5 things I tell authors that really annoy them

Authorship isn't as romantic and magical as some think. Here are some of the things I tell authors that really annoy them, but are true.

Sometimes people approach authorship optimistically…and without much knowledge of what’s really involved with writing, publishing, and marketing a quality book that people want to read.

And for some, there is no better feeling than forgetting about the time as you craft a story or write a nonfiction book chapter that you know your audience will love reading.

But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. And, sad to say, I’m often forced to point that out.

My intention is never to dissuade or discourage. My goal is always to help you understand what’s involved and what’s likely to happen. It’s about helping you manage your expectations while maximizing success.

5 things I tell authors that really annoy them

My reality checks can annoy people, though. In spite of that, I continue, because knowledge really is power.

With that in mind, here are just five of the things I tell authors that really annoy them.

Each is important for anyone hoping to bring to readers a book people truly want to read. Understanding them will help you sell more books.

Thing 1. You will probably have to self-publish your book.

This is the most annoying thing I tell authors. I hate saying it, but it’s true.

This is the case even for professional writers who got book contracts years ago — including me.

It used to be that if you were a good writer and had a marketable idea that you could show demand for, you had at least a shot at a traditional publishing contract.

Now, it’s often more about how many copies you can sell than it is about your ability to write a marketable manuscript. That’s what ghostwriters are for, after all.

Most authors-to-be don’t have a platform that will guarantee a significant number of book sales, so they have to abandon the traditional publishing approach and opt for an alternative. Whether you go with a hybrid, assisted, or do-it-yourself publishing model, it’s still a form of self-publishing.

Thing 2. You are responsible for marketing your book, regardless of your publishing model.

Authors often tell me they’re pursuing a traditional publishing contract because they “don’t like to do marketing.”


It doesn’t matter what publishing model you use. If you want to sell books, you have to actively and continually market your book.

On the traditional and small press side, your publisher will do as much as it can to support your book. But that’s often limited to sending reviewing copies. Because resources are limited, they can’t put a lot of time, energy, and money into anything but those books that are expected to be blockbusters.

It doesn’t matter what publishing model you use. If you want to sell books, you have to actively and continually market your book.Click to tweet

Sometimes they don’t even provide a great deal of support for books they’ve spent a lot to acquire.

For example, because one of my book marketing coaching clients got a six-figure advance for his nonfiction book on a topic with widespread appeal, we both expected his publisher to put marketing muscle into it to recoup its investment. Surprisingly, the marketing was limited to sending review copies and creating a landing page with links to online retailers.

My author had to do the rest. So do you.

It’s up to you to make your book a success.

Thing 3. “Everybody” isn’t going to buy your book.

Last month, an author in a LinkedIn book marketing group asked, “Does this site help you promote yourself?”

When I asked what she writes, she said “fiction,” adding, “Anyone can read my novels.”

That’s true. But they won’t.

Most of us don’t read anything and everything. We have favorite fiction genres.

I noted that she wanted to put her effort into getting her book in front of her target audience. Where she will find them depends on the types of novels she writes and who enjoys reading them.

Many of the book marketing group’s members might read novels, but they don’t log in to LinkedIn hoping to find novels to buy. LinkedIn is a business networking site that people use for professional, rather than personal reasons.


She didn’t respond, most likely because she didn’t like my advice. It didn’t fit with her notion that “everyone” will enjoy her books.

Abandon the “everybody” approach and focus instead on learning as much as possible about the people who read the types of books you write. To learn more about how that works, read “The powerful and effective formula for more book sales.

Thing 4. You have to spend money to make money.

Cliché, but true.

If you want people to read, love, and recommend your book, it needs to look and read like it’s traditionally published. That means spending money on:

  • A cover that’s appropriate for your genre or category
  • Editing
  • Proofreading

Many of today’s authors have no writing training, either, so I also recommend paying to learn how to do that. It might be a community college or adult education course, or online training offered by an expert.

If you want people to read, love, and recommend your book, it needs to look and read like it’s traditionally published.Click to tweet

While you can do quite a bit of promotion without spending money, at some point, you’ll want to consider budgeting for promotions that will zero in on your target audience.

Thing 5. You don’t become a popular author by treating authorship as a hobby.

It’s definitely okay to view it as a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with writing for the pure love of it or because you have something you need to get on paper.

All good.

But authors who sell books – and lots of them – view authorship as a business. If selling books is important to you, you need to do the same.

What does that look like? It means:

  • Presenting a polished, professional front with your author photo, website, and social media profiles.
  • Investing time and money in professional development, whether it’s learning how to be a good writer or how to self-publish a book.
  • Spending on tools of the trade, such as software, an email list management service, and computer hardware.
  • Creating an attractive, easy-to-navigate website.

Consider, too, creating a publishing imprint and a business checking account for bookkeeping and other purposes.

Authors who sell books – and lots of them – view authorship as a business.Click to tweet

I’m well-intended

I do mean well when I provide reality checks. Really, I do.

