5 Marketing Mistakes That Beginning Fiction Writers Make

by | Oct 22, 2014

By Jason Kong

Just about anyone can become a self-published author. Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone will become a well-read author. A book needs to be paired with the right audience.

Good marketing matters more than ever. These days, connecting the proper readers with your fiction is part of being a writer, as much as the craft of storytelling itself.

The good news is there’s plenty of advice out there. The bad news? There’s plenty of bad advice masquerading as good advice.

Sure, you’ll be able to figure out the difference, eventually. Most of those pitfalls aren’t fatal. But why waste months or even years of your life if you don’t have to?

Today we’re going to examine five marketing missteps that newbie fiction writers make. Become familiar with them, and you’ll avoid some unnecessary pain in your writing career.

  1. Overestimating the importance of book launches
  2. Once the publishing process ends, the marketing process needs to kick into high gear.

    A book launch represents a promotional opportunity, the chance to create buzz and awareness to your latest work. When done properly, you’ll get a spike in new readers and sales.

    Unfortunately, the momentum tends to be short-lived. It’s not easy to meet your hopeful expectations (much less the dream scenario) and often the marketing high is over all too quickly. If this is really your best shot to get traction, are you in trouble if the results seem disappointing?

    You may have a legitimate concern if you had to validate market interest to stay on the shelves. That may be true within the realm of traditional publishing and physical bookstores. But in the digital world, where virtual space is limitless, the reality is much different.

    Big splashes are overrated because it’s near impossible to reach the majority in any given area. That’s okay. You not only can afford to build a readership gradually, it’s preferable. Overspending for a make-or-break marketing opportunity isn’t smart if it takes you out of the game.

    Play for the long haul. Focus on your target audience and keep in touch with those interested in your storytelling. Have patience and more patience.

    Because that’s what it will take.

  3. Underestimating the importance of publishing more fiction
  4. Writing more stories may sound like an overly simplistic tactic to get noticed. After all, getting more books out there increases your chances of being found, right?

    While there may be some truth to that, I’m not advocating quantity over quality. In fact, the two go hand-in-hand — creating more books will likely result in better stories. Each pass through the publishing cycle means you’ll gain experience and skill. You’ll know what pitfalls to avoid and what activities deserve your focus. You’re a better writer going forward, able to produce better work. So you should.

    But the other reason you should keep publishing fiction has to do with your readership. It’s much easier to have an existing reader consume your next book than to have a new reader give you your first shot. The trust you’ve earned from a fan carries over to your future projects.

    So once your first book hits the market, don’t wait too long before starting the next. If you’re a passionate writer, this is advice you can embrace.

  5. Maintaining a blog to attract new readers
  6. There are many legitimate reasons to have your own blog. Trying to generate traffic that converts into customers shouldn’t be the primary one.

    Yes, it’s true that blogs are very useful for non-fiction writers building authority and connections in their respective fields. And yes, many established writers do attract new readers through their blogs. But I’m assuming neither case applies to you.

    You’re a beginning fiction writer, and you absolutely need attention. But it’s a specific kind of attention — the people you’re trying to attract are the kind of people that would be potentially interested in your storytelling.

    That’s a much harder challenge than it sounds.

    If your blog is new, then you have no audience. The act of blogging alone doesn’t get you visitors; you need to publish something worthwhile and be able to connect the right people to the post. In other words, it’s the same process as finding readers for your books.

    So if you’re faced with the dilemma of getting more readers for your books, why are you expending valuable time and effort getting more readers for your blog?

    To be clear, I happen to agree that every writer can benefit from blogging. What I’m suggesting is that you don’t treat your blog as a pure marketing tool, with the singular goal of getting new readers for your books.

    Because if that’s your motivation, you’re likely to be disappointed.

  7. Dismissing free as a marketing tactic
  8. The idea of giving away your stories without charge is often misunderstood, even today.

