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For many debut authors, publishing their first book is an overwhelming experience. In deciding to release a book, authors are suddenly confronted with a host of choices they need to make, especially around how to publish. Do they need to find an agent? Should they just get the book out quickly through self-publishing? Should they find a hybrid partner publisher?

No matter the publishing route authors take, my time at the helm of a publishing company has taught me that there are some common publishing do’s and don’ts that first-time authors should note. Here are four common mistakes.

Putting off building an author brand.

One of the biggest misconceptions in publishing is the idea that once you’ve found a publisher, they will automatically take care of all marketing and publicity for your book. No matter the publishing route taken, the author still needs to put a lot of legwork into building an audience and promoting their content.

Many authors grumble about the uselessness of gaining Twitter followers or even building an author website. The reality is that growing your brand as an author lends credibility to your book while also providing an opportunity to connect directly with your readers. Why would you waste that chance?

Bookstore inventory buyers also consider author platform when making their buying decisions. If the audience (and therefore, perceived demand) is small, a more conservative buy is likely.

Setting unrealistic expectations.

Before making any decisions about how to publish, and maybe even before sitting down to write the book, do your homework on the publishing industry. Talk to colleagues who have published before. Read books or articles from credible sources online. Check out some podcast episodes.

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Putting hundreds of hours of work into a manuscript to later learn that your goals or budget considerations aren’t realistic is a recipe for disappointment. If your topic is extremely niche, hitting a bestseller list may be a longshot. Likewise, if maintaining the rights to your work is important, you’ll likely need to make an upfront investment to publish. Do some early research before jumping in headfirst.

Shotgun publishing.

I’ve seen this scenario play out several times: There’s a huge company event coming up in two months, and someone suggests in a planning meeting that it would be great to release a book to coincide with it. The only catch? This is the first time a book has been mentioned. There’s no manuscript. No research has been done. No one has talked to a publisher.

In cases like this, it becomes a mad dash to publish. A manuscript is hastily thrown together and sent off to be packaged by the in-house graphic designer. In some cases, there’s nothing wrong with this kind of shotgun approach, but in the majority of cases, the quality of the book suffers.

The publishing industry moves slowly, and it can be frustrating to authors coming from more fast-paced industries. Remember that a book will become a permanent part of your brand. Once it’s out in the world, it will always represent you, good or bad. In most cases, it is more beneficial to wait a year to publish the book the right way than to rush the process.

Underestimating “offline” sales.

We’ve been hearing about the impending death of brick-and-mortar bookstores for years. In reality, indie bookstores have been experiencing a bit of a resurgence, and while they may not be able to compete in volume with certain online retail giants, they do offer something that the big guys miss: curation. Curation brings visibility to a more targeted reader.

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Whether we’re talking about a small local bookstore or an airport bookstore, a physical retail presence brings prestige and credibility to authors simply because physical stores can’t stock every book that’s released. They selectively choose the titles they bring in, and customers need to trust that they can browse the shelves to find something new that they’ll enjoy.

The visibility that bookstore discoverability brings a thought leader can be a boon to their business. In some cases, an author whose book is stocked in an airport bookstore can cover their publishing and promotion expenses when one person picks up the book, reads it on a flight, and then hires that author for consulting or a keynote.  

A book is the holy grail of content marketing and can do wonders to promote an author’s business or personal brand. The more research you do up front, the more equipped you’ll be to navigate the publishing process.

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