Author mistakes that make you look like a newbie


Being an author is hard and newbie author mistakes are bound to happen. However, the more you can avoid and the sooner you can avoid them, the better your chances of success.

There are so many self-proclaimed authors out there, so many new books, that you only need one bad mistake to lose out to your rivals.

Readers are skittish creatures and do not readily trust an author they are unfamiliar with. If you want to recruit new readers you must not in any way look like a newbie that does not know what they are doing. If you want readers to trust you as an author, here are some mistakes you may wish to avoid.

Writing Mistakes

This first set of mistakes are errors that authors make with the writing itself. Many should be self-explanatory but it is so easy to miss one or more what you are starting out.

Skimping on the editing

author typingSome new authors see editing as a quick re-read for typing errors and punctation finesse. That’s not editing – that’s just tidying up the text. At the very least, try reading your work out to another person – you will spot all sorts of minor changes.

It is well worth investing in a professional editor. A fresh pair of eyes will help you spot the inconsistencies, repetitions, and areas lacking clarity. You may be too close to find these problems but trust us, everyone else can see them and agents and publishers will be thinking “newbie”.

I’ve got news for you, no matter how amazing a writer you are, you need to edit heavily. Even the most amazing writers need to.

Ticks: Bad habit words

We all have them. Words or phrases that we use so often that they are a personal cliche. Mine is starting sentences with “so” closely followed by overuse of “therefore”.

A common newbie author mistake is to not identify your ticks. This is almost certainly something a good beta reader will pick up on, as will a decent editor. If you have yet to identify your bad habit ticks of writing, there is a good chance your manuscript still screams “newbie!”

What I do is maintain a text file with words I must avoid. A lot of them end “ly”. I search my work for each of those words. Only then, do I feel that my editing has gotten underway.

Failing to engage all the senses

FireworksNew authors (and writers in general) can get so focused on the who and the what that there where and when are left vague and undefined.

You might know exactly what the alleyway smells like, but unless you bring that detail to life, your reader has no idea.

After the gunfire has ended and the room is filled with smoke, does it still smell of perfume (no, it certainly would not) so why not bring that smell to life. While you are at it, what about the damage tot he room? The mood, the feel, it will have changed.

How does the sun feel while you walk through the desert, is it the same as a sunny afternoon in the garden, what about a dull April morning?

If the protagonist runs their hand over the brickwork, how does it feel? Not just texture but temperature too. Can you feel the vibrations of the music from the next room?

Believing all your praise

As you set out towards becoming a published author, you will run into people who will praise your work. It feels wonderful but you must not let it go to your head. All that pleasant smoke does is prevents you seeing the flaws in your work yet to be fixed.

I’ve actually seen a writer rush to self-publish a clearly unfinished work. It had very few sales and got extremely poor reviews. The reason for that rash move? Their writer’s group all praised his story but no one was able or willing to point out the problems.

Not using a trustworthy beta reader

That is why a beta reader you can rely on matters so much. A good beta reader will break down the reading experience by different categories that are useful to you as a writer. A good beta reader understands that craft of writing and enjoys reading work from your genre.

They should be able to give you:

  • Hang up points – places readers may want to stop
  • Potential plot holes – things that did not fit for them
  • Verbose and overly wordy sections
  • Detailed comments and a comprehensive report
  • Actionable points that you can actually use

Self-Publishing Mistakes

These are newbie author mistakes that relate to self-publishing. You can read our guide to self-publishing part 1, and part 2.

Going right for a print run when POD may be better

booksYou might be amazing at selling. In which case, if you think you can really shift 1000 books, do that. However, you may wish to think about print on demand.

Selling books is hard. Really hard. Moving a thousand in one year is considered a big success.

Most of your sales are likely to be digital anyway and while print on demand usually has a higher unit cost, it takes you to profit right away. If it turns out you were easily able to shift thousands of books, you know what to do for the sequel.

Not hiring professionals

If you were going down the traditional publishing route, you would have an editor, a proofreader, and a professional cover artist. When you self-publish, you don’t have that unless you are prepared to pay for it.

Do that.

Seriously, nothing identifies an author as a struggling newbie faster than a manuscript that is clearly crying out for a good editor. A good editor is your safety net. You will be grateful you had an editor.

Likewise, unless you happen to be an astounding designer and artist, pay for decent cover art. They say you should never judge a book by its cover but everyone does. A good cover can make or break your book. The right cover can skyrocket sales while a poor one can add additional drag factor.

