Succeeding at self-publishing takes plenty of hard work; you don’t want to sabotage it by making preventable errors. In today’s article, I list down the worst self-publishing mistakes you can make and how you can avoid them.
Self-publishing is far from easy.
Imagine spending hours, days, weeks, months, sometimes years of writing, editing, rewriting, editing some more, proofreading, maybe even illustrating, designing, publishing, promoting, marketing.
Unfortunately, no matter how well-written, relevant, helpful, practical, aesthetically pleasing your eBook is, committing many tiny little blunders or making a single major one can lay all your hard work to waste.
In today’s post, I run down the worst self-publishing mistakes and how to prevent them.
You may have chosen a compelling and helpful topic to write about, but if the editing is poor or non-existent, it may as well be trash.
Normally, writers and editors can spot spelling and grammar mistakes a mile away. So you may think you can do this yourself to save on expensive fees. But no matter how good a writer you are, or even how good an editor you are, there’s no way you can accurately proofread your own writing.
A well-written eBook contains no inaccurate information, incorrect details, confusing labels, or chapter titles. These are things that copy editors catch.
Also, even if the content is impeccable, if the appearance isn’t great, they won’t notice the substance. If there are grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, or mislabeled figures, they won’t continue to read. Now, these are things that proofreaders catch.
How to avoid this mistake: Enlist highly experienced editors and proofreaders to go over your manuscript.
There are plenty of copyeditors and proofreaders for hire on freelance sites with various skill sets and price points. The good thing is that freelance sites make it simple for employers to assess prospective employees, so you can choose an editor and a proofreader that you feel understands your work and you can comfortably work with.
Different eBook publishing platforms have different requirements that you need to comply with. It’s a pain in the neck, especially when you decide to sell your books through more than one platform.
And they’re usually very strict with these requirements; non-compliance, even with a seemingly minor aspect like incorrect margins or nonstandard symbols, can be enough reason for them to reject your manuscript.
This might seem petty and inconsiderate of them, but there’s actually a good reason for these strict requirements. Publishers want their readers to consistently have the best possible experience with their eBooks (and/or physical books, as the case may be), so they want to make sure that all the eBooks they’re selling have the same basic structure and no features that contribute to a non-ideal reader experience.
How to avoid this mistake: Thoroughly read the guidelines for each of the eBook publishing platforms.
Among all the mistakes I outlined here, this is one of the simplest to prevent before it even happens. It simply involves reading and following every little detail of the instructions they provide. From the file type to file size, graphics size, and other technical details, make sure that you comply.
The first glimpse readers get of your eBook is its title.
The title is how prospective readers know what your book is about, what problem it promises to solve, and whether your readers are interested in what you have to offer.
The problem with this is that a lot of self-publishers create titles based on what sounds great to them instead of what sounds good to their readers. It’s understandable, but it’s an avoidable blunder.
How to avoid this mistake: Compose a title that your audience will be looking for and can’t help checking out.
When you created your blog and every time you create a blog post, you do keyword research. The point is to incorporate phrases that your readers are likely to search for so that they can find the content you created.
So do the same thing for your title. When your readers search for a book that they’d like to read, and that keyword is in your title, your eBook then pops up on their search results and they can easily find your eBook.
On the other hand, it’s possible to overdo it; that is, choose keywords that aren’t very user-friendly just because they’re ranked highly on your keyword tool. Don’t forget why you’re doing this: to find phrases your readers would use. Choose your keywords wisely.
They say to never judge a book by its cover.
And while we shouldn’t judge other people by appearances, we as readers judge literal books by their covers.
Book covers are one of the first things potential readers see, whether they’re browsing through Amazon, Google Books, or an actual physical bookstore. In the split second that they’re looking at your book cover, they’re deciding whether or not your book is worth buying, or at least reading the description for.
Thus, the cover design is crucial to marketing your eBook.
However, by the time you’re at the point in self-publishing an eBook where you’re thinking about book covers, you’ve probably invested plenty of time and at least some money into creating your eBook, and you might feel that springing for a designer is more money than you can afford, especially when you’re just starting.
Plus, readers can almost always tell an amateur creation from a polished one. Unless you’re actually a good designer and know what you’re doing, designing your own cover can spell disaster for your book.
How to avoid this mistake: Hire an experienced book cover designer to create your book cover.
Yes, this may be a little costly for you, but you need to actually spring a little bit for the design of this critical element in marketing your book.
The designer doesn’t have to be a professional designer, just a competent designer who knows how to design book covers and who has at least read your book so they’ll know what aspects of your book they can highlight to attract the right readers’ attention.
So you’ve piqued potential readers’ interests through your book title and made them notice you through your book cover.
The next thing they’ll look at would be your book description (on an actual book, it would be the blurb on the back cover).
When your potential readers are not impressed by the first paragraph of your description they’ll lose interest in your book. If you write descriptions that are dull or uninspired, or too full of self-praise.
How to avoid this mistake: Learn how to write persuasive book descriptions.
How you describe your book should be as riveting as the actual book itself.