    There’s nothing inherently magical about the act of free. People won’t read your fiction just because they don’t have to pay, nor will they like it more because there’s no fee. There has to be other compelling reasons for readers to act, just like always.

    Well-designed covers undoubtedly help. So does having existing readers acknowledge the quality of your book, through favorable reviews and positive word-of-mouth. Wonderful presentation and social proof goes a long way to building traction.

    Free is simply an approach to accelerate your progress. By removing the friction of price, you have a chance to push past obscurity sooner.

    And remember, you don’t have to do free forever. It’s up to you to decide what makes sense for your situation. All you’re deciding now is that you want your work known and validated. That’s the part that can’t wait.

  9. Focusing on numbers instead of relationships
  10. Now that we can track everything, we pretty much do.

    You always know how many Twitter followers you have, or the subscriber count to your email newsletter. You can easily assess the traffic to any page on your website or your blog. You are able to break down your sales, per book, per distributor, for any period of time you want.

    I’m not saying knowing those figures aren’t important. I’m going to suggest that when you’re starting out, they’re distracting.

    In the beginning, your numbers will be close to zero. You’re going to be tempted to check them, constantly. Resist.

    Instead, spend your energies on the relationships in your writing world. For example:

    • Suggest to a fellow fiction writer a way to collaborate.
    • Get to know some reviewers in your genre way before your books are published.
    • Thank anyone showing genuine interest in what you do.

    Be human. Help out your peers just because you can. Support those in your network without asking for anything in return. The stats will still be there at the end of the day for you to review.

    And who knows, by focusing on relationships you may find that you’ll eventually get the numbers you wanted all along.

Over to you

Have you experienced any of these marketing mistakes? What else would you share with a beginning fiction writer?

Jason KongJason Kong is a Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. He also runs Storyrally, an email-based subscription that helps fiction writers with their online marketing.

You can learn more about Jason here.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. DigitalConnectMag

    You can easily assess the traffic to any page on your website or your blog. You are able to break down your sales, per book, per distributor, for any period of time you want.

  2. Susan Johnson

    Thanks for all the help everyone. I think Im getting the hang of it now :)

  3. Antara Man

    Hi Jason,
    very, very valuable advice you suggest. I have a little problem with finding the exact type of reviewers as my stories are a bit of mash-up, I am checking the article about collaboration.
    Looking forward into your site!

  4. Nathaniel Tower

    Great article. I have fallen into at least 4 of these traps so far in my writing career.

    Another one to add:

    Overestimating the amount of marketing your publisher will do. Sorry to say it, but the bulk of the responsibility in today’s world is on the author, not the publisher.

  5. Michael N. Marcus

    Many novelists’ blogs seem to attract only dozens of other novelists — not thousands of readers.

    If you are a novelist who specializes in post-apocalyptic gay teenage albino vampire sex, how many blog posts about your novel could you come up with over the years? Three? One?

    Maybe a better strategy for a novelist would be to blog with news and opinions about something remotely related to the book topic — like teenage sex, vampires or albinos — that might catch Google searchers who could be interested in reading a novel.

    Even better than that might be to establish yourself as an interesting person who can attract people and keep them coming to your blog where they can be exposed to a message about your book(s).

    But, maybe you’re a novelist who can’t make yourself into a captivating personality. Instead of a blog, you will probably find it’s easier and more effective to have a website that’s updated a few times a year instead of trying to blog hundreds of times a year.

    Also: Unless you write books about writing, don’t write about writing. Readers of novels probably won’t care about how many words you churned out last night or if your cat dumped coffee on your keyboard.

  6. Cassandra Leuthold

    Jason, I love seeing email updates from you in my inbox! You write some of the best articles for authors out there.

    Out of these 5 points, 4 of them I needed to hear (badly), and the other one was nice to have validated. Thanks for reminding us to have patience. It’s one of the simplest, hardest things, but it’s a lot easier to do when working on the next book (#2 on your list) instead of checking results (#5).

