The Top 10 Mistakes Authors Make and How It Costs Them

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

As an author advocate, part of me dislikes creating a top ten list with a negative slant, and yet, it’s so easy to get things wrong in book publishing that it’s easy to come up with a list like the one below, which is hardly comprehensive. If you recognize your book in any of these errors, don’t fret. Part of becoming an author, and especially a self-published author, has to do with learning the ropes and doing it better each time around to avoid common mistakes authors make.

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1. Bad Book Cover and Interior Book Design

It’s difficult for authors to be objective about book cover design and interior book design, and to some extent, design is subjective because you like what you like. That said, there are trends and protocols in book publishing that ought to or need to be followed—and book industry people can spot designs that “look self-published” from a mile away. Do yourself a favor and get a consultation from a book industry professional who will give you an honest opinion about your designs. It will make the difference between getting a warm reception or a cold no from bookstores you approach to carry your book.

2. Foregoing Editorial Work

There’s no excuse for bad writing, poor grammar, or multiple egregious typos in a manuscript. That said, the occasional typo is to be expected, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you have one or a few. But please, make sure you go through various stages of book editing. All books should at least be copyedited and proofread, if not developmentally edited too. And just because your book was well copyedited doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get a proofread. Multiple editorial passes are part of publishing a professional book.

3. Pricing Books Too High

Authors often think they’ll recoup their expenses faster if they just charge a higher list price, but there are multiple reasons not to do this. Bookstores may not carry your book if the price is too high, and readers may be downright alienated. Look to your competitors to see what they’re pricing, and price your book accordingly.

4. Not Purchasing ISBNs

Some self-publishing platforms offer the service of giving you one of their ISBNs, but there’s a good reason to buy your own ISBN or block of ISBNs, and that’s ownership. Having your own ISBN sets you apart as a professional and lets book industry people know that you’re not affiliated with anyone but yourself or your own publishing company. And in some cases, it may make the difference between bookstores carrying your book or not.

5. Making Books Non-Returnable 

Many new authors who’ve failed to do their homework about the publishing industry may be tempted to make their book non-returnable. In doing so, you will effectively cut off any possibility that bookstores or wholesalers will carry it, and you mark yourself as a self-published author. In effect, making your book non-returnable means you will sell fewer books.

6. Setting the Wrong Discount

Bookstores want to receive their standard trade discount when they buy a book from a distributor or wholesaler like Ingram. Offering a 55% wholesale discount will allow booksellers to receive their expected trade discount. You’re given the option to set your discount at 55%  when you set your book up with IngramSpark. Anything less than 55%, and you may prevent your book from being ordered by bookstores and wholesalers. Just as is the case in some of the scenarios above, you risk losing sales if you don’t adhere to book industry protocols and book standards, but it’s not too late to change your discount if you set it too low.

7. Omitting Metadata That Matters

Many authors don’t realize just how much book metadata—defined as data about data, or in this case, your book—is associated with a single book title, so the likelihood that you’re going to omit something is really high unless you’re working with someone who knows about book metadata. When you self-publish, very little metadata is required. The only pieces you must include when publishing on IngramSpark or other platforms are: cover image, trim size, price, description, author bio, keywords, and categories. Just because those are the required fields doesn’t mean that the non-required fields aren’t valuable when it comes to book sales. Your metadata is your key to book discoverability. So read up—and get metadata savvier. 

8. Using Fake Blurbs or Endorsements

Authors who don’t have endorsements for their books often use fake or cute blurbs they’ve made up but to their detriment. Book industry people don’t think this is cute at all—and it can and will mark you as an amateur. Avoid fake blurbs moving forward, and make every effort to get real blurbs, even if it’s from a less-than-well-known author or someone who’s published outside your genre. 

9. Not Embedding the Price in the Barcode

Most first-time authors I meet fail to embed their price into their barcodes, so this is a common one, but it is another thing that sets your book apart as failing to meet a standard. A barcode always has a price embedded into it. It should never read “9000” above the second set of perpendicular lines. It should always read “91600” for a book priced at $16 or “91895” for a book priced at $18.95. This is yet another thing you can get fixed, especially if you have a print-on-demand (POD) book, and it’s worth going back and doing it right.

10. Omitting Things That Matter to Book Industry People

There are so many things authors omit, again, because they don’t know what they don’t know. Commonly omitted elements include running heads, Library of Congress Cataloging Numbers, disclaimers, permissions lines, and more. Some omissions are more egregious than others, but author oversights are author mistakes. This is another good reason to get your book vetted by a professional before you upload your final file.

*This list was adapted from Brooke’s 2016 book, Green-Light Your Book: How Writers Can Succeed in the New Era of Publishing.


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Brooke Warner

Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book, What’s Your Book? and How to Sell Your Memoir. Brooke’s expertise is in traditional and new publishing. She is the former Executive Editor of Seal Press and currently sits on the boards of the Independent Book Publishers Association, the Bay Area Book Festival, and the National Association of Memoir Writers. She blogs actively on Huffington Post Books and