10 Ways authors hurt themselves

10 Ways authors hurt themselves

(And how to fix it with little to no budget)

by Angela B. Chrysler

Published on: Oct 22, 2015

A business is all about quality and standards. It is about your reputation. Nothing more. Nothing less. I’ve worked with thousands of authors in the past year and based on the information I learned from the PR agent who sat down and taught me marketing, based on every practice I’ve studied from the pro’s, so many of us are doing a lot to hurt our careers. Those same authors are completely unaware of how much damage they really are doing and some of them, openly discuss their poor sales as a result. Here are 10 topics an author can use to improve their professional standing with little to no budget.

1. Lack of professionalism

I worked in both retail and debt collection. Yep! I was a debt collector. I am no stranger to rude. I also do not tolerate it under any circumstances. Manners are free and only require you to slow down and utilize empathy.

Lack of professionalism comes in three formats:

Presentation: Do you appear like a business? You should… Because you are.
Email: Are your emails professional and polite enough to generate a sale?
Socializing: Are you kind, polite, and warm to others online?

Manners are, without a doubt, the most inexcusable of offenses imaginable. It doesn’t require money, class, or even a good mood. It only requires empathy. One thing that I can not emphasize clearly enough. Every one, peers, co-workers, clients, readers, and writers are your potential buyer. I have had many people look into my profile just because I was kind. They’ve told me this. At the end of the day, I am not a writer or an author. I am an “Angela B. Chrysler.” I am the only one… which would make me THE “Angela B. Chrysler.” I am merchandise that I want people to buy. My brain and personality are what’s up for grabs here. There is an unlimited supply. People want me. They just don’t know it yet. It is my job to show them why they want me. This is the business mentality. This is what you are really selling. Not your books. You. Start with your manners, your email, the way you conduct yourself. Never complain. Never ever discuss what you hate or dislike. If it isn’t positive, keep it private.

Problem: Lack of professionalism.

Fix: Be conscious of how you speak to people. Review your email. I recommend Naked Words 2.0: The Effective 157-Word Email by Gisela Hausmann on how to write professional emails.

Cost: Free ($5.75 for the book).

2. Using a snapshot as your Author picture

This must be the most challenging and expensive thing to obtain for an author. And I certainly understand the pressure. I couldn’t afford a professional sitting so I pulled from the only collection of professional photos I had. My wedding pictures. And wouldn’t you know, it became my MO. I am the dark fantasy author donned in a white gown and tiara. Jokes are made, people expect (and love) the princess gown and tiara. I’ve been told time and time again that it looks like I stepped out of one of my fantasy books. Clearly they haven’t read my books, which are dark and Gothic. When they do read the books, it just adds to the irony.

I’ve seen authors use book covers in place of their profile, which is a wonderful idea if you’re camera shy! And then there is the old Lemmony Snicket running gag. Show a man in the shadows, which brings me to another solution. If needed, an author could hire a book cover artist to compose something that reflects your genre as a whole in place of a pic. Here is another idea that ties into marketing. Have a logo made or a motto and use that instead to build your brand. Don’t have a face? Use your brand. Use your business card. Never use a snapshot taken from last Thanksgiving while you sit in the family room holding a cup of coffee. Food in pictures is not appetizing. It says only one thing, “I was bored one day and decided to write a book. But don’t take me serious. I’m just here for bragging rights.”

Problem: Unprofessional author picture

Fix: Use the cover art you already purchased to replace an unprofessional picture or use a free website like Canva.com to create a picture to showcase your motto.

Cost: Free or the cost of your book cover.

3. A hand drawn book cover

In the past year, I’ve seen some outstanding book covers. I’ve also seen some book covers that made me want to curl up and claw my face off. A book cover is the one message an author screams to the masses. People judge the book by its cover. Don’t skimp on the cover.

Do not draw your book covers. Do not have a friend draw your book covers. You, your friends, your mother may think you are talented and you may be, but to the strangers who you want to buy your book, a hand drawn book cover simply looks unprofessional and, in some cases, terrible. I have seen some very good hand drawn book covers, but the problem isn’t with the artists. (This is important) The problem is with the medium.

