10 Mistakes I Made as a Debut Novelist

As a debut novelist with an approaching pub date, your browser history gets filled with titles like "X Lessons I Learned as a Debut Novelist" or "Tips on Being a Debut Novelist" or "Marketing Your Debut Novel." In the months leading up to that big day, you can wind up doing as much research as an expectant mother.

But there are some issues that, in my experience, you won't find addressed in these sort of articles—issues of the sort that blindsided me when my first book came out.

As a freelance book editor with 6+ years in the publishing industry, I thought I knew what questions to ask of my small-press publisher, what to look for before I signed a contract, and what to expect after the book dropped.

As it turned out, I was wrong.

Here are 10 mistakes I made, so you don't have to. 

1. Focusing More on Newspaper Reviews Than Book Bloggers

As an author with a small press, I knew I would be handling most, if not all, of my own publicity. And sure, I knew I had only a limited number of Advance Review Copies (ARCs) to send out to potential reviewers. But wouldn't I be doing my first novel a disservice if I didn't at least send it out to the New York Times, the L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune?

Well, maybe. But in the end I found the only newspapers that bit were ones I had a regional connection with—and if they helped to drive sales, the effects were certainly not staggering. Reviews from book bloggers, while less prestigious, can translate a lot more directly into sales, because readers actually come to these folks for recommendations (and those readers are no more than a click away from a Buy button). 

In the future, I will bear in mind that my willingness to go the extra mile for people I do not know well may be more of the exception, as far as human nature goes, than the rule.

2. Focusing Most of My Efforts on the Three Months Around Publication

Conventional wisdom says that the first few months after your novel drops are the most critical time for driving sales and generating buzz. And conventional wisdom is not wrong, especially if you're working with a major publisher that will soon move its marketing muscle elsewhere.

But if you're a small-press author, it's important to realize that you're in it for the long haul. I found that once the buzz had died down from my initial marketing push and reviews, I didn't have a strategy in place for keeping the momentum I'd generated from dying down. Which leads me to my next mistake.

3. Not Having Essays and Guest Posts Written Before My Book Dropped

Actually, I did have a strategy for maintaining my momentum, and that strategy was to publish articles and guest posts on subjects related to my novel. And I did have the foresight to pitch a number of sites and publications before my pub date.

What I didn't realize was, on the one hand, how long it would take for print publications to decide whether or not they wanted to publish a piece they'd greenlighted—and on the other, how little time I would have on my hands to actually write the guest blogs for the sites I'd successfully pitched, given my ongoing promotion efforts (via book events and social media). Plus, that whole making a living thing.

It would have helped a lot to have simply written these articles and guest posts before the tornado (aka, the publication of my first novel) hit.

4. Assuming Issues with Amazon Were Mistakes on My Publisher's End

It wasn't long after my book launched that Amazon listed it as Temporarily Out of Stock. I assumed this was a problem on my publisher's end, and they assumed it was a problem with their distributor.

But I've since been informed by friends in small-press publishing that this is a tactic Amazon sometimes uses with books being published by a print-on-demand service other than Create Space—which is to say, any POD service they deem to be in competition with their own. 

That troubling message did eventually go away, but not until after who-knows-how-many sales in the excitement of my opening week had been lost. If you find yourself in the same straits, the bad news is, there's not much you can do about it (as far as I can tell); but hey, at least you won't be bugging your publisher about it.

5. Assuming I Could Utilize Amazon's Affiliate Program

Speaking of Amazon, I listen to various podcasts on book marketing, so I had assumed I could use Amazon's affiliate program to make a commission on sales of my book (and whatever else folks happened to pick up) if I directed traffic to their site through my mine.

But it wasn't long before I received an email from Amazon letting me know that my website was not eligible for their associate program. This may have been due to nothing more than my having missed a key bit of language to include, but beware: there are reports of people who have tried to resolve issues with their Amazon Associate account and failed.

6. Assuming Friends of Friends Would Help 

I'm the sort of person who loves to help to connect people with opportunities and resources, whether it's a feature in a local reading series or a place to stay while they're on tour—and that applies to friends of friends as well. I assumed that would be true for others as well.