Whether I’m explaining why there are limits to what you can learn from free information or advising against paying for a pricey cookie-cutter promotion package that doesn’t reach your target audience, I’m trying to help.

I want to help you avoid publishing predators. I want you to create a quality product. I want to connect you with people, products, and services that can make a positive difference for you and your book.

The more you know, the more successful you’ll be.

What have you learned about writing and publishing that has been hard to accept? Please tell us in a comment. 

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  1. Excellent article, Sandra. These are hard lessons to learn but, since my first self published book 10+ years ago when I would have disagreed, I am in a different place and can fully concur with all you’ve shared. I’ve now embraced ‘marketing’ ( I call it sharing now!) and am thoroughly enjoying the journey. I have grown in stature both as a person and as an author, invested willingly, and as a result my book is getting all the tlc it deserves.
    With gratitude

    1. Barbara, I love, love, LOVE your attitude! And isn’t the learning that’s involved fun?

      Substituting “sharing” for “marketing” is so smart! It reflects and important attitude adjustment. It reminds me of this article I wrote a few years ago to help people realize that when you believe in your book, you’re doing your audience a favor by letting them know about it: https://buildbookbuzz.com/uncomfortable-with-book-promotion/

      How can your book educate, entertain, or inform anyone if they don’t know it exists, right?

      Thank you for making me smile today. I appreciate it!


  2. Wow, Sandra! This is a riveting, insightful, and “much needed” reality check. I just read through the post, noting the Red Alerts. Now I’ll go back and tap into the links you’ve provided.

    There’s so much truth to embrace in this post. Thank you for always bravely delivering what we authors and writers need to know… to reach our goals in the publishing marketplace.

    1. Thank you for this feedback, Sheila, and for reassuring me that at least some people aren’t going to slam the door in my face after they read this! Writing a good book is hard work. Let’s make sure the reward is worth the effort!


  3. As a hybrid (trad & indie) I can vouch for all these points. The hardest part for long term & full time authors, in my experience, is having to spend money on promotion & marketing.

    1. Thanks, Jane. I suspect it’s even harder for less-experienced authors. Some will say they’ll invest in marketing and promotion when they “start making some money” from the book, but it’s a Catch-22, isn’t it? The right people have to know about the book to buy it, and it can be difficult to reach enough of them without spending to do so. If it’s a good book that people want, the investment will be worth it, though. Getting featured in BookBub’s deal newsletter when you’ve discounted the price is a good example. Any author I know who has been able to secure a spot has earned back what they’ve spent to be included.


  4. Sandy, as a writing coach and editor, I tell my clients these same “things.” They don’t like them either! We sound like such Debby Downers, but the reality of the situation is tough to hear.

    As always, thanks for your insight and honesty.

    1. You, too, eh Trish? I do feel like a Negative Nancy sometimes, but if being an author was easy, everybody would be one, right? Honestly, I’d rather be a cheerleader and I’ll bet you would, too, but we’re probably both too grounded to pretend these less pleasant realities don’t exist.

      Thanks for sharing — I appreciate the camaraderie!


  5. You’re not a Debbie Downer. To naysayers I say, “Suck it up, buttercup!” These are the things everyone should know before even considering writing a book.

    I knew I had to self-publish before going in, but I never imagined how much work was involved on the marketing side. That’s why you need to factor in the time and expense required to do things right. As you said, it is not a hobby. Publishing a book requires commitment and a thick skin.

    1. Thanks, Sonia! And I’ll bet that if you knew what was involved with the marketing, you would have started some of it while you were writing your book, or maybe even before. There’s no question it’s work, but you know better than anyone how good it feels to touch a life with your words.

      Thank you!


  6. All true. And 3 is so tricky because after you’ve been writing and reading a while, you realize you even have very specific trope and steam level preferences. 🙂 Which makes it even harder to find your target audience even if you could define them…

    1. Thanks, Pinar. This is just one example of why an email list and corresponding newsletter are helpful for market definition. You can survey your list for demographic information but also talk to your subscribers to learn more about them, what they read, where they learn about books, who they recommend them to, etc. The people on my newsletter list are always teaching me things, and I’m so grateful for that.


  7. Thanks for this great advice, Sandra. I know many of your followers will benefit from it.
    As for me, my health and living situation severely limits my marketing. Traveling and personal appearances, such as book signings, are out, but I’ll explore more deeply those things that I can do, such as videos for online presentations. (Personal piece of advice: For those who are contemplating Facebook ads, I once did a lot of that but saw little to no success.)
    Again, thank you, Sandra.

  8. So true, especially the part about having to market your own books. Thank you for spelling it out so plainly. I tell this to would-be authors all the time, and some are insulted by the suggestion that they would sully their hands with marketing. I write a lot of books for traditional publishers, and I am seriously considering taking fewer projects next year so I can spend more focused time on marketing the ones already out there. This is the reality of publishing.

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