Let’s go back to high school art class days. A medium is the tool used to create art. You have oil on canvas, crayons, colored pencils, paper mache, among countless other. And CGI. Today everything—EVERYTHING—is done with CGI. Pictures are clean, crisp, and gorgeous. Which means, if you are not using CGI—no matter what you have done, no matter how good you are—it’s going to look amateur and grainy. This is the digital age. Whatever you draw will become digital. It is not possible to get the pixel count you need to remove the grain. Period. Colored pencils, markers, crayons, paint, simply can not compete to the professional look of a CGI cover. Unless you can paint as well as Rembrandt (whose paintings are used to market the classics), don’t. Otherwise, your drawing will look like a 1989 .DOS run Sierra game.

The average price for decent book cover is $50.00. A year ago, my artist was selling pre-made covers for $35.00.

Problem: Poor quality on the book cover

Fix: Purchase a professional pre-made cover

Cost: Price varies, but a good cover can start at $30.00 USD

4. A poorly written bio

A poorly written bio is one that is

Too short (Anything less than 200 words)
Refers only to the author’s family and children
Written in the first person

This is such an easy fix. I believe the number of 1st person bios I’ve seen are due to simply authors not knowing. So here it is.

A bio written in the first person sounds like a 7th grader’s show and tell, or—if done well (and right)—sounds pretentious. Let me explain.

The purpose of the bio is not to wave at the masses and say, “Hi. I’m Riley. I’ve just moved from Minnesota with my mom and dad. I like hockey.” (Yes. I totally borrowed that from Inside Out.) You are not introducing yourself. You are selling yourself. The bio is supposed to make you look awesome! It is your book blurb! Your author pic is the book cover and you, dear author, you are the contents! Now sell that book!

I’ll break it down for you. I am me. I have had no formal education and am a stay-at-home mother of three. I have three cats. Yep! That really is all I am. But look at my bio. Three kids, three cats, and a husband in New York. So not interesting. Here is what I came up with:

Angela B. Chrysler is a writer, logician, philosopher, and die-hard nerd who studies theology, historical linguistics, music composition, and medieval European history in New York with a dry sense of humor and an unusual sense of sarcasm. Growing up without books, Ms. Chrysler spent her early life reading the encyclopedia for fun. By mid-teens, she gained access to her school library, and began working her way through the Great Books. She spent many an afternoon in an old opera house turned library in the town where she grew up. There, she found her passion for reading and writing through the words of Hugo, Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Poe. She lives in a garden with her family and cats.

That is my short bio. I also have a long bio where you can read more about my “credentials,” and accomplishments. I could also put together my “goals” and “my promise to you.” Which I have. (I totally just heard that line being spoken by Mandy Patinkin).

A bio is not about your views on yourself. It is about you selling you to the masses. Not one bit of my bio is a lie. It is all very real. This is all about presentation. Be proud. Tap into your arrogance, just a tad. Now, if you do it right, we’re back to the original problem. Sounding pretentious. Point of view matters. This is why bio’s are written in third person.

I love writing bios. I write them for others when asked because I enjoy it so much. Here is a basic “how to” on writing your bio.

Problem: Poorly written bios written in 1st person

Fix: Research how to write a proper bio and do it.

Cost: Free

5. No Website

This is one that I always absolutely cringe when I hear. “I don’t have a website.”

Having no website is equivalent to having no books. You can’t sell without a website and are dead in the water without it. Here is my secret. My website—all of it—cost me $20.00. That is it. What you see, the graphics, the layout, the host, the everything… all of it, I designed without a single drop of education. I mean none. Zilch. Nada. If you can work Facebook, you can build a website. Go to GoDaddy, spend $20.00, and build through WordPress! There are countless other programs out there like Weebly. I chose WordPress because it is the most widely used, if ever I need to hire someone, chances are, almost anyone can help me, and it is the brand used by CNN, Time magazine, UPS, and NFL. This guarantees quality.