    • Jason Kong

      Thanks for the kind words, Cassandra! I hope all is well with you.

  7. JJ Bach

    An author pic might just further things a bit more as well……

    • JJ Bach

      :) I could swear I hit the reply button under a comment, but it looks instead like I get my very own instead……

      Somewhere in the below stack is a note about WordPress with an Adsense plugin being better than a blogger blog. I would like to point out that blogger is a Google company, as is Adsense (at least the one I am thinking of). So using blogger and populating it with another Google product (Adsense) should help more than hurt…..I’m still convinced, without a shred of proof to back it up, that Google’s algorithm favors a blogger blog more than a WordPress blog.

      • Jason Kong

        Your speculation may well be right. But even if we knew exactly how the algorithm worked, there are risks associated with organizing your entire setup according to someone else’s rules. Google can (and has) change its mind in an instant, which means anyone dependent on their decisions will be forced to scramble…

    • Susan Johnson

      Great idea JJ.. now if only I can work out how to do that haha. I love the world of authors I’ve found such helpful and friendly people. Thank you

  8. A.K. Andrew

    Really good advice on all points. I think especially with blogging as it sometimes feels hard to justify the time it takes away from writing. Thanks for a great list:-)

    • Jason Kong

      Prioritization is tough, isn’t it? Lots of activities take away from writing time. Knowing what’s important matters, but so does taking the appropriate action. :)

  9. Anne R. Allen

    Spot-on advice, Jason. Every new indie author needs to read it. The whole idea of the “big launch” is based on old technology: paper books with a short shelf life. And blogs are great, especially for pre-published writers networking with other writers and later for communicating with your readers, but a blog that only serves as an advertisement will not attract readers. And numbers alone, especially Twitter and Facebook numbers, are meaningless. All these are great points!

    • Jason Kong

      Thanks for chiming in, Anne.

      If you had to identify the biggest marketing mistake beginning fiction writers make, what would you say?

  10. Elizabeth Ann West

    A blog is a good idea if you are using it as a stop gap to keep readers fed/bring new readers to the table in between releases. For the love of Pete (whomever he is), don’t just go with a Blogger blog. Pay for a WordPress install and put Adsense on there. Most new authors make just a few dollars each month on their books. But a blog with regular posts with a few ads here and there can double or triple that money. As you build more traffic, you earn more Adsense monies. And Adsense loves sites with long time spent by a reader (like to read a free short story or free chapter) and low bounce rate.

    That extra $100 or so every few months can really come in handy when you’re trying to launch a fiction career.

    • Jason Kong

      Those are interesting thoughts on Adsense, Elizabeth. It’s an option for authors, of course, but it generally takes a fair amount of traffic to start seeing any real monetary return. And traffic is something beginning fiction writers are lacking.

  11. Janelle Fila

    Excellent post, thanks so much for the advice! As a new writer (my YA Contemporary is on agent submission), I work daily to build my “platform” so when the day comes for publication, I am ready! I appreciate your hint to avoid blogging just for the sake of increasing numbers. I want to drive traffic to my (static) website, and thought blogging might help. I have no interest (or time) for blogging, but I do have an unused website that I could easily convert…I think I will put that idea on the back burner. Thanks so much for keeping me from making a rookie mistake!

    • Jason Kong

      Glad you found the article useful, Janelle. And good luck with your book!

  12. Dina

    I agree with Jason. Right now, I’m building connections with my readers so that my NEXT book will have a better chance of having a proper launch (small), and freebies. And I want to do this for the long haul.

    Joel, I am a fan and I take your words about publishing seriously. I also love how you add writers’ articles within your blog space and expand your content through working with affiliate authors.

    I have a new website, still under construction, that caters, among others, to new writers like myself. If I want to post a full article that I find from your site, such as this one written by Jason Kong, how do I go about sharing it as a blog post?

    • Jason Kong

      Dina: I’ll let Joel respond about re-posting articles in its entirety, but you may want to consider to write an original post on your blog and linking to any articles you’d like to reference. That way, your readers will get the benefit of your insight with the link to the original source. You wouldn’t need permission in that case.

