Are You Making These 7 Book Marketing Mistakes?

by | Sep 7, 2012

by Toni Tesori (@Duolit)

Toni is one half of the team at Duolit, a self-publishing blog and author services company (the other half is Shannon, Toni’s BFF). I’ve been impressed by the way Toni and Shannon have set out to help indie authors market their books, and I asked her for tips that would help you, too. Here’s her response.

When you make the decision to self-publish, you join a crowded marketplace: the number of indie books has more than quadrupuled since 2006!

With thousands of new authors taking the self-pub plunge every year, it’s becoming drastically more difficult to distinguish yourself from the pack and find success.

This is reflected in the (rather depressing) statistic that 8 out of 10 books sell fewer than 100 copies. Doesn’t that make you sick to your stomach?

Every day, I hear from indie authors sadly confirming this statistic; frustrated and disheartened after selling just a handful of books to family and friends!

To be honest, it’s not their fault: the root of this selling problem lies with the DIY nature of self-publishing itself.

Learn as You Go

Unless you have a money tree, to travel the indie author highway you must quickly become a jack of all trades.

And you know the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none?” Well, that’s particularly true for the marketing part of the publishing process. Indie authors are forced to figure out selling as they go, often picking up tactics from other authors, (wrongly) assuming those tactics are effective.

As a result, we see the same book marketing mistakes repeated over and over again.

Do me a favor: decide right now to help reverse that 80% failure rate. You’ve put too much effort into publishing your book to let it flop!

7 Common Book Marketing Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)

Mistake #1: Having unreasonable expectations.

I’d love to say otherwise, but book marketing is much more an art than a science. The variables involved (quality, genre, target market, etc.) are endless, and there’s no whiz-bang silver bullet for success.

Many authors, however, come into self-publishing convinced they’re going to retire the day after their book is released (after making a quick pit stop on Oprah’s couch, of course).

If that fantasy has crossed your mind, don’t let me deter you: that type of self-publishing success is possible! To achieve it, however, be realistic about the time and effort you must put in to get there.

Like it or not, when you self-publish, you’re running a business!

Think back to your childhood lemonade stand days. I don’t know about you, but I had a hard time selling that delicious cool drink, even in the heat of summer. And those customers only had to hand over 25-cents to an adorable (I hope) child!

Just because you’ve gotten older doesn’t mean selling is any easier. Remember, you have more than 300,000 others publishing their work at the same time as you!

Mistake #2: Rushing to release.

I totally understand how easy it is to make this mistake.

After you put the finishing touches on your book, you’re exhausted…but pumped. You’ve spent weeks, months, or years of your life writing this masterpiece and want nothing more than to share it with the world.

When you rush your book’s release, however, you’re shortchanging the immensity of your accomplishment!

You did something millions only achieve in their dreams: you authored a book. Don’t release it with a whimper. This is your personal moon landing, build up to that massive moment. It’s a big effing deal!

Basically: take a breath and give yourself ample time to plan an epic book release. Set a launch date three to six months down the road. It may seem like a long time, but you’ll still release your work faster than you ever could with traditional publishing!

Mistake #3: Being a “Survivor”

Remember when Survivor premiered? Millions tuned in each week, shocked to witness the lengths folks would go to in hopes of winning the million dollar prize. Backstabbing, bad-mouthing and all-around nastiness were the name of the game.

What’s shocking to me is how many indies possess this Survivor mentality today, seeing their fellow indies strictly as competition.

The scenario here, however, is totally different: there’s not only one big prize for which we’re all competing. Readers don’t read just one book, or even just one author. There’s room in the book-selling world for everyone!

You’ve been there; you know how hard it is to market your own book. Forming an indie alliance can mean doubling your audience in a flash!

When searching for a partner:

  • Only approach authors whose work you truly adore; for your alliance to work, it must be genuine.
  • Don’t feel pressured to stick to your own genre; many YA fans enjoy “chicklit” and quite a few sci-fi fans enjoy fantasy.

Mistake #4: Selling to everyone

It’s only natural to want (or assume) that everyone will enjoy your book. While that may be true, marketing to everyone is not only impossible, but also ineffective.

Finding your target market gives you a powerful tool: a group to center all of your marketing decisions around.

As an example, let’s check out how having a target market helps you answer common book marketing quandaries:

  • Q: Where do I find new readers? A: Where does your target market hang out?
  • Q: What do I include in my newsletter? A: What would your target be interested in reading?
  • Q: How do I encourage readers to purchase my book? A: What makes your target decide to purchase books?

