5 Mistakes First-Time Authors Make

Mar 29, 2021

Why do so many writers fail to publish their first book? They make these five big mistakes on the road to becoming published authors. If you know about these and you take steps to prevent them, your chances of getting your book to market will skyrocket.

I wish I’d known what I’m about to tell you before I wrote my first book. I’ve published six books of my own, and if I had avoided these mistakes, the process would have been easier and more enjoyable. Now you can benefit from knowing the pitfalls others before you, including me, have encountered. Take these to heart, and you’ll save yourself the agony of facing dead ends, frustration, and many lonely hours struggling with your book.


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Mistake #1 - Setting Unrealistic Goals

The most obvious goal for aspiring authors is to publish a book. While that goal is now within reach of anyone who can bang out a book, many first-time book-writers don’t stop there. Driven by a desire for celebrity status and a life of luxury, some writers set their goals higher than what might be attainable.

Many writers dream of walking into their local bookstore and finding their books on the shelves. Not only is this unrealistic, but it’s also an outdated objective. The vast majority of book sales happen online, so selling books in physical stores offers little value. It is realistic to set a goal of having your book on Amazon, Apple Books, and other online bookseller sites. Since many of these sites will publish your book for free, this goal is not only realistic; it’s well within your reach.

What about all those best-sellers? Won’t my first book make millions? Expecting your first book to set you up for an early retirement is also not a reasonable expectation. Authors rarely earn more than a few hundred dollars from their first books. The good news is that the more books you write, the more money you stand to make. So, if your goal is to make money, start writing and keep writing until you’ve established yourself as an accomplished author with loyal fans who will buy every book you release. Or, accept that writing is a wonderful hobby and having a published book might be all the reward you need.

Some authors dream of writing epic novels with hundreds of pages and complex storylines. While experienced writers work up to these monumental accomplishments, many successful authors start with more manageable first books. With the rise in popularity of novellas, books that typically have about 100 pages, writing a short book can be a much better way to maintain momentum and attract readers who want books that are a quicker read.


Mistake #2 - Choosing the Wrong Publishing Method

Do you dream of having a big, traditional publishing company snap up your book, do all your marketing, and send you big piles of money? Well, if you choose to follow the traditional route, brace yourself for years, possibly decades of rejection. According to the Fiction Writer’s Mentor, traditional publishers reject over 98% of the book submissions they receive. Unless you’re a celebrity or you were a central character in a national news story, the odds of your book getting noticed by a powerhouse publishing company fall somewhere between slim and none.

What about hybrid or boutique publishers? Yes, you could pay a smaller publishing company to publish your book. The going rate for a full-service package from many hybrid publishing services is between $5,000 and $10,000. While this might have been a reasonable option years ago, with the emergence of self-publishing platforms and freelance services, most savvy writers are now bypassing hybrid publishers in favor of publishing their books themselves.

So that leaves self-publishing. This is now a viable option for thousands of resourceful writers. Soon-to-be authors are taking advantage of user-friendly and free publishing services, including Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Draft2Digital, and others, to get their books to market. With some basic project-management skills, nearly any writer can now publish books on these platforms.

To see more about which publishing method might be best for you, check out our blog titled Traditional, Hybrid, or Self-Publishing - Which Publishing Method Is Best for You?


Mistake #3 - Letting Other People Choose Your Topic

Do you dream of being an author, but you don’t know what to write about? Many authors turn to friends, family members, and coworkers for book ideas. Don’t fall into that trap. You’re the one who will be pouring the content onto the page, so don’t let someone else choose the topic for you.

To write an entire book, an author must care about the topic they’re covering. Here are ideas for choosing a topic that will inspire you to maintain momentum for the entire book-writing process:

  • Consider writing about a subject you know well and one you want to share with other people. For example, my first book was about marketing because I had worked in the marketing industry, and I wanted to share what I knew.
  • Write about a hobby that interests you like cooking, traveling, or exercising. If you enjoy those activities enough to do them in your spare time, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy writing about them.
  • Is there a story that excites you? It could be your own story that you could turn into a memoir, or perhaps it’s an imaginative story that you could turn into a novel.

One of the top reasons writers give for not completing their books is losing interest in the topic. So, pick a topic that holds your interest, and write about it until your book is done.

 Check out my blog on how to choose the topic for your book.

Mistake #4 - Going It Alone

Writing can be a lonely endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be. Despite being an introvert, my social circle exploded when I started writing my first book. Many of my new writing friends gave me the support and encouragement I needed when I felt like giving up.

Here are some tips to help you write and publish your first book:

  • Other writers can be incredibly supportive, especially if you let them know you’re new to the task. Since they’ve lived through the same experiences you’re encountering, they can mentor you and provide accountability when you need it. Seek other writers in local writing clubs, social media writers’ communities, and writing classes you might find online, at community colleges, or through a community center.
  • Freelancers are easier to find and leverage than ever with convenient platforms including FiverrFreelancer, and Upwork. These sites give you easy access to editors, book formatters, and cover designers, so you can focus on the task of writing your book.
  • Accountability partners can also help you get through the steps of writing and publishing your book. Leverage a friend, family member, or neighbor to help you set goals and remind you to meet your writing objectives each week.

As you get help from others, make sure you return the favor. Nothing will make a fellow writer happier than you offering to be their sounding board, critique their work, or give them a pep talk when needed. For accountability partners, I’ve found that holding them accountable for something they want to accomplish or buying them an occasional cup of coffee might be all they need to maintain your weekly checkpoints.


Mistake #5 - Demanding Perfection Every Step of the Way

Doesn’t your book have to be perfect? Absolutely not. As Winston Churchill famously said, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.” This is especially true with writing since the desire to write the perfect book can result in an endless loop of editing, rewriting, and questioning everything you do. Here are tips to stave off perfectionism and make the progress you’ll need to finish your book:

  • Think of writing your book the way you’d think of playing the piano. The first time you played the piano, your melody wasn’t perfect. It was probably painful on the ears. The way someone becomes a better piano player is they keep hitting the keys until they discover what sounds appealing. They also might get help from an instructor who can teach them piano-playing techniques. It’s the same with writing. You have to keep typing on your keyboard until the words begin to sound better. It’s also useful to find an instructor, an editor, or someone who can critique your work and teach you writing techniques.
  • Also, keep in mind that your first draft isn’t supposed to be perfect. Typically, first drafts are barely readable. Writing your first draft is like creating raw material that will later be turned into a finished product. The process of building the finished product happens in the editing stage. A good editor, whether it be you or someone else, needs the raw material of words, ideas, and stories to work with. They can mold that content into an end-product that is a book you’ll be proud of.


Making mistakes is part of the writing process. Even the most successful authors have made many of the mistakes above. My hope is that by understanding these mistakes, you’ll be able to address them before they derail your journey to becoming a successful published author.  


<< Jumpstart Writing Your Book >>

<< Click Here to Watch Free Writers’ Workshop Now >>


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