But when I was trying to set up a book tour, I found that these kind of loose connections simply did not hold—and even people who I'd connected with in person at conferences, people I considered friends, either did not come through or dropped the ball in communicating.

I don't hold it against any of them. But in the future, I will bear in mind that my willingness to go the extra mile for people I do not know well may be more of the exception, as far as human nature goes, than the rule. 

7. Going to AWP

Going to AWP in L.A. was great fun, and I'm happy that I got to share in all the fine events, intelligent discussions, and general debauchery that is the nation's largest literary geekfest.

But of the dozen or so publications whose employees and volunteers expressed interest in a review copy of my novel, only one of them actually took that review copy and, well, reviewed it. That was a whole lot of effort on my part, as well as a lot of review copies, for almost no reward—not to mention the cost of airfare and hotel.

8. Assuming My Publisher Would Submit My Novel to Contests—and Pay Contest Fees

Call me naive, but I'd always assumed that the people who read for contests somehow just pulled recently published titles out of the ether—like, if a book had gotten good reviews and people were talking about it, it would naturally be considered for some sort of prize.

The reality is that books get nominated for prizes because publishers submit their titles for consideration—and pay the contest fees. Which means that if your debut novel is coming out with a small-press publisher, you may be asked both to submit the book and pay those fees yourself.

9. Assuming That Being Traditionally Published Would Make Working with Bookstores Easy

I had assumed that because I wasn't self-publishing (or published through one of Amazon's imprints), bookstores would consider carrying my novel. But it wasn't long before I discovered that the wholesale discount being offered by my publisher simply wasn't big enough for most bookstores to do so.

After a certain sales threshold was reached, my publisher agreed to work with me on that discount. But I still find that small independent bookstores often want to take my books on consignment rather than order it themselves.

10. Not Using a Computer or iPad for Mailing List Sign Ups

Having done my homework, I knew that this first novel was only the first step in my career as an author—the important part was to build a mailing list that would allow me to stay in touch with my growing fanbase when my next novel was published. 

So I made a clear ask about this at every reading and presentation, and I even developed a cute little thank-you gift for people who signed up for my list at events. Which proved super successful! Except for the fact that when I went to enter in their emails via the sign-up form on my website later, half the time I couldn't tell someone's M from the N or their T from their X.

The solution? Have people sign up via a computer or iPad at the event itself, thereby removing the margin for error. 

Hope some of this helps. Next month: What I did right. =)

Susan DeFreitas

Column by Susan DeFreitas

An author, editor, and educator, Susan DeFreitas’s creative work has appeared in the Writer’s Chronicle, Story Magazine, the Huffington Post, Daily Science Fiction, and Southwestern American Literature, along with many other journals and anthologies. She is the author of the novel Hot Season, which won a Gold IPPY Award for Best Fiction of the Mountain West, and holds an MFA from Pacific University. She divides her time between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Portland, Oregon, and has served as a freelance editor and book coach since 2010.

To leave a comment Login with Facebook or create a free account.


postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words April 10, 2017 - 12:30pm

wow - thanks for sharing all those hard-earned lessons. I'm nowhere near this stage of things (I'm in the hacking through the wilderness of rough draft stage, so publishing is nowhere on the horizon).

Having a head's up will definitely help, provided I don't decide to stay in the fictional wilderness and just avoid the publishing one altogether.

Best of luck with Hot Season - I'll be finding me a copy.

BrianAsman's picture
BrianAsman from San Diego, CA is reading The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker April 10, 2017 - 1:04pm

Great article! What book marketing podcasts do you find the most helpful? 

Susan DeFreitas's picture
Susan DeFreitas from Portland, OR is reading Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist by Sunil Yapa April 11, 2017 - 10:33am

Thanks for reading! 

As for podcasts, I've found the Novel Marketing Podcast useful, though I'm not crazy about the overtly (conservative) Christian bent. Also, it's mostly slanted toward self-published authors. 

BrianAsman's picture
BrianAsman from San Diego, CA is reading The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker April 12, 2017 - 1:14pm

Sweet, thanks! I very much dislike any kind of religious bent but I'll check it out, hopefully I can glean some good info. Thanks for the recommendation.