Okay, so sometimes the answer to a question is a question, but reframing it from your target market’s perspective often allows you to answer your own question.

If you want to go all out, you can even give your target market a face. That’s right, picture one of your target market members and give him a name, background info, personality traits—just like a book character. When you get stuck, ask him what he’d like to hear/read from you!

Mistake #5: Neglecting your fans.

A huge benefit of self-publishing is the ability to form relationships with your readers on an individual basis.

Growing up, I adored Ann M. Martin (author of the Babysitters Club series—don’t judge). The closest I could ever get to her, however, was the “About the Author” page in the back of each book. I could never dream of communicating with her directly!

Nowadays, thanks to the internet and social media, readers can do just that. And that connection is a powerful selling tool!

To communicate with your readers, create an email list. Encourage folks to sign up by offering an exclusive excerpt, short story or other freebie.

One note of caution: your emails must be (1) consistent and (2) useful. Our inboxes are super-cluttered, so you must condition readers to expect your emails and give them a reason to open those updates.

When your readers take the time to email you back, respond to each one thoughtfully and genuinely. Don’t take for granted the opportunity to build real relationships with people who love your work. In yo’ face, Ann Martin!

Mistake #6: Unintentional spamming.

While social media has allowed readers greater access to their favorite authors, keeping up with social networks can quickly become a drain on your precious marketing time.

Luckily, there’s plenty of apps to help out, so you begin to implement some automation. First you simply send every new Twitter follower a welcome message, but soon you’re scheduling a week’s worth of tweets and Facebook updates in advance.

I’m not going to argue that automation has its place, but at what cost? Too much automation dilutes the effectiveness of your social media efforts; you may even (unintentionally) turn off fans by seeming like a spammer!

You know that whole thoughtful and genuine thing I mentioned in regards to communicating with your fans? It applies to social media as well.

Believe me: your followers can tell when you’ve over-automated and will respond appropriately (that is, by not responding at all or by unfollowing you).

There’s nothing wrong with scheduling some updates in advance, but make an effort to check your networks and personally respond to a few replies and mentions every day. You don’t need to set aside too much time for this; 15 minutes will do it. It’s better to have fewer updates (that are truly entertaining and personal) than a continual stream of spammy content.

Mistake #7: Undervaluing the importance of professional editing and design.

Like it or not, pro editing and design affect the perceived value of your work (and, thus, your sales).

I understand how painful it can be to depart with your hard-earned cash, but (just like that lemonade stand) your book is a business, and these professional services are an investment in that business.

Learn from successful business-y folks: they know when to spend some money to make a lot more!

This is another great reason to avoid rushing to release your book—holding off gives you more time to save up for these services.

If you’re already released your book but didn’t invest in editing or design the first time around, plan a second edition launch 3-6 months down the road and start saving now!

What Will You Improve?

If you’ve made any of the mistakes above, don’t feel bad! Like I said at the start, with all the work indie authors do themselves, there’s simply no way to perfect your book marketing in one shot. You must continually experiment, refining your approach once you find out what works for you.

To wrap up, I just want to say that I’m a huge cheerleader for indie authors. Your resourcefulness and dedication to the success of your book is the inspiration for everything we do over at Duolit. Give your marketing efforts a bit of time and patience, and I know you’ll achieve success!

I’m curious, though: did any of the above mistakes resonate with you? What can you do today to begin patching things up? If you’re mistake-free (rock on!), have you noticed any oopsies from your fellow indies? Let’s chat in the comments!

Toni TesoriToni Tesori is one half of Duolit, two gals who help passionate fiction authors sell more books by building their crazy-dedicated fanbase. If you’re ready to become a book marketing whiz, check out their FREE 4-week training course. A new session starts later this month!

Photo credit: EKavet via photo pin cc

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Aan Frazier

    This is a wonderful article! I am an indie author almost at the eve of launch date. I’m relieved to know that I’m on the right track. Not too many of the seven mistakes so far! Regardless, however, I know it will still be a challenge to get “noticed” out there in the book world. I’m not worried though because I’m just having so much fun with the whole process, plus being a published author has always been a big dream of mine.

    Number seven was a really big one for me throughout my whole book journey because I am a school teacher. I didn’t want to produce something that was non-professional or full of errors. That would be embarrassing!

    A piece of informational tidbit that I would like to give here is to save your money for a professional cover and editing, but realize that most of the money will go to the editing part. Of all the costs that went into producing my book, the editing part was the most expensive by far. Of course, I did hire a very good award winning editor, but I’ve discovered that it’s the most costly part even in a publishing house. Most of my professionals were freelancers which was more affordable for me. is a wonderful place to find such people. Their profiles include ratings, job history, and feedback.

