Over my past 20 years in the book publishing industry, I have seen many new authors make the same mistakes. These mistakes seem obvious to industry insiders, which is perhaps why we have not done a better job of helping authors avoid making them. In this era where most new books are self-published, to some degree, an author is responsible for several functions that are normally outsourced to their publisher. As a result, these mistakes are becoming more common.
While not nearly as important as the original Ten Commandments, these guidelines can determine an author’s level of success.
1. Thou shall write a good book. The characteristics of a “good” book are enigmatic, ephemeral and evolving. For these reasons, it helps to think of what books the market wants at that moment in time.
2. Thou shall know thyself. When writing your book, you need to consider the following questions: What is your mission? What are your goals? How does publishing a book help you achieve your mission and goals? Do you need to be traditionally published?
3. Thou shall know thy market. In order to write a “good” book you need to know the market at that time. Who is your target reader and what do they want? Is there room for another book on the topic? What will separate your book from the competition and cause your target reader to buy it? These are all important questions to consider when writing your book.
4. Thou shall build your network and marketing platform. A great way to build your network and marketing platform is by starting a blog and participating in other platforms before you begin writing your book. This helps you familiarize with your market, and it will provide you with connections with thought-leaders on your topic; the crowd you encounter online includes several knowledgeable people who want to help others. Your network can and should provide input and feedback, and each person who takes the time to comment has some level of vested interest in your success and is that much more likely to buy and/or recommend your book. Organized groups can provide opportunities for webcasts and speaking events. Find ways to capture email addresses and provide value to your network—give more than you take.
5. Thou shall obtain editorial assistance. At the very least, every author needs an editor to remove simple errors such as spelling, grammar, word choice, etc. A fresh set of eyes is necessary because after you have worked with the words for months, you can become blind to errors, making it hard to identify and fix them. Most authors would also benefit from a line edit, and working with a developmental editor to help transform their writing. Extensive collaboration between an author and their editor is required to create a quality book that retains the author’s voice.
6. Thou shall obtain a professional cover design. Although you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, most people do. Readers have millions of books to choose from, and thousands on any particular topic. A good cover communicates that a book should at least be considered, and a good title leads a reader to believe a particular book might be the one they are looking for.
7. Thou shall use the industry’s standard tools and procedures. Just about everybody you need to send your manuscript to will expect a Microsoft Word file. If your manuscript comes close to the guidelines of the Chicago Manual of Style, you will be viewed as a professional author. If you are self-publishing and can’t or don’t want to make your manuscript conform, then obtain editorial and book design services.
8. Thou shall advertise and hire a publicist. While social media is a free and powerful marketing tool, you do not want to spend hours composing updates when you could be writing and refining your next book. All good publicists are social media experts. Hire one, and establish clear, measurable goals. Find out where your target readers spend their time and determine if it is better to blast them with emails or advertise to them. Run inexpensive tests in several places to identify which tactics deliver the best results.
9. Thou shall distribute review copies. The more copies you give out to reviewers, the more reviews your book will get. Identify bloggers and other influential thought-leaders on your topic and send them a copy of your book with a short, personalized letter. By this point, you should have an extensive network in place and you should be able to use it to your book’s advantage. Continue to participate in your network but be careful not to come across as self-serving.
10. Thou shall publish. Too many authors waste years waiting for an agent or traditional publisher to deem their first book worthy of being considered. Give your initial plan a deadline and have plan B ready to implement if necessary. Be creative and flexible. What is your goal? How many different ways can you get there? Each book you publish creates synergies for promoting your other books and your brand. The first book is the most difficult and the most expensive so get it launched as quickly as possible and learn as you go.