Top 10 Mistakes of First-Time Non-Fiction Authors (and How to Avoid Them)

(Updated 06-11-2015)

Smart people always learn from their mistakes, but wise people can learn from the mistakes of others.

Confidently write your first book after you learn how to avoid these most common mistakes.

Common Mistake #1: Falling in love with book publishing for the wrong reasons.

Yes, publishing a book helps boost your credibility, makes it easier for you to get publicity, and helps you efficiently reach more people with your message while generating passive income.

With that said, book publishing is not the best publishing medium for every message. More importantly, it is not easy money.

Book writing is an art and publishing is a business. Because this is your first adventure with book writing, you will need to hire editors and possibly other professionals to help you create your literary masterpiece. When it comes to the business of publishing, you will need to carefully choose the success team and sales systems that will help you execute your plan and reach your goals.

If you are willing to do all of this, then book publishing may be right for you. But even if book writing is right for you, make sure that the people you want to reach with your message already spend money on books like the one you want to write. If the people you want to reach are not already book buyers and readers, then it may be wise to find another medium to reach them such as a podcast, video or even a live event.

How to avoid it: Be honest with yourself. If you are not ready or able to make your book a priority, ask a lot of questions to build the best plan for you, study the book publishing process and dedicate time to writing and publishing a quality book, then don’t publish a book. Instead, you can always start a blog, write articles for an established magazine or newspaper, start a newsletter, record an audio series or a number of other alternatives. Writing a book is an honorable goal, but why frustrate yourself with creating something that you don’t have the time to commit to doing effectively or into creating a book that your target audience is not likely to read.

Common Mistake #2: Not starting with a  specific publishing goal and a plan to get there.

While I was still in school, I received a student planner that featured this quote inside the front cover: “a failure to plan is a plan to fail.” I would not be surprised if you have heard this quote too.

But the one thing this popular quote fails to point out is that a failure to plan is often related to a failure to have a specific goal.

  • If you plan to simply publish your book, you will jump on any advice or sales pitch that sounds like it will help you to simply be published.
  • If you plan to sell millions of copies, you will focus on spending money to promote your book to as many people as possible (which is an expensive practice that is proven to not work well-that is not how bestsellers reach their status.)
  • But if you plan to reach a specific target audience with your message by tailoring both the book content and the marketing strategy to what they want/need with the quality they expect, you are bound to see great things happen.

How to avoid it: Be very clear about the goal you want to reach, and ask a lot of questions to help you create the best plan for you, your message, your audience…and your budget. The PLAN Your Book e-guide is a great place to start, and you can get access to it when you claim your copy of the free Author Info Kit.

Common Mistake #3: Not dedicating time to work on their book.

Some people spend years writing their book. But if you plan to write your book in your free time, it will be years before you start writing your book.

Saying that you will write your book later is the same thing as saying that you will never write it.

How to avoid it: Schedule writing time into your calendar and be fierce in protecting those times. This is only one of several steps you can take to build a solid writing system that will not only help you start writing your book-but to finally finish it too.

 Common Mistake #4: Not asking for endorsements and reviews before the book is published.

You will be in trouble if you wait until your book is published to start seeking endorsements and reviews. Think about the last time you looked at a book that had an endorsement on the front cover by someone you respected or had the back cover filled with glowing reviews. Did it make you more or less interested in the book’s contents?

Remember that you are not the only author with a book on your topic. Your readers have tons of options. And when you seek endorsements and reviews before your book is published, you have the opportunity to have those endorsements and reviews included on the cover or in the first pages of your book. That small step can make a big difference in convincing readers to pick up your book.

How to avoid it: Do the same thing the major publishing companies do for their books. While the copyeditors are polishing the manuscript language, ask for an endorsement or review from people who have an expertise on your subject-matter or who are respected by your readers and send them an unedited copy of your book. This small step can go a long way.

Common Mistake #5: Rushing into self-publishing without seriously considering the traditional publishing option.

Yes, self-published authors keep all creative control over their book design, tend to get to print more quickly than traditionally published books, and make more money from each sale.

However, effective self-publishing for a first-time author requires learning how to format, design, print and distribute the book on your own, hiring a team of quality freelancers, or paying a self-publishing company to do the work for you. Each of these options require the self-publisher to understand the publishing process and standards well enough to make quality decisions. The first option has the steepest learning curve because it requires knowledge of specialty skills, the last option generally requires the most money, and the middle option balances the requirement for time and money.

It would still be wise for an author who plans to work with a traditional publishing company to learn the basics of the publishing process, but their relationship with a traditional publisher allows them the freedom to focus on polishing the manuscript and promoting the book because the traditional publisher will pay to have it edited, formatted, designed and distributed. The publisher will help launch the book, but even traditionally published authors usually invest in their own book promotions above and beyond what the traditional publisher offers.

Technology makes self-publishing easier and more affordable than ever, but don’t do it before seriously considering the benefits of partnering with a traditional publishing company that does not charge you to put their years of writing and publishing experience behind your very first title.

How to avoid it: Learn about both self-publishing and traditional publishing options and patiently think about how your publishing path will affect your overall publishing goal before choosing your publishing path.