    If you are interested in seeing the end result of my self-published book, you can see what it looks like on my website. =) Good luck to everyone who is self-publishing!

    • Toni @Duolit

      Hi Anna! Thank you for leaving such a wonderful comment. I’m actually really glad that you didn’t find yourself making any of the mistakes — you’re a great example to other authors. I really appreciate you sharing your experience!

      • Aan Frazier

        No problem! Glad I to be of help. I think it’s so wonderful that you are trying to help new authors with your informative article. =)

        • Aan Frazier

          Oops, I put my email address in the website field in the previous post by accident. Sorry if you end up at gmail!

  2. Ryan Casey

    Great post, Toni, and thanks to Joel for hosting.

    I think the ‘survivor mentality’ you describe is spot on. Social karma can go such a long way, and we can really build some great relationships with fellow writers if we make the effort, too!

    The editing thing resonates with me as well. It’s so important to keep the standards high, and our responsibility. Sure, set a target launch date, but base it on when you think you’ll be all edited (professionally) by and work around that.


    • Toni @Duolit

      Thanks, Ryan! Watching your experiments and results marketing your book has been fascinating. You’re doing a wonderful job so far!

      For fiction in particular, pro editing is absolutely essential. I’d recommend it even for an editor writing her own book — a second set of eyes can always find mistakes and room for improvement!

  3. Daniel

    Great article. It also made me thirsty for a lemonade.

    • Toni @Duolit

      Me too, Daniel! Especially as hot as it still is down here in Florida. But I want one of those beautiful-sounding drinks Tracy mentioned above!

  4. Turndog Millionaire

    Sage advice, as always :)

    Especially agree with the collaboration point. Life’s too short to see everyone as a competitor. Sure, competition has its place, but the opportunities are there to work with one another and we should take that with both hands

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

    • Toni @Duolit

      Collaboration rocks, Matt. Being an indie can be so, well, independent and lonely. Having someone to lean on makes all the difference in the world. Build relationships with other indies and you will be rewarded, I promise!

    • Joel Friedlander

      I’m also in agreement with nurturing a sense of collaboration with your peers and colleagues. I save the competition in trying to do better than I have before, or surpassing a model I’m trying to follow. Especially in creative stuff like writing and publishing, direct competition doesn’t seem to come up that often.

      • Toni @Duolit

        I love that thought, Joel — being in competition with yourself instead of with your peers. That’s a wonderful way to look at things!

  5. Kevin Sivils

    Think of selling and marketing a self-published book as a marathon rather than a 100 meter dash. It took two years and a lot of effort on my part for my best selling book to catch on, but once it did, it has sold very well.

    I also agree with the point about launching a book too soon. Just getting the book written, edited, a cover and interior designed and the think ready to print can wear you out.

    It takes time to develop a sound marketing plan, get it ready and then launch the marketing effort. You have to build demand for your book. That can take as much effort or more than writing the book. Hence the need to invest the time necessary to market the book.

    Kevin Sivils

    • Toni @Duolit

      Kevin, you rock! (I know, I’m *so* eloquent) ;-)

      I actually give that exact same advice in our marketing course — book marketing is a marathon. In other words: pace yourself and settle in, author friends. You’re gonna be here awhile!

      I see so many folks give up just before reaching the point of “critical mass” when things start rolling, and it makes me sad. Having the proper expectations up front will help you achieve success!

      Wonderful advice, Kevin. :-)

  6. Diana Cruze

    Reply to number 2.
    Sounds like a good idea, but I will be 71 years old in October and I would like to see my book in print soon. Don’t think I need to wait much longer.
    Any advice? Book is ready; just waiting on final edit.


      • Diana Cruze

        Thanks for the reply.
        Good to know. Now I feel 50 again.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Diana, Toni’s advice is designed for you to have a much better experience with the actual publication of your book. At this point, if 3 to 6 months will make it much more likely to be rewarding, that might be a good bargain. I’ve advised several authors within the last month to “put their book aside” until they’ve made some preparation for the world to receive it, and I’m convinced they will have a happier experience in the end.

      • Toni @Duolit

        Thanks, Joel, for replying to Diana — your advice is perfect. I’m certainly not advocating waiting years to publish (that’s more like a tradpub timetable!), but taking three to six months to build up to an epic launch will most certainly leave you happier in the end.