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading currently too many to list April 18, 2017 - 2:15pm

The book blog is a great suggestion. I would also look into the BookTube community on YouTube. Find reviewers who enjoy the types of books you write and see if they would be willing to read and review your work. You will find a lot of people who review YA, but there are many who review adult fiction (Stripped Cover Lit, Rincey Reads, Chapter Stackss, MercysBookishMusings, padfootandprongs07, View from the Bar, etc.)

MaxNeild's picture
MaxNeild May 4, 2018 - 11:21pm

In this age the mistakes are necessary because if we are not mistake then difficult to learn. When I am teach the aussie essay writer subject then tells my students please doing mistakes then you learn batter.

Kedzie's picture
Kedzie from Northern California is reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien June 20, 2018 - 1:53pm

Great article! Thanks for posting it.

I guess Spammers are occasionally good for something. Had this last one not “bumped” your thread I’d have never seen it!


MAHAFUJALOM October 5, 2019 - 9:39am

Thanks for sharing this post.I found it really helpful. <a href="https://webdesignerxx.online" title="web design">web design</a>

LiamBristol's picture
LiamBristol November 12, 2019 - 6:30am

The internal structure of an essay can be arbitrary. Since this is a small form of writing, it is not necessary to repeat the conclusions at the end, they can be included in the main text or in the heading. Argumentation may precede the formulation of the problem. The statement of the problem may coincide with the final conclusion. Unlike articles, essays do not suggest multiple-choice format when you are offered several answers to choose from. Writing an essay is not limited in time, you can rewrite it many times and ask friends to read your essay. Take advantage of all the possibilities and try to avoid common mistakes. I'm sure this writing help is what I need now.

TerenceGrimes's picture
TerenceGrimes November 18, 2019 - 1:34am

Everything that you write in the article must be affirmed with models. Simply make references to your experience. Subtleties will make your papers fascinating, one of a kind, explicit. As indicated by specialists, one ought not be worried about the possibility that that they will go past the breaking points of the admissible, it is smarter to act naturally. All the time, graduates are stressed over whether they can establish the correct connection, so they expel from the article everything that makes them remarkable. So sheltered, from the perspective alumni see, the article is somewhat dreary to peruse. You don't need to joke in your articles to make them intriguing. I just visit cyber bullying argument essay website for help. In any case, attempt to utilize every one of the methods available to you to make your papers important. Or then again employ online paper essayist.

selenagobella's picture
selenagobella July 10, 2020 - 1:51am

Simply make references to your experience: freecell. Subtleties will make your papers fascinating, one of a kind, explicit.

CameliaBorn's picture
CameliaBorn July 21, 2020 - 6:36pm

The book blog is a great suggestion Road Trip Planning

Gream Lee's picture
Gream Lee September 1, 2020 - 2:46am

The following article is really informative and educational. And shows that if we are doing something new, that we must remain focused and do that work sincerely.

I am also an entrepreneur and I can understand the feelings of the author.

If anyone wants to get a professional website then he must visit https://hostgatorwebsitebuilder-90.webself.net/

The website is easy to use and provides great user expirience.

skribblio's picture
skribblio January 11, 2021 - 12:11am

This is actually the kind of information I have been trying to find. Thank you for writing this information. <a href="https://skribblio.co/">skribblio</a>

skribblio's picture
skribblio January 11, 2021 - 12:12am
overflow's picture
overflow August 9, 2021 - 9:39pm
memeq's picture
memeq September 21, 2021 - 3:31pm

I think it doesn't matter when you make a novel, I really like your work. if you need entertainment like listening to ghana songs and others.

Tom Nook&#039;s's picture
Tom Nook's December 23, 2021 - 6:55am

I also think it is a big mistake not to present the work correctly. This presentation can be made in different ways - visual presentation, video presentation and just a presentation at a meeting with readers. I often had to make presentations, and in this case I always came up with presentation templates, which I could download on the Loveslides website. Here, presentation slide templates are prepared by real designers. Therefore, you can not worry about their quality. And agree that such presentations are much more enjoyable. Than simple standard presentations. Therefore, I recommend using them..