Common Mistake #6: Rushing into traditional publishing without seriously considering the self-publishing options.

The stigma against self-publishing is fading away, but there are still authors who prefer the challenge of finding a traditional publishing company who will produce and promote their book. In a way, the name of your publishing company is an endorsement of its own.

However, it can take years to find a traditional publishing company that:

  • Is interested in publishing your book, and
  • Offers you a publishing contract that strikes a balance between your needs and theirs to your satisfaction.

Even if you prefer to work with a traditional publisher, it would be wise to consider self-publishing first so you can get your message out and test the market response. The sales of your self-published version may give you more leverage in your negotiations with a traditional publishing company.

In fact, hybrid authors, authors who have both traditionally published and self-published titles, tend to make the most money from their publications.

How to avoid it: Learn about both self-publishing and traditional publishing options and patiently think about how your publishing path will affect your overall publishing goal before choosing your publishing path.

Common Mistake #7: Not incorporating both online and offline marketing tactics in your author platform.

All of the tools you use to educate people about your message and engage with them are collectively called your author platform. Online marketing is a great way to start building your platform simply because it is much cheaper than other options, and it offers opportunities to engage your potential readers before they decide to buy. Content marketing is one of the best online marketing tactics to use.

But if you limit your marketing plan to online tactics, you are severely limiting your sales potential.

Smart marketers avoid leaving money on the table by using a blend of both online and offline marketing tactics that create awareness and allow potential buyers to engage with the book and the author on their own terms.

How to avoid it: Become familiar with the most common online and offline marketing tactics used by authors to help them successfully build their platform.

Common Mistake #8: Failing to track marketing campaigns.

How will you know which marketing campaigns work best for you if you don’t track the success of what you did before?

When you know how most of your readers learn about you and what inspired them to buy your book or reach out to you, you can use that information to help you build smarter campaigns in the future that yield even bigger results.

How to avoid it: Keep a record of the marketing campaigns, tools and strategies you use and how effective they are so you have a better idea of what you can do in the future.

Common Mistake #9: Thinking you can do it all yourself.

Even self-published authors need a team of people to help them reach their goals. Whether you need people to teach you or offer services to help you, you will need someone to make your dreams a reality.

How to avoid it: Build your success team now, or at least make plans to add team members in the future. Your team members may not work with you forever, but each team member has a valuable role to play that makes your life simpler and more effective.

As a bare minimum, you should have at least one other person who can hold you accountable to your publishing goals. Without an accountability partner to hold you to your commitment, your publishing goal will likely fade into the background behind other life events.

Common Mistake #10: Failing to create a sales or promotion system.

Improvisation is a beautiful thing-especially in jazz music. But if you are constantly improvising on how you will write, publish and promote your book, you will wear yourself out. This is especially true for promoting your book.

A sales system is a routine-ideally automated or delegated-process for helping people learn about your product and following up with them after they buy your product. This system is ultimately about building a relationship with people who are likely to buy your book and deepening your relationship with those who have already bought it. These relationships are key to helping you sell more books or other products in the future.

If your book is sold through websites or stores that you do not own-like Amazon or Books-A-Million-you will not be able to collect information for each person who buys your book, but that does not exclude you from building a simple sales system

How to avoid it: Sales systems can be simple. For example, every author should create an emailing list of book supporters and people who are interested in their message. Even if these people have not bought your book, having a list of interested people gives you immediate access to people you can send promotions to without spending a lot of time or money on spreading the good news.

Simply offer an incentive for joining your list-such as a couple free book chapters or a recording of an exclusive interview-and use a mailing list subscription program like Mailchimp to keep in  touch with your subscribers.

You can email them messages that talk about why you wrote the book, updates on any new projects or promotions you are working on, ask them questions about how they are using your message, ask them questions about their goals and how you can help or anything else you can think of.

If you are an author who has services or other products that your readers may be interested in, you will want your system to promote those opportunities as well.

If your goal is about making an impact with your book, your sales system is what allows you to build the relationships you need to do it.

Final Thoughts

First-time non-fiction authors usually make mistakes because:

  1. they jump into book publishing before they figure out if it is their best publishing option,
  2. they don’t have a publishing plan,
  3. they don’t have a writing plan,
  4. they don’t seek endorsements and reviews from others who will help them build credibility with their intended readers,
  5. they rush into self-publishing without understanding the alternative,
  6. they rush into traditional publishing without understanding the alternative,
  7. the don’t add both online and offline marketing tactics into their author platform,
  8. they don’t track their marketing success,
  9. they try to do it on their own, and
  10. they don’t build systems that help them automate and/or delegate book promotion and sales.

The good news is that even if you are a first-time author, you have the benefit of learning from their mistakes so you can make your publication a success. When you claim your copy of the free Author Info Kit, you will get instant access to tips, tools, templates and my support to help you achieve your publishing goals.

Image by: By MarkBuckawicki (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Danielle Fetherson

Danielle helps aspiring authors become published authors. She believes that everyone has at least one book on the inside of them that can make a positive impact on someone else's life. If you have been thinking about writing a book, learn how to start your book today with the free resources at