Things that Scare Readers Away AKA What Authors should NEVER do

This is just a Grand List of things we see Authors do, which totally kill their book sales and their happiness. As far as possible, avoid doing these things

Writing Something that No One Wants to Read

This is by far the biggest mistake you can make. Before you spend 6 years researching and writing a book on the mating habits of newts, do a few hours of market research and check whether

  1. 270,000 people bought a book on the mating habits of newts in 2019
  2. OR
  3. 27 people bought a book on the mating habits of newts in 2019

You don’t want to be the person who spends 7 years writing a book which becomes the #1 bestseller in its category … only to then find out that the total addressable market is 27 people

Please do your market research BEFORE you start writing your book. It is precious precious years of your life which you can NEVER get back

Spend at least a few days doing comprehensive market research BEFORE you spend 1 to 5 years of your life writing a book. A few days of proper market research can save you 2 years of your life spent writing a book that no one will ever buy or read

Getting the Book Genres/Categories Wrong OR Not Knowing what Book Genre/Category your book is in

The second biggest mistake you can make is putting your book in the wrong category OR not knowing what category the book is in

  1. Make absolutely sure to put your book in the RIGHT CATEGORY
  2. Make sure to also put the book in the Right Sub Categories. This is sometimes just as important as putting it in the right category
  3. Do not try to game the system. Don’t try to make a fool of readers or of the store. Nearly every trick you can think of, has been used and abused to the point that it no longer works
  4. Do not put your book in lots of categories. If you put your book in Romance and Mystery and Fantasy and Thriller – NONE of those 4 sets of readers buy it. Because you confuse the heck out of them. In 2010 and 2011 you could fool readers by putting your book in 5 different categories and getting sales in each. It does not work now
  5. Do not put your book into a category which will get it bad reviews. This is absolutely critical – there are certain categories where readers are frustrated with authors trying to game the system and will give your book a bad review. This is especially true for Young Adult authors trying to force their YA book into adult categories such as Thriller, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, SciFi
  6. If you do not know what category your book goes in, figure that out BEFORE you burn money advertising a book in the wrong categories
  7. Make the category and sub categories clear in the book description and also add keywords

One important note: When making a book free it is Doubly Important to not mess up the categories. Because free books get downloaded a lot and those readers have very little patience if you get the category wrong. It’s free – so they don’t really check as much as readers who pay. They are more likely to get tripped up if you get categories wrong or if you try to game the system. And they are much more likely to complain and 1-star your book

Messing Up Your Cover

People mess up their cover in every possible way imaginable. Here are a few guidelines

  1. Have a Cover. Do not just put up a blank page with a title, or a pattern with a title
  2. Hire a professional cover designer
  3. Make the cover very nice and bright and well detailed. Most people will see the cover in the following situations – small thumbnail size on tablet, very small thumbnail size on phone, thumbnail size on a list page or a search results page, on a black and white eReader screen. The cover must be high resolution and bright and clear
  4. Make the cover with ONE central them and one main image. Don’t put in 20 things
  5. Do not get a $5 cover unless you want your book to sink like a rock
  6. Do not go for a black and white cover. Black and White covers do not sell
  7. Do not make a very artistic or very abstract cover. You are not going to hang it up in an art gallery
  8. Do not ignore the font for the book title and the font for the author name
  9. Do not leave out things readers like to see (human beings, beautiful things, bright colors, clear and sharp images) for things they do not like to see (patterns, modern art, hazy or fuzzy images)

Really, really messing up your cover

Here are the absolute most important things

  1. Do not make the cover dark and gloomy. No one can see your dark cover on a small screen. Nor will such a cover catch the reader’s eye. You are basically making your book INVISIBLE if you make it dark
  2. Do not make a cover yourself. Regardless of how talented or artistic you are
  3. Do not make a cover that does not clearly indicate what the book category is. The cover must clearly indicate what category the book is in by matching the genre conventions for covers

Not getting an Editor and Proofreader

If you do not get a professional editor and a professional proof reader you are sabotaging your book

  1. Missing an editor will prevent your story from having the right structure and flow – which means readers will not enjoy it as much as they could
  2. Missing an editor and proof reader means your story will have lots of errors – errors in the story, spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes – which will lead to bad reviews. Even people who like the book will either not review the book or leave middling reviews
  3. Most people who visit the book page, will not buy the book because the lack of editing and proof reading is apparent even from a one chapter sample
  4. Everything you do for marketing will be wasted. Not only will it not work, you will not know WHY it did not work. Did your book not sell when using Marketing Method 1 because that method does not work for your book. Or did it not work because your unedited, un-proofread book scared away readers who would have bought it if was more polished?