Note: Consider the Fair Use Act, which means you can use any art work—photographs, pictures, music, videos, as long as you are not taking sales or profit from those who own rights. In fact, if you add credits you can prove that you are offering free advertising for that artist and driving sale for them. I do this with Two Steps From Hell, who I use for all my book trailers. I have had a number of people inquire about the music and I gladly direct them to the artist.

These are two articles I wrote provide step-by-step directions on getting started. I just want to say THIS is the best website ever. And it only works this one time because it’s original and it reflects his personality perfectly. The humor in this site is what won me over.

How to build a website

How to design a website

Problem: No website

Fix: Go to GoDaddy, spend $20.00, and build through WordPress!

Cost: $20.00

6. Having two separate sites for your blog and your website

Why is this a problem? The goal of any website is to keep guests on your website. Under no circumstances do you ever want your guests to leave your site unless they are leaving to buy your books. You want readers on your site. You want them to stay and read. You want them to subscribe. You want them to buy your books. Having a blog on a separate site defeats this purpose. This is another reason why I love WordPress. WordPress comes with a blog! Other providers offer this feature as well. It is very important and is something to consider. If you are using BlogSpot, stop. It looks unprofessional and encourages readers to do the one thing you don’t want them to do. Leave. BlogSpot is for hobbyists and teenagers. It is not for professionals.

Problem: Blog and Website separate

Fix: Put your blog on your website

Cost: The cost of a website.

7. Not putting the time in to learn the business.

Congratulations! By reading this article you’ve already begun to fix the problem!

Too many times I’ve heard people say, “I just throw my books “out there” and hope someone will come along and love it.” This guarantees nothing but 0 sales. There are a number of self-published authors out there today. Many jumped on the boat in hopes to recreate the Harry Potter phenomena. Many are overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. Start here. Many are lazy or just don’t care. I will say this, those authors are just cluttering up the eStores that readers now have to weed through. Those authors are giving some of us indie-authors a bad rep.

No one—NO ONE can walk into any career without knowing how to do it. You are now an entrepreneur. You are your own boss. You keep your own hours. You are in charge of your own training. Yet, many authors neglect the training then wonder why their sales are so bad. Publication is too easy today, and it should be. Writing a book is hard, and it should be. Sales requires work. Success requires work. The only way you’re going to learn how to generate sales, is by doing the online research to learn.

I recommend you google

“Building your platform”
“Building a website”
“Utilizing Social Media”
“Marketing and Advertising”
“The psychology of the consumer”
“Tracking Statistics”

All of these topics are covered on YouTube tutorials and blogs. Yes. That’s an overwhelming amount of work. (Seriously, I have an article on Brain to Books that reviews each and everyone of these topics). You’ve written a book. You’ve published your brain baby. Now learn what it takes to sell it.

Problem: Not putting time in to learn the business

Fix: Spend time with Google and learn. Check out these articles on Brain to Books.

Cost: Free

8. No editor

I scream every time I see this one. Readers aren’t stupid. In fact, most readers are quite smart and read so much, they are accustomed to top-quality grammar and can spot errors, mistakes, and poor grammar a mile away. Not only can they see it, but it drives most of them crazy. “Am I not worth your time to edit this story?” “It’s a good story, but the grammar is so bad, I can’t read it.”

I’m going writer on you now.

The purpose of any author is to tell a story so efficiently, so smoothly, so well, that the reader forgets the author is there.

This is the code I composed for myself back when I started writing. Above all, there is the Code. I should put the Code on paper one of these days. Rule number one with The Code: Keep your reader in the story. Top offenders of this? Bad grammar.

If a reader stops to say, “What?” or “I don’t get it,” the author has failed.

If the reader has to go back and re-read a sentence, the author has failed.

Authors who publish too soon, authors with low standards, lightning writers (authors who crank out a plethora of books without bothering to edit), authors who feel they don’t “need” an editor, authors who don’t save up and wait until they can afford an editor, are all giving indie-authors a bad name. Nothing angers me more than an author who skips the editor.

Editors: What you need to know

Editors should offer you a complimentary sample of their work. I shopped around for mine. Here is what I did.