        And, like Tracy says — 70 is the new 50 ;-) Muster up your patience; with all the hard work it takes to publish, you deserve the launch of your dreams!

      • Diana Cruze

        Good advice. Now is the time for marketing my book. I’m learning about social media, wondering about a blog, and hoping to line up a number of books stores for a book signing.

  7. Ilana Waters

    I loved Ann M. Martin too as a kid! No judgment here! :-) What’s to judge? It was a great series.

    But in her defense, there wasn’t as much of a way for traditional authors to connect with their fans in those days. I love the system we have now–you can often meet your favorite author through their blog or other social networks. *thrill*

    • Toni @Duolit

      Haha, thanks Ilana! I knew there had to be other BSC fans out there.

      You’re definitely right that connecting was much more difficult back then. I think I may have actually sent her a fan letter at one point, but doubt it ever got read. I do not envy whoever had the job of sifting through those letters from 10-year-old fans!

      The rise of social media is awesome — it puts everyone on an equal playing field. If you’re willing to put in the work, any indie author can have just as dedicated a following as a NYT Bestseller!

  8. Tracy R. Atkins


    This is great information to help keep focus and not stumble around.

    On #1, expectations are the real killer. It’s hard to make generalizations as authors run the gamut from small business people, publishing for profit, to true-blue vanity authors looking for fame. I am not 100% “in it for the money”, but as someone who takes the business side seriously, I am focused on the financials. I can’t speak for other authors, but return on investment is heavy on my mind now that the novel is complete. Knowing that I need to sell 400+ books to break even, which is a goal in itself. I am prepared to lose money on this venture, with the mindset of long-term returns on other works. So perhaps that outlook prevents being discouraged if I only sell 10 copies.

    Point #2 is difficult in the current self-publishing atmosphere from a technical standpoint. It has been a challenge to arrange and line up all of my launch channels to release at nearly the same time. I started with a 5 months lead (I’m publishing In November). Getting it all to line up has been a full time job in itself.

    Point #3, if you are a self published author, no less than 93.6% of the internet wants to see you lying in a pool of your own blood. (joke). It’s tough, but I must say, places like this website give an author strength.

    4,5 &6. I don’t think there is a good substitute for being a genuine “You” to the right people either. Like your writing, people will decide. Being someone you’re not, or letting a robot/form do the work for you, diminishes who you are.

    With #7, You are correct. You are presenting and selling a product. Using your lemonade stand, would you sell lemonade with seeds in it? Would you rush to put it out on the stand and forget the sugar or not put enough? Would you use a template (Countrytime!) to represent your skill? Even if no one buys it, I would hand squeeze it, blend in cane sugar and put a bow on every straw.

    • Toni @Duolit

      Tracy, seeing your book as a business is a very smart — and totally on the nose. Many authors are far too close to their work and unable to objectively gauge the reception it will receive.

      Love how you took the lemonade stand analogy even further. I might have to quote you on that in the future! Also, hearing that you’re willing to put that much work into your end product gives me the warm fuzzies. I love meeting authors with that kind of dedication to quality!

  9. Mary DeEditor

    Thanks, Toni, for great ideas (and thanks, Joel, for hosting). In my work, I see a lot of #2, Rush to Release, and #7, “I Don’t Need an Editor, I Don’t See No Problems” or its variant, “I’ll Pay You Pennies, You’ll Make It Perfect.” #1, Great Expectations, is like bermuda grass in your rose bed: it’s never going away.

    I’m interested in your idea of a reissue. I have a new client who six months ago rushed to release his first novel with no editing, lackluster title, and unappealing cover. He “co-paid” a tiny, do-nothing publisher to release it. Print edition only, no e-books, sold only at the tiny publisher’s site. Author has sold three copies. He wasn’t sure, but I’m assuming he signed over his rights. Book carries tiny publisher’s ISBN. I woke up this morning thinking, “Damn, how to revive a dead fish? Wish we could start over.” Then I read this blog. Maybe we can. But how, exactly?

    • Toni @ Duolit

      Hi Mary! Thank you so much for reading and sharing your experience.

      If your client can figure out the issue with his rights, starting over sounds like a good plan, for sure. I did a piece recently on building up to an epic launch, and I see no reason why it wouldn’t work for a reissue as well. To sum up: take about six months to fix the missteps from the first release, build up a fanbase and create anticipation for the book and its (re)launch.

      If he did give up the rights, then the best course of action is to learn from what went wrong and take things slowly before releasing his next book. Hope that helps!

