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T HAPPENED AGAIN AT A WRITERS' CONFERENCE THIS WEEKEND. I met two disgruntled, disillusioned, almost bankrupt authors who admitted making most of the mistakes listed below. They both have wonderful books in hand, but little understanding of the publishing industry and even less marketing savvy. They learned too late that the time to ask questions and study options is BEFORE you begin to make publishing decisions.

First-time authors are eager to see their books in print. I know this. I've been there and I've made mistakes. As authors, we work long and hard on our projects. The last thing we want to deal with after finishing a manuscript is the learning curve. When Google brings up IUniverse, AuthorHouse, Tate Publishing, Dorrance and other FB PODs on the first page of your search, why look any further? Why complicate your life with unnecessary research? Thus most hopeful authors sign with the first "publisher" who extends a friendly hand.

I've been observing and participating in the publishing industry for over 30 years. In the course of my career and as the President of SPAWN, I meet numerous authors every year-authors who are successful and those who are struggling. Some of these authors feel they've been mistreated by the industry and they've given up writing altogether.

I'm on a mission, folks-a mission to help hopeful authors become more well educated and informed about this industry so they will make more appropriate choices on behalf of their publishing projects.

Following are 10 mistakes that many new authors make-mistakes that can cost you large sums of money and dramatically diminish your opportunity for publishing success.

1: Inexperienced authors write a book as the first step. Why is this considered a mistake? It's not a mistake if you are writing the book for yourself, family and a few friends. But if you aspire to have your book published and widely distributed, this may be the wrong approach. Whether you're writing a how-to book, biography, self-help, romance novel, children's story, mystery, memoir or dictionary, write a book proposal first.

In the process of writing a book proposal, you will:  

  • Learn if you have a viable book at all.
  • Discover whether there is a market for this book.
  • Determine your target audience.
  • Ascertain the best way to promote your book.
  • Be prepared to establish your platform.

Write a book proposal as a first step and you're more apt to write the right book for the right audience. How better to snag a traditional royalty publisher than with a promising project?

2 : Eager new authors often go with the first publishing opportunity they stumble across. You don't make other business decisions this quickly. You research the possibilities and study your options. Many authors forget that publishing is a business. We get so attached to our projects and so eager to see our books in print that we act emotionally rather than logically.

Learn the difference between a traditional royalty publisher and a fee-based print-on-demand publishing service. You'll find hundreds of traditional royalty publishers listed in Writer's Market (available in the reference section of your library or for sale for about $30 in most bookstores. A new edition comes out each September).

Visit bookstores in search of books like yours. Find out who published these books and contact those publishers.

Another option might be corporate sponsor publishing. If you need help financing the publication of your local history book, for example, contact a local bank. Maybe the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce or Georgia Historical Society would put up the money to publish your historical novel which is set in this state. Offer the sponsor a percentage of the profits and/or advertising space on the back cover or inside the front cover.

As an author, you have many options. Research them, understand them and scrutinize them in order to choose the one that is right for your project.

3: New authors believe that they don't have a chance with a traditional royalty publisher. This is simply not true. If you have a viable project, you arm yourself with knowledge and you approach the publisher in a professional manner, you have a definite chance of landing a traditional royalty publisher.

Find publishers who produce books like yours. Study their Submission Guidelines. Follow these guidelines in approaching them with your project. If they request a query letter first, do NOT send your complete manuscript. If you don't understand what goes into a query letter, study books and articles about writing a query letter.

ome naïve authors believe that there are just six publishing companies-the majors. Not so. There are hundreds of small to medium-sized publishers eager for good, marketable books. For example, everyone knows that poetry books are a hard sell. Yet, Writer's Market lists over 40 traditional royalty publishers who publish books of poetry. There are at least 125 publishers of mysteries and about the same number who produce historical novels. There are over 200 traditional royalty publishers that publish biographies and more than 175 who produce children's books. Encouraging, isn't it?

4: Many authors don't understand publishing terms. Authors will say to me, "I'm self-publishing with ABC (FB POD) Publishing Company." Other FB POD publishers advertise that they are royalty publishers. It's important that authors understand the meaning of these terms.

Royalty Publisher

A traditional royalty publisher puts up the money for the production of your book and pays you royalties on books sold. These publishers are generally very selective in the books they publish. Sure, most FB PODs pay royalties on sales, but it costs you a lot to receive those royalties.


Self-publishing means that you establish a publishing company (get a fictitious business name, purchase your own block of ISBNs, etc.). You get your book ready for publication, you hire a printing company, you are responsible for distribution and shipping and you reap all of the profits. Publishing with a FB POD is not self-publishing.