I located four editors. Two were college students looking for an easy buck and a side job. One was an editor employed with Random House, who was hiring off to the side to inflate his income, and the fourth was an editor who had been working as an editor for most her adult life. I submitted the same chapter to all four editors in the running and waited.

When I received the samples back, I compared skill and pricing.

The two editors from college had missed 50% of the errors caught by the other two editors. Both also charged around $1,000 USD for Dolor and Shadow.
The editor from Random House did a substantial job… and wanted $2,000 USD.
The editor who had been editing for most her adult life caught the same errors as the editor from Random House and a couple he didn’t. She charged $350 USD for the same job

Note: This was a year ago and inflation may have altered these prices since these services were offered, bought, and/or purchased.

The editor I chose is my editor today and she touches everything I publish. I’ll have it no other way. In addition, and this is the beautiful thing about Mia, she offers a package where she conducts two edits on one manuscript! She’s also wonderful to work with and doesn’t complain when I go back and rewrite something she’s already edited (I’m sorry, Mia. I’ll do better).

Fact: a properly edited book has been proven to increase ratings by a full star.

Problem: Authors publish without hiring an editor.

Fix: Hire an editor

Cost: Varies from .001 cent a word to thousands depending on word count, editor, and author’s skill. Shop around.

9. Avoiding Marketing, and not Brand Building

My final note is summed up here under Part 2# of “Marketing and Brand Building.”

 

Problem: Not marketing and not building a brand for yourself.

Fix: Learn how to market and embrace the business side of writing

Cost: If done on your own, marketing is free. An article on this very topic coming soon.

10. Waiting to build a platform

Too many authors tell me they won’t start their platform until after they publish a book.

Why? I say to them. You are not selling books. You are selling you. You can start blogging now so when you have a book to sell, you have someone to sell it to. Blog! Now! Post articles! Now! Start building social circles now. The longer you wait building a platform, the longer you have to wait building a career and building sales. There is no reason why you can’t start up a website and start documenting your publication journey. Publish samples, build hype, compose short stories, recipes, and anecdotes. Anything to establish your style of writing and personality. Don’t wait for a book to start selling you!

Problem: Waiting to build a platform

Fix: Start here on how to start building your platform and look here to start reviewing social media.

Cost: Free

Financially speaking…

I often receive compliments from authors on the quality, professional, and visual appeal of my books, presentation, and my websites. But what they don’t know is how little it all really cost me. I mean really. Today, I’m going to share with you how much I really spend on a book.

Website:

$20.00 First year (Mandatory expense)

Dolor and Shadow: 170,000 words

$350 professional editor (Mandatory expense)
$120 full wrap custom designed book cover with front and back, 3D shots, and matching bookmarks ($35.00 for a front digital cover instead of the package)
$50.00 Formatted on ePub, MOBI, and PDF (You can do this yourself)
$80.00 Book trailer (Not necessary to get started)

Total $600.00 USD vs. Actual minimum expense: $385.00

Broken: 98,000 words

$150 professional editor (Mandatory expense)
$120 full wrap custom designed book cover with front and back, 3D shots, and matching bookmarks ($35.00 for a front digital cover instead of the package)
$50.00 Formatted on ePub, MOBI, and PDF (You can do this yourself)
$80.00 Book trailer (Not necessary to get started)

Total: $470.00 USD vs. Actual minimum expense: $185.00

Logo and Business card:

$60.00 (I purchased this with my royalty payments.

These expenses began October 2014 and ended October 2015. I went all out on the book cover. Mine was custom designed with full wrap, front and back, matching bookmarks, and 3D mock up. Here is what the whole package looks like.

The $120.00 I paid was cutting no corners and extras. If I had gone minimalist, I would have only spent $34.00 for the entire bundle. Front cover only. The logo, business cards, and book trailers were luxuries.

The $35.00 package looks like this:

Dolor and Shadow Front Large (I received 3 sizes of this file)

And I would have selected a pre-made cover from the selection.

The key to budgeting is money crunching with the minimalist approach. Get only the bare essentials. Sacrifice the luxury, not your standards.

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