Promotional Pitfalls: 23 missteps first-time authors must avoid when marketing their book

Just published your first book? Here are 23 steps not to take when promoting your book.
By Brian Feinblum | Published: September 11, 2018


Illustration by blambca/Shutterstock

Frankly, this article could have easily been titled “73 mistakes to avoid” or “103” or even “500,” because there are so many potential pitfalls new authors must navigate or avert when promoting their books. Even seasoned authors with several books on their resume can misstep when it comes to marketing a book today.

Having promoted authors since 1989, both as an in-house book publicist and now as the head of marketing for a public relations firm specializing in book publicity, I can assure you that all authors are vulnerable to making these mistakes, no matter their age, hometown, or genre.

Here are the 23 missteps you need to avoid as an author.

1.You start too late.

Timing is everything. For example, you must send copies of your book to leading book reviewers at key publications three and a half to four months prior to your publication date. Don’t delay and fall behind. Plan ahead and work backward to ensure everything is taken care of.

2. You fail to make a plan.

Have a marketing plan, not a wish list. Sure, you can have a mission statement and set goals, but you also need to have a concrete, detailed plan and timeline to execute this plan.

3. You don’t play nice with others.

Realize that you should collaborate and cooperate with fellow authors. Don’t see them as competitors or enemies. Authors are stronger when they exchange ideas, share resources, and support one another.

4. Your head isn’t in the game.

Ditch the lousy attitude. Lazy authors are not successful ones. Authors who give up too quickly shortchange themselves. Another problem is having an all-about-me approach: Too many authors have huge egos and fail to hustle because they are blinded by an inflated sense of self. Tone it down and get off your high horse. Be ready to do whatever it takes to get your book out there.

5. You don’t think your book is worthy of awards and accolades.


You absolutely should pursue awards. Too many authors doubt their self-worth and fail to apply. I say put it out there and dare others to reject your work.

6. You don’t have a website.

Authors absolutely need one. Nothing substitutes for having a dedicated site for you and your book. Further, they must be updated and expanded on a regular basis. You don’t want outdated, incorrect, or incomplete information out there. Updating your site regularly helps with search engine optimization (SEO), too. Aesthetics matter as well: Freshen the site regularly to give it an updated, modern appearance.

7. You don’t network.

Methodically identify and reach out to your network of online connections and real-life personal relationships. Don’t be shy, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from others.

8. You put all your promotional
 eggs in one basket.

Diversify your media outreach. There are three types – traditional (TV, radio, print); digital (bloggers, podcasters, video channels, websites, forums, reviewers), and social (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest). Think of these buckets of media and content sharers as your media portfolio. Don’t just zero in on one type of media or narrowly focus on one channel.

9. You wait too long to see ’what works best.’

It’s okay to test the waters and experiment before you plunge a ton of resources into something, but don’t wait too long to commit or you’ll miss the boat.

10.You don’t go all in.

Don’t say you are doing something when all that you are doing is scratching the surface. For instance, don’t say you have a Facebook presence when all that you did is put a profile up. You need to consistently engage and interact in all of the areas that you say you are active in.

11. You’re afraid to open your wallet.

Many authors fail to commit resources to their books. They may spend some money initially, perhaps for editing or for an ad campaign, but they fall short of investing in the types of marketing and publicity that are necessary to establish their brand and make a significant attempt at growing book sales.

12. You focus on your book and 
ignore your brand.


Most authors don’t realize they are actually promoting their next book – or their backlist – with what they do to highlight their current book. An author is always promoting him- or herself, not his or her book. When he or she builds up a media resume, it helps convince people to follow him or her online, to buy his or her book, to go to his or her website, or to consider buying his or her next book.

13. You don’t know the industry.

Authors fail themselves when they don’t stay informed and read publications like The Writer or Publishers Weekly. They should keep up with informative blogs and podcasts on writing, promoting, and marketing.

14. You ignore the resources at your disposal.

Writers fall short when they don’t join useful groups such as Independent Book Publishers Association, Writers Guild, PEN America, Association of American Publishers, or genre-specific organizations such as Romance Writers of America.

15. You don’t stick with a strategy.

Authors give up too quickly. They try something, don’t see a bump in activity right off the bat, and are quick to conclude – mistakenly – that their efforts aren’t working. Try tweaking your strategy or giving it another go before giving up completely.

16. You don’t think about pre-sales.

All authors should have a pre-publication strategy. Thanks to pre-ordering, you can position yourself to hit a best-seller list in your launch week, because the sales that you have secured over many months all get applied to tabulations for your launch day.

17. You don’t think about marketing until the book is already written.


Authors, to be successful with publicity, should think about how to make their book more promotable when writing and editing it, rather than first trying to see how what they wrote will be promoted. I recommend splurging for media coaching, which can help you identify the most marketable qualities in your idea.

18. You’re not original.

Authors all too often copy other authors. Instead, look for your unique selling proposition. Let your personal brand and style stand out. Don’t strive to be as good as others; be better.

19. You have a one-size-fits-all promotional strategy.


Be prepared to customize your public message and speaking points to various targeted readerships. What works for one audience may not be ideal for another. Be flexible. Think about what relevant visuals, personal stories, provocative statements, and insightful ideas would work best for each appearance.

20. You don’t have an elevator speech.

You never know who you are talking to or where you’ll chat about your book. Have a 15- to 20-second soundbite about you and your book at the ready, and share it as often as possible to as many people you come in contact with.

21. You ignore the power of reviews..

Secure paid reviews with Kirkus Reviews, Foreword Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Blue Ink, and others. Put your book on Goodreads and NetGalley. Get as many reviews as possible. You can never have enough.

22. You waste efforts on meaningless displays.

Displaying your book at various conferences or exhibitions is generally not cost effective. It’s one thing if you purchase a booth or make a speaking appearance, but to just pay to have your book sitting in a cluttered showcase makes little sense.

23. You expect others to do the lion’s share of promotion.

Lastly, don’t expect anything from anyone. Your publisher, if you have one, or literary agent, or even your paid publicist can’t do everything that’s needed to promote your book, nor can they do everything well. It takes a village to create a successful writer. Get help from everyone and anyone – but realize you must assert yourself and take matters into your own hands. It’s all up to you!

 

Brian Feinblum is the chief marketing officer for Media-Connect, one of the nation’s lead book publicity firms, and is the founder of BookMarket- ingBuzzBlog.blogspot.com, where over 2,500 free posts about book publicity are available.

  • John Fleming

    Great article!

  • DW

    How do we reach you and how much do you charge?

  • Elise Judd

    Awesome article! A lot of writers barely think about marketing at all, or if they do it consists of putting up a post on Facebook. I’ve been exploring different ways to market using short stories I’ve written to get some experience and test the market before I publish my novel.

    Also, definitely find other writers, either online or in your local area. It makes a huge difference to have the support of others who have gone through the same thing, are going through the same thing, or will go through the same thing. They understand your struggle and will help you out if you give them a chance.