      • Joel Friedlander


        I think Toni is right on about “re-launching” this book. It sounds like it needs a substantial edit and, if carried out, it could be published as a second edition, or even published under a new title. Since the book was only at a hosted site and not in the book distribution system, this might be the best way to create a new book from the old. Add a good cover and put some marketing behind it and it will have a fair chance to find its place.

        • Mary DeEditor

          Thanks to both. I will suggest it to my author. I suspect what he really wants is something biblical: Lo, the dead fish shall be fresh anew, and the multitudes will miraculously appear.

          I spent some time on Toni’s site, Duolit. Lots of good ideas there!

          • Toni @Duolit

            Right on, Joel — I didn’t even think about the potential of creating a version 2.0! Matched up with a dedication to quality and desire to engage on the part of the author and he should see better results this time ’round.

            If you’re right about him looking for those Biblicial results, though, Mary…ehh, probably won’t happen without vast inputs of hard work! ;-)

            Thanks for checking out our site, too!

  10. Michael N. Marcus

    Toni gave some excellent advice, and I’d like to offer a few more suggestions:

    (1) At least at the beginning, suppress the dream of seeing your book on a shelf at Barnes & Noble. Terrestrial booksellers demand a huge discount from the cover price and the right to return dirty and tattered books just when you are expecting to receive money. If you concentrate on print on demand and online sales, you can make more money per book, don’t have to print large quantities and never get returns. If someone walks into a bookstore and wants to buy your book, the store can order it.

    (2) Except for autographed copies, don’t sell books from your own website. It’s much better to spend your time writing and marketing than running a warehouse and a shipping department. Millions of more people visit Amazon and B&N’s website than your own website.

    (3) Offer your book in multiple formats. I published one book initially as a paperback, and then as an e-book. Because of reader requests, I later published a hardcover for gift giving. Make your book available in the forms that people want to read. Some authors think only of Kindle for e-books, ignoring non-Amazon sales channels. I often sell more e-books thru Apple than thru Amazon.

    (4) Consider “special sales.” An existing book or a slightly modified version might be perfect for a political party, alumni group, chamber of commerce, fan club, etc. You can negotiate a handsome profit, and no returns. If you have an order for hundreds or thousands of books, use offset printing, not POD.

    (5) Everyone you meet — even someone sitting next to you on a plane or standing next to you on the supermarket line — is a prospective customer. Don’t be reluctant to talk about your book (low pressure, please), and always carry business cards that show your book cover.

    (6) If you are too timid to toot your own horn, you’ll have to pay someone to toot for you.

    (7) Don’t think that selling one book at a time is a waste of time. One happy reader can tell someone else, who tells others, who tells others….

    Michael N. Marcus

    • Diana Cruze

      Best advise I have read lately. Since I spent 30 years in sales, I am certainly not shy about approaching strangers. I plan on stopping at every gas station, school, restaurant, industry from TN to West Va, handing out cards.

        • Diana Cruze

          I love Southern Appalachia and hope to connect with old friends in the area. I mean really old.

    • Toni @Duolit

      Michael, this is awesome advice. I wish I could find something to comment on or add, but I’m at a loss. Kudos on offering excellent tips!

  11. Anna Erishkigal

    Great article. Number seven resonated with me … although the book was the best I was capable of writing at the time, I have taken some cross-genre writing classes since I wrote it and can see spots I could make it better. Maybe I -will- re-release an updated version with the red scribbles I made on my fantasy novel now that I’ve taken a suspense class? As for sales, it’s useful getting statistics that I am not alone in my frustration (and that I am slightly ahead of the curve on sales).

    • Toni @ Duolit

      Thanks for reading, Anna! Taking an objective look at your work is a difficult thing. Although sometimes we are our own harshest critics, we can also overlook common errors since we’re so close to the work. Also, like you mentioned, as you grow as a writer you look back on older work and see areas for improvement.

      If you’re not working on something new, I would recommend going back and doing a re-release. If there’s a new book in the pipeline, however, just scribble some notes on what you learned the first go-round to improve the next book and its release!

      I highly encourage authors to write that stuff down because you definitely will forget it all as time goes on!

  12. Will Gibson

    Toni, number two and number seven resonated with me.

    That is why I spent the last year and more, editing and polishing my novel so that as a self published work, it could still be professionally presented in the marketplace.

    We must, as independent authors, maintain high publishing standards.

    • Toni @Duolit

      Exactly, Will. I love hearing from authors so dedicated to presenting their work professionally. Not only does it make marketing your book easier, it also gives you the ability to take pride in what you produce 100% — and that confidence is another marketing asset. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!



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