Every person has a certain ability to learn from other people’s advice; I would say on average people can learn 40% from advice and 60% from their own mistakes. Because I unfortunately learn 90% from my own mistakes and only 10% from useful advice, I guess it was inevitable that I screwed up my first book.
Where is my first book? At the moment, nowhere to be found – when you read the list below you will understand why. I published it about a year and a half ago, put a lot of work into it, but screwed it up with rookie mistakes. I did publish another book since, with much less mistakes. A completely different genre – you can find it here if you like.
If you are someone who can learn from others’ advice, you are sure to benefit from my list. If you are like me and learn only from failure, you should stop reading blogs and simply get into action.
Mistake #1 – I didn’t take an editor
English is not my first language, yet for some reason I thought that if I proofread the book 3 times it would be okay. Big mistake. Even experienced, native English authors take editors.
Never publish a book without a good editor.
This is not supposed to be a big expense – contact me if you need help finding a low cost professional editor.
Mistake #2 – I didn’t take a second reader
A second reader is just what you think it is – another person that reads your finished manuscript (before you send it to an editor). Normally you would pick someone with experience in the topic you are writing about, so he or she can point out your blind spots: does the order of chapters make sense? Is there any information missing? Are you explicitly offering your readers to engage in illegal activity? (I had some mildly illegal suggestions in my latest book but decided to keep them. Book will probably be banned one day.)
How do you find a second reader?
- Become part of an author community where authors read each other’s books and comment
- Ask someone you trust for a favor
- Approach industry leaders and offer to have their name on the book as co-authors (they will have to read and comment about the book they are about to publish…)
If you can’t get a second reader and can only get an editor you should be fine, however – getting a second reader can be super helpful.
Mistake #3 – I let a friend who writes thrillers edit a chapter, even though my book was not a thriller.
After my book was “ready” (a.k.a. I thought it was ready because I proofread it three times), I asked a friend who published books to edit my book for me (see mistake #1 – take a professional editor!). He said he would, but then got busy. (Expect this to happen– editing a book is f’ing hard work and takes a lot of time. Leave it to a paid professional.) However, I was in a rush to publish my book – wanted to get it out there – so I asked him to edit the first chapter.
Why does that even make sense? When people browse Amazon looking for books, they can peek into the first few pages. I thought that if I could just get the first chapter to be well edited and attract readers, I could get away with the rest of the book being “un-edited” – obviously because the plot was so good! (huh?)
So my friend edited the first chapter, and made it match his writing style. The result was “choppy” and mysterious, to the point of being unclear– creating suspense the way many thrillers do. But my book was not a thriller. It was a novel. The first chapter didn’t fit the rest of the book at all.
Note: a professional editor knows how to keep your style while working on your manuscript.
Mistake #4 – I used a pen name
While using a pen name may work for some, it has serious drawbacks: creating an “identity” takes a lot of time and energy. If you’re going to use your pen name for all publications, it makes sense to put your energy into creating a new identity; but if you want to publish stuff under your real name as well, splitting your energy between your pen name and your real name will be exhausting. It is hard enough to publish interesting content on one blog, publishing interesting content on more than one website, if you are not doing this full time, is nearly impossible.
Mistake #5 – I didn’t un-publish the book right after bad reviews started rolling in
Right after publishing the book, I spent a couple of weekends on marketing. My marketing effort resulted in very nice reach – 13,000 readers downloaded the free version of my book.
However, since I did not take an editor (mistake #1), negative reviews started pouring in, complaining about typos and bad grammar, and pointing out the lack of professional editing. The few brave people who got over the typos and grammar to actually read the book thought the story was really good. But they were few.
Seeing all those negative reviews, I hired an editor and released a fixed version of the manuscript a couple of months after the initial publishing. Unfortunately some of the 13,000 people who downloaded the book on the initial free promotion took some time until they actually read it. So even though the new version was up, they were commenting on the old version, damaging the reputation further.
Mistake #6 – My book had an agenda, and it wasn’t subtle enough
I wanted to use the platform of my book to point out some human rights issues I thought were largely ignored, so I let the characters in my book discuss them in their dialogs. Looking back, I think it was a little forced and didn’t contribute much to the plot. I should’ve let the book setting (the environment etc.) do the job and trust my readers to be smart enough to absorb the issues without being spoon-fed through dialogs.
When you write a book, you always want to bring some of your values to the table; try to do it through the characters’ actions rather than through dialogs.
Mistake #7 – I expected to get help from the author community without contributing
This is true for all communities. Give and you shall receive.
Author communities can be helpful in marketing your book; you can offer fellow authors your book for free and ask them for comments and reviews. However, in order for other authors to spend their time helping you, it is best if you start by helping them. Join an author community and help others by being their second reader, as well as by commenting and reviewing – everything you want them to do for you eventually.
This one wasn’t on the original list, but now as I am about to publish the post, I want to add something more. Don’t rush when publishing a book. You often get one shot only. Expect the process to last longer than you think, and be as patient as you can…