5: Newby authors don't generally solicit advice from professionals until it is too late. Do NOT sign a contract with any publisher or purveyor of publishing services without hiring a literary or intellectual properties attorney. This should go without saying, yet thousands of authors each year bypass this important step.

I also recommend that inexperienced authors talk to other authors who have used the services they are considering. Contact organizations such as SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) www.spawn.org, Publisher's Marketing Association (PMA) and Small Publishers of North America (SPAN). Ask questions.

6: Authors tend to give control over to their POD publishing company. Hire your own excellent editor. Never trust the FB POD to provide a good editing job. Most authors I talk to say that their editing services amount to nothing more than proofreading.

You need to make sure that your page layout is perfect before submitting your project to a POD. One author gave me a whole list of things that were wrong with his book when it was published through a popular FB POD company. There were quotation marks around his title on the cover, for example, a comma in the title and numerous mistakes in layout throughout the book. I suspect that this is the way he submitted the work. It is vital to the success of your project that you take charge of quality control.

Likewise, when your POD publisher offers you their press release service for a pretty hefty fee, I recommend that you decline. Believe it or not, you can hire the same press release service they use for less money. I recommend, however that you send out your own press releases.

7: Uninformed authors blindly sign up for unnecessary services. Some FB PODs state that they will get your books into bookstore databases and provide a return policy on your books for a fee of around $700-$800.

I have two things to say about that. First, you can get your books listed in bookstore databases nationwide for free. All you have to do is fill out an Advance Book Information (ABI) form. Your book will be listed in Books in Print (BIP). This is one database that bookstores use to order books. If a customer asks for your book and it is listed in Books in Print , the bookstore can order it for that customer. And the listing in BIP is free.

Secondly, the return policy that some publishing services are selling their authors is, in my opinion, a huge waste of money. This policy is no more a guarantee that booksellers will carry your book than a nickel guarantees the purchase of a candy bar. Booksellers nationwide reject POD published and self-published books as a general rule. A return policy does not change this fact. The person who can change this rule is YOU-the author. Make a big splash with your book through intense marketing efforts-attract hundreds or thousands of customers to the bookstores-and booksellers will carry your book.

Before signing up for any additional services with a FB POD, launch your own study. Ask several booksellers what the return policy means to them. Check with other FB POD authors to see if the return policy helped them. I actually did a mini-study of booksellers throughout the nation some weeks ago. Every one of them said that the return policy from a POD had little meaning to their own policies. One told me that PODs are willing only to issue credit to the bookstore and he said, "The last thing I want from a POD is credit."

8: Insecure authors shy away from self-publishing. Self publishing seems like a daunting undertaking for an inexperienced author. What better way to learn the biz, though. In fact, I suggest that hopeful authors self-publish a how-to book or booklet as a way to familiarize themselves with the publishing industry and the publishing process.

Set aside that novel, memoir or children's book for now. Instead, produce a book on a topic you know well-one that has an audience that you know how to reach. Maybe you teach scrapbooking; are an excellent cook; raise pugs, pigs or pigeons; have success tips for hairdressers or you homeschool your children. Write a booklet telling how to design a baby's scrapbook, for example. Put together a small book of your favorite one-dish meal recipes for busy moms. Produce a book for pug or pig owners or publish one for parents who are thinking about homeschooling their kids.

Before going too much farther with your idea, evaluate whether there is a market for this book. Who is your target audience and how will you reach them? You might promote the homeschool book through Homeschooling Today, Christian Home and School and other homeschool and education-related magazines; through education-related and homeschool Web sites; through your local school district; through religious magazines, bulletins and Web sites and possibly through homeschool organizations.

Your recipe book could be marketed through cookbook bookstores (there are scads of them throughout the U.S.); cooking, women's and family newsletters and magazines; the food section of newspapers nationwide; in grocery stores and kitchen stores and that's just a start.

Here are a few things to consider when designing your how-to book:

  • Build promotion into your book.
  • Design the book for your target audience from start to finish.
  • Collect promotional ideas as you work on your book.

If you want to enter into the world of publishing, learn something about the business. Study your options and the ramifications of your choices. Define your responsibilities as a published author. You may still make a few mistakes along the way-we all do, but knowledge will definitely save you money and heartache.

Patricia Fry has been writing for publication for over 30 years. She is a full-time freelance writer and the author of 24 books. Her latest book is designed to help hopeful and experienced authors successfully write, publish and sell their books. The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book (Matilija Press, 2006).

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Contact Information
Patricia Fry
Matilija Press


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