viewpoint of another character, then another, and another — you get the point. It can disorient the reader and make it hard for them to bond with any of the characters, which is a huge aspect of maintaining a reader’s interest.
What if your story is meant to be told from multiple perspectives? That’s okay! Just avoid jumping from perspective to perspective abruptly. For instance, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is told from the perspective of several descendants of one family — but each character’s perspective is clearly distinguished by chapter breaks.
What if you are writing from third-person omniscient — the point of view that allows the narrators to know the thoughts and actions of all characters at all times? Well, technically it’s not incorrect to head-hop in third person omniscient. However, it can still be jarring and confusing for readers if you are writing from the perspective of multiple characters within the same scene.
Unless your story absolutely calls for it, it’s generally best to stick to one perspective at a time. You can clue readers into the thoughts and feelings of other characters through showing, not telling.
For instance, let’s say you’re writing a scene where a cop interrogates a reluctant witness. Instead of writing: “The cop grew frustrated with the witness’s clearly dishonest answers. The witness was feeling nervous as the cop bore down on him,” show the witness’s nerves instead. Try: “The cop grew frustrated with the witness’s clearly dishonest answers. The witness bounced his knee incessantly under the table, causing it to rattle audibly.” This way, the readers stay connected to the cop’s experience of the interrogation, but can still clearly see that the witness is nervous.
2. Editing Mistake: Revising as you write
Lisa Lepki, Editor of the ProWritingAid blog, once said: “The creative part of your brain — that’s in charge of imagining your scenes, conceiving your characters and telling your story — is very different to the part of your brain you use to edit. Going back and forth between the two of them will make you lose momentum — a key reason why many writers never finish their book.”
In other words, trying to edit as you write is a bit like head-hopping between your storyteller and editor selves. You’re bound to lose your connection with the task at hand, and end up lost.
Instead, try to ignore the insistent voice that tells that you can edit that sentence that you just wrote to perfection, since you likely won’t get anywhere (and you certainly won’t get past an editorial assistant) with that mindset. If that doesn’t convince you, think about it this way: it’s better to have a finished but imperfect book at the end of the day than no book at all.
3. Design Mistake: A book cover that doesn’t drop clues
The cover of the first book in the Twilight series features pale hands holding a red apple, set against a black backdrop. Now, we all know that Stephenie Meyer’s series has nothing to do with apples — and a plain picture of an apple like this one would be incredibly misleading.
This cover works, though, because it does give potential readers a hint to its genre and themes. The contrast of the pale hands against the dark background gives off an edgy, gothic vibe. The font of the word “Twilight” is intricately curled, which is common amongst fantasy titles. And then there’s the apple, which, in Meyer’s own words, “represents ‘forbidden fruit.’”
There are no vampires on the cover, explicitly letting readers know this book features the living dead, but the cover design gives them clues by referencing its theme and leveraging genre-specific trends — which is what you should aim to replicate, as well.
4. Marketing Mistake: Marketing to everyone
“My book is for people who like fantasy.”
“Anyone who likes Victorian fiction will be into my novel.”
“Teenagers will love my book.”
Just a few examples of people who do not know their target market. This is one of the most basic book marketing mistakes to make, because defining your market is not just about narrowing it down from “everyone” to a broad age range or genre — it requires a little more work than that. The broader you make your target market, the less-equipped you are to market your book.
Listing a book simply as “fantasy” on Amazon throws it into a pile of thousands and thousands of other books, making it that much harder for readers to find you. Likewise, posting a Facebook ad targeted at “fantasy readers” casts a net so wide that all the fish escape by the time you’re able to finishing reeling in.
Instead, really hone in on the group of people you’ve really written your book for. For instance, “Young Adult readers who enjoy historical fantasy with strong female leads.” Now you’re talking! This smaller niche allows you to more directly find the readers who are looking for exactly what your book offers.
5. Promotion Mistake: Overlooking the power of FREE
It’s no secret: everyone loves free things. Anyone who’s been to Costco and walked by a sample station will know the fervor with which people clamor to get their hands on free goodies. While “clamoring” might be a stretch when it comes to reader reactions to a free indie book, readers are far more likely to take a chance on an unknown author if they can try out a book for free. Truthfully, giving away your book for free isn’t a “loss.” Because if that reader you attracted with a giveaway enjoys your work and becomes a loyal fan — someone who will either talk about your book or buy one of your other books — then that is a huge earning in itself.
A good tip for running a free book promotion: check out how the top indie authors in your genre go about it. Do they give away free books as mailing list magnets? Do they make the first book in a series permanently free? Are free first chapters being given out? Are they offering PDFs or MOBIs? Do they run free promos? Clearly, those tactics are working for them. Try to adopt their best practices, and you can’t lose.