Even worse, than not getting a professional editor and proof reader, is doing it yourself. Because then you think editing and proof reading is covered and spend your time banging your head – why is my book not selling. The real reason your self-edited and self-proof read book is not selling is that you cannot edit your own book well enough for it to be a polished product that sells well

Focusing on What You THINK works, even though you have no experience in this market

Authors tend to fixate on what they THINK works. Listen to what the experts and professionals are telling you – they have decades of experience of seeing what works. You cannot just come in and GUESS and get things right

You are killing your book sales if you

  1. Start telling the editor how to edit your book
  2. Start telling the cover designer how to do his/her job
  3. Start thinking your experience of half a year, promoting 2 of your books, makes you more of an expert than marketing companies who market thousands of books a year

Learn and figure out what actually works in the market. The large Publishers (Macmillan, Harper Collins, Random House, etc) have survived by following best practices. Learn those and follow those. Do not assume that what you are guessing or assuming trumps what actually works

Following what you learn from people with limited amounts of success

To the largest extent possible, do not follow the advice of

  1. People who are Unsuccessful. The reason why should be obvious
  2. People who have very little success or very sporadic success. In most cases, they don’t know why they were successful occasionally and unsuccessful the rest of the time
  3. People whose profession is to sell marketing courses, especially Get Rich Quick courses and courses that offer ‘shortcuts to success’
  4. People who have had some success and have not properly analyzed why they were successful
  5. People who are pushing what they THINK is the reason for their success (of whatever magnitude), as opposed to what they have repeatedly found to work and are 100% sure of

You will notice three main problems

  1. People who are very successful will rarely share their secrets to success
  2. People who are successful very rarely know EXACTLY what caused them to be successful. They always romanticize their success and attribute it to what they think made them successful
  3. People who are unsuccessful and/or have very sporadic success are the loudest and are the ones usually espousing success strategies the most – However, their success strategies are the least effective

That leaves us with a few very hard solutions if we actually want to figure out what makes authors successful

  1. Study only successful and very successful authors
  2. Study what they actually do, and not what they say. Do not follow what they think has made them successful or what image they are selling. Instead, look at what they do
  3. Study as in depth as possible all three categories of authors – those who are very successful (to learn what to do), those who are somewhat successful (to see both sides), those who fail (to see what to avoid)

Basically, you have no option other than to spend a lot of time analyzing what works and what doesn’t. No one is going to give you success in return for $400. No one is going to give you free advice that will make you successful

However, a lot of people will promise you illusions – to be successful you must avoid them as they will waste both your money and time

Avoid Spending a lot of money on something that does not exist i.e. Shortcuts and Promises of Overnight Success

There are a heck of a lot of courses and packages that offer you the promise of

  1. $26,000 and you will become a successful author
  2. $15,000 and you will get your book made into a movie
  3. $400 for all the secrets to sell a million books

None of them work

If people had something that really worked, and which could be scaled up and replicated easily, why would they choose to not be James Patterson?

Let’s say you found a way to easily pump out bestseller after bestseller. Why not make all that money yourself? Why not make millions per bestselling book? Why not become one of the most successful authors in the world?

Why would you instead go out to the Internet and start giving away this super valuable secret/strategy for $100 or $400 or $1,000?

Spoiler Alert: They are selling their ‘super magical secret’ because the only way they can make money from it is by selling it to you. The only people who get rich from ‘Get Rich from Kindle Books’ courses – are the ones selling the courses

Bringing Politics into it

Unless you are writing a book specifically about politics, please

  1. Do not add politics
  2. Do not try to tell people they should convert to your line of political thinking
  3. Do not tell people they are idiots for believing their line of political thinking

Write a book, not propaganda

Ignoring the Importance of Reviews + Not Asking Your Best Customers for Reviews

A Review is a lot of things

  1. It’s Social Proof – someone bought your book and liked it enough to recommend it (via the review)
  2. It’s Preselection – other people are buying your book and liking it
  3. It’s a recommendation from the people readers trust the most and whose opinion they value the most – other readers

Without reviews, it is very hard to sell your book

The biggest mistakes authors make are

  1. They give up on getting reviews because it’s hard. Push through the initial pain and get those first few reviews. Then it will accelerate sales and get you further reviews
  2. They don’t ask their best customers for reviews. Your best customers are the ones who finish the book and buy your other books. They are the ones who visit your website to check what other books you have. They are the ones who write in to you
  3. They don’t learn the rules for getting reviews. A rough listing would be – Have a well polished book. Promote it to the right genre. Keep polishing the book. Ask INSIDE the book for reviews. Ask your best customers for reviews.

Not Making yourself Likable and Human

All things being equal, people will be more likely to buy your books if they see you as a real person – a real person they can relate to

Even all things not being equal, people will be more likely to buy your books if they feel they can connect with you

You have to reveal a little bit about yourself – who you are, why you write, who your favorite authors are, a little bit about your family, your life

If you don’t come across as approachable, people are far less likely to buy your book. All those physical books had happy smiling author photos on the back for a reason

A lot more to come later

We will add more to this post later. For now please do avoid as many of these mistakes as possible

Selling Books is an Art and a Science – and one of the most important things is to learn from the mistakes authors have made in the past



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