5 mistakes writers make

(and how to avoid them)

Sarah J Alderson
May 29, 2014 · 3 min read
  1. Thinking that your book will sell itself

I have five books published with Simon & Schuster and let me tell you: they do not walk off the shelves. I made the mistake of becoming complacent and thinking that because I had a huge publisher behind me that I didn’t need to do much PR work to promote myself. In the words of Julia Roberts: Big mistake. Huge.

I watched my friend and author Becky Wicks work like a demon to promote her indie book ‘Before He Was Famous’ and within 12 hours of it going live on Amazon it had sold nearly 500 copies. She worked her BUTT off for months prior building an audience, interacting on Twitter and Facebook and building a fan base from scratch. She rocks. It’s totally inspired me to do the same.

If you have written a book and put it on Amazon hoping for the best then good luck with that.

If you’ve written a book for a major publisher and expected them to do the hard work for you — good luck with that.

You need to act like an indie author — a determined one — if you want to make it in the world of publishing. This means:

  • Spending at least 3 -5 hours a day on social media interacting with fans, building rapport (this doesn’t mean shoving your book down their throat but providing interesting content).
  • Studying marketing & promotion, learn everything you can about it. Now!
  • Starting at least 6 months before your book is out.

2. Thinking that people care about your life story

Unless you are an A-list celebrity or have done something truly extraordinary that makes a stranger’s jaw drop, unless it has a hook, then it’s a mistake to assume that your story is of any interest to anyone beyond your immediate circle of friends and family.

I have lost count of the number of acquaintances who’ve come to me and told me they want my help with a “great idea they want to turn into a novel.” Invariably it’s a story about their battle with cancer / divorce / trip around the world. My eyes glaze over.

If it means that much to you write it, but don’t expect it to sell. Though I’d be happy to eat my words!

3. Following trends

I made the mistake once of writing a book — a YA dystopia — because I was told that was all the rage at the Frankfurt Book fair. It was a good book but by the time I’d written it, guess what? Dystopia was yesterday’s news.

Sure, you can always fly in the face of this advice by writing something truly astonishing and amazing, but it’s more likely you won’t. My best suggestion? Write the story you want to read and don’t look at trends. They come and go.

4. Expecting overnight success with a debut novel

Sure, this happens. Occasionally. But it’s exceedingly rare. I’m on my fifth book with Simon & Schuster and am yet to earn out my advance with any of them. Sigh. And my advances weren’t even that big to begin with.

My first new adult book — Come Back To Me- is out with Pan macmillan in three weeks and that’s my first book to earn out its advance before publication thanks to foreign rights sales.

I’m hoping by the time I am on my tenth book I might be making some royalties.

5. That they’ll be able to quit their day job once they sell that first book

Industry advances are SHRINKING. My advances today are less than they ever were. Factor in that a publisher will only buy roughly one book a year (if you’re lucky) and that your agent will take 15% and the taxman another 20-30% and you’re left with… not very much.

I quit my day job, started travelling the world AND then decided to become a writer because I never researched how much authors earn. Doh.

How do I survive financially?

  • I copywrite
  • I have started writing screenplays and earning from that.
  • I’ve optioned my books to production companies
  • I’ve self-published and earn royalties from those books
  • I teach / lead retreats
  • I work my ass off!

I’ve had to use my creativity and imagination to find other ways to earn income in short.

Follow me on @sarahalderson

www.sarahalderson.com

Writing tips from published authors

Sarah Alderson and Becky Wicks write fiction and non-fiction for Simon & Schuster, Pan Macmillan and Harper Collins. They also dabble in self-publishing. This is a collection of posts on writing and publishing.

    Sarah J Alderson

    Written by

    Author of HUNTING LILA, FATED, THE SOUND & other YA books. I live in Bali where I feed my addiction to coconuts. I also write adult fiction @MilaGrayBooks

    Writing tips from published authors

    Sarah Alderson and Becky Wicks write fiction and non-fiction for Simon & Schuster, Pan Macmillan and Harper Collins. They also dabble in self-publishing. This is a collection of posts on writing and publishing.

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