      Also, consider using the trackback feature when you reference articles from The Book Designer. When you do so, a link will appear at the bottom of the comments section for the article referenced — scroll down to the bottom of this blog post as an example.

  13. C. A. Morgan

    I’m usually timid about networking too – it seems like using people, which is not my style. But after almost ten years of trying to get my novel published, and another year of learning how to self promote (wish I’d read posts like this prior to my launch!) I’m finally realizing how necessary connectedness is to success. When book number two comes out later this year, I’ll have a better handle on marketing thanks to sites such as yours.

    • Susan Johnson

      what is the name of your first book ? :)

    • Jason Kong

      I hear what you’re saying about networking. I think a lot of the anxiety comes from feeling selfish about your motivations.

      The solution? Don’t reach out with the sole objective to benefit yourself. Instead, figure out how to make your contact’s life better. The better you can do that, the better your networking results will be (and the happier you’ll be too). That’s why collaboration is so powerful — since it’s a chance for everyone to benefit, it’s something worth talking about.

  14. S. J. Pajonas

    I agree with every point on this list! I actually loathe the importance of book launches that so many authors put so much stock in. I don’t believe there AS important to the mid-list authors and I’d rather spend my time doing something more worthwhile during a book launch. And I used free this summer and it was the best thing I’ve ever done for my series. Hands down.

    • S. J. Pajonas

      “they’re as important”…

      I wish there was an edit feature on comments :) Also I should not comment before my morning tea.

    • Jason Kong

      I just feel bad for self-publishing authors that expect a launch to address “the marketing issue.” It’s just not that simple, nor is it that easy.

  15. Susan Johnson

    Invaluable information for newbies like me! I did my first ever blog yesterday and you are correct I kept refreshing it every 10 mins to see if anyone had read it and i’m still dying for someone to leave me a comment but i will follow your advice and try not obsessively check it haha

    • Ernie Zelinski


      So, why didn’t you put the URL for your blog under “Website” when you were leaving your comment? I would have likely read it and possibly even left a comment.

      This may sound like a small oversight on your part. But it’s the small things done for years and years that up to the big things in the long run.

      Then again, I am mainly a non-fiction writer with an IQ of a ditch digger. What would I know about writing and marketing fiction?

      Ernie J. Zelinski
      The Prosperity Guy
      “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
      Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
      (Over 225,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
      and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
      (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

      • Susan Johnson

        Hi Ernie,
        I didn’t leave my link because I feel bad trying to push my own work on the back of someone else’s. It was a great blog and I didn’t want to comment just to “get something out of it” so to speak.

        p.s I’m quite fond of ditch diggers they usually get my humor, I’m always told it lurks in the gutter haha and here’s the link because Im dying for some feedback (oh and If you know how I can edit it to fix up my spelling error that would be great)

        • Jason Kong

          Susan: others may feel differently but I think you’re fine with populating the website field when you leave a comment. As long as the comment you leave isn’t an obvious self-serving ploy to get traffic, I don’t think people will hold it against you for having your name link back to your site.

          In fact, some people prefer that you link back to your site because you’re willing to be accountable for the comment you make, as opposed to remaining anonymous.

          • Susan Johnson

            Yes that’s good advise and I’m always happy to have people check out my blog (I was unaware I could put that as a website though) as I said I’m very new to this and the last 4 days have been a massive learning curve. It’s people like you guys that offer help and advise that make my life so much easier.. So thanks everyone

          • Steve Galliford

            Excellent article and comments. I’m still quite new to this but am really impressed by the collaborative nature of many indie authors/publishers. As much as I’d like to believe my brand new kid’s adventure novel (The House at the Edge of Space) will sell itself, I can’t ignore reality. Thanks!

      • Jason Kong

        Ernie: Well, I, for one, always look forward to hearing your insights. :)



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