Not doing your homework

thiefI’ve spoken to self-published authors who, despite reasonable sales, are still in debt. The reason every single time is that they failed to do the due diligence on who they were partnering with. Just following some ads and signing up with the first company you find is asking for trouble.

Don’t be like one writer I met, let’s call him Arnold. By the time Arnold has finally sold his entire print run, he will not have made back his initial investment. That’s assuming he can sell the print run. Even then, he will still have unpaid bills with the company who have claimed some of his rights too. His two books will probably never turn a single profit for him. Arnold is an extreme case but for goodness sake, do your homework.

Talk to other people that have used the company. Look at the books they have helped produce. Get samples. Check prices. Once you move past the hype and do your homework you will discover that the rose-tinted image you first met is not all there is.

At the very least read a few blog posts, ask for some references, and make sure that you feel good about the company that you will be working with. Making sure you have a company that is a good fit for you can make a huge difference.

Social Media Author Mistakes

Starting a blog, or Twitter account after the book is published

These things take time. It takes an investment of months or years to build up an interested following. Even then, without a solid social media plan, you are not going to become a best seller just from having a lot of followers.

The ideal time to have started building your platform was last year or the year before. The next best option is right now. Author Buzz UK can help with the blog, we can advise on Twitter and Facebook, but you are still going to have to put in some legwork.

Buying fans and followers

It is an easy mistake to make to equate follower count with sales potential. That is because if you have one hundred interested fans you also have one hundred potential readers. However, if you buy two thousand new fans what you have is two thousand accounts that will ignore you.

Paid for fans and followers tend to be made up of bot accounts (spam) and hijacked accounts (scam). There is no benefit to buying followers other than to show yourself up as a social media newbie that appears to have trouble keeping their fans engaged. When cynical social media users notice that you engagement level does not match your likes or follows, you will look like a newbie.

Only posting when you remember

empty stadiumI am the last one that should suggest you need to post every day (it does help if you do) but I see a lot of authors that have social media accounts with no fresh content. Once or twice a year they will log in, post a link to their book, and log out. These are also the authors that tell you “social media does not work for selling books”. Well, not like that it doesn’t, no.

At the very least, link your blog posts to your social media accounts so they are updated when you post. Author Buzz blogs can use JetPack to do that for them right from the control panel.

If you can only spare one day a week for social media, plan your tweets, pins, and shares for the week ahead. Tools like HootSuite can let you set your social media output all in one go and spread it over the weeks ahead.

Being totally boring and uninteresting

The worst crime you can commit against your own self-interest is to be boring on social media. Mix things up a little bit. Add some variety to your content. Post things the readers of your books would be interested in.

Social media pumps out more content than the average person can ever look at. The only way to not get pushed into the ignore list is to remain interesting. Attention is the most scarce resource in our industry, use it wisely.

Pretending to be something you are not

Social media users are smarter than you think. The old adage of “fake it ’till you make it” must be tempered with “always be yourself.” Users will spot a fake faster than you think.

As the bard wrote:

This above all: to thine own self be true

It is for this reason that I long ago gave up trying to hide the fact that I am dyslexic. Read what I write for long enough and you will see a mistake. I’ve learned to love finding them, it keeps me humble if nothing else. But despite this, I don’t shy away from my enthusiasm for social media, blogging, and writing.

My interest in writing led to the founding of a writer’s charity and then to Author Buzz. If I had tried to pretend to be a perfect writer with perfect spelling, I’d never get a single blog post out the door. My advice to you – be yourself.

Appearing desperate and putting people off

Using TwitterThis is such a common author mistake that you could be forgiven that all authors spend their days begging for people to notice them on Twitter. I’ve lost count of the number of promising authors that I’ve unfollowed because all they post are images of their book cover and links to the book on Amazon.

Desperate authors on Twitter are about the most off-putting that can be found. Right now, they are so common that author is actually a dirty word on social media. Just by being actually interesting you will (slowly) gain at least the respect of the community (and sales may follow).

If Twitter is dinner, your book should be like salt. A little adds flavour but too much just spoils everything. When it comes to mentioning your book – the less the better. When you post about your book it should only be at a time when it seems like fresh information. Post too often and people will learn to ignore you.


About Matthew Brown

Matthew is a writer and Geek from Kent (UK). He is the founder and current chair of Thanet Creative Writers as well as head geek for Author Buzz. His ambitions include appearing on TableTop with Wil Wheaton and seeing a film or TV series based on something he wrote.