The best way to practice writing book descriptions is to read descriptions of bestsellers in your niche. Note the common themes and structures; if they’re bestsellers, there’s possibly a common factor to all these descriptions. Look for that “it” factor that reels book shoppers in.
Plenty of self-published authors are guilty of having an author bio that’s bland, uninspired, or simply terrible.
Maybe they were extremely focused on getting the actual book right, or maybe they just published their first eBook and got too excited about that to pay attention to anything else.
In any case, there’s no acceptable reason to ignore your author bio, especially after you’ve gone all out on the eBook itself. When you promote your eBook on your blog, social media, and email list, your author bio is one of the first things a new reader will check out.
If you can’t even describe yourself in a couple of paragraphs, they’d have low expectations of your eBook and might even skip reading your eBook altogether.
How to avoid this mistake: Create an author bio that helps you sell your eBook.
This is where your market research comes in. First, think of your target reader. Imagine meeting them in person, telling them about yourself, and convincing them to buy your eBook. What could you say to convince them that your eBook is worth reading? What piques their interest?
Let the answers to these questions guide you as you write your author bio.
If you want to sell more of your eBooks, you need to make sure that your target audience can find and buy them. Luckily, there are plenty of eBook publishers out there, but too many choices can actually make it difficult for you to decide which publisher to go with.
To complicate things, Amazon offers KDP Select, which is a program that allows you to sell your eBook on Amazon exclusively (that is, you can’t sell your eBook on other retailer sites or even your blog) in exchange for perks such as higher royalties and more promotional tools.
What more seasoned self-publishers try to do is move around their eBooks. That is, they sell some of their eBooks through the KDP Select program while selling other eBooks through other retailers, and then switch around the books that are enrolled so that any given time.
Moving your eBooks in and out of retailers wouldn’t work either. That means your titles will never have time to gain traction.
How to avoid this mistake: Get your book out there to as many retailers as possible.
Not to dump on the KDP Select program or any exclusive program by any other publisher, but if you want to show your eBook to as many potential readers as possible, you need to have as many publishers as you can selling your eBook.
There’s an art to setting the right price for anything, even your eBook.
Pricing it too low gives the impression that your eBook is of poor quality. Your readers will associate your eBook with other bargain eBooks that aren’t worth their time.
You can also swing the other way and overcharge for your eBook. If you’re not already a popular author or blogger or otherwise a household name, then there’s no reason you should be charging too much for your eBook. Frankly, no one buys overpriced books if they don’t have to (sorry, college students).
How to avoid this mistake: Learn the art of pricing your eBooks.
There are many factors that go into pricing an eBook: your niche, competition, topic, book length, book format (physical books cost more than eBooks to produce), and many more. Consider all of these factors when deciding on a price.
The good thing about eBooks is that depending on the platform you can be reasonably flexible with the price. The first price you set for it doesn’t have to be permanent. You can offer a discount for a limited time or even slightly raise the price after a certain time.
A word of caution though: it’s best not to play around with the price of your eBook lightly; use this flexibility to find an optimal price with an allowance for some change in the future. Don’t use this flexibility to change the price just because you feel like it.
Unless you’re going into self-publishing with a truckload of cash, it’s likely that you have a limited budget to publish your first few eBooks. The worst thing you can do is spend those limited funds on things that aren’t crucial to your eBook.
For example, spending on Facebook ads while skimping on copy editing is an unwise budget decision. So is dropping hundreds of dollars to convert your book into different file formats when there are plenty of cheap or even free tools you can use.
How to avoid this mistake: Plan your budget sensibly.
First, get your priorities straight. For example, you’ll want to prioritize your book cover over social media ads, and you’ll want to prioritize copy editing and proofreading over producing an audiobook.
If you save your money by getting only the essential services you need and hiring freelancers at reasonable rates while not sacrificing quality, you can gradually build capital to establish your self-publishing business enough to be able to spend more on non-essential but sales-boosting services and tools.
Writing your eBook is just the first step in your self-publishing journey; selling it is the next one.
Your efforts should be focused on making a high-quality eBook, but if no one knows about your eBook, no one will buy it. Also, even if you have a marketing plan, if it’s not an efficient one, it might as well be non-existent.
How to avoid this mistake: Organize a brilliant marketing strategy.
There are plenty of marketing resources and tools at your disposal: your blog, social media, guest blogging, and even Goodreads. It would be wise to use all that’s applicable for your audience.
You’ll need a thorough marketing plan that has clear-cut action items and practical timetables to hold yourself accountable. If you don’t have experience or if you’re not confident in your marketing skills, you can hire a more experienced marketer to help you.
Quite surprisingly, plenty of self-publishers get their timing wrong.
One of the schedules you have to get right is when your eBook is published and launched. Some niches sustain interest all year round, and if you’re in one of those niches then you should be fine to launch your eBook any time in the year.
However, there are certain niches where reader interest is stronger in a certain period or periods in a year. You’ll need to find that sweet spot so you’ll have a better chance of selling more of your eBook.
Perfect timing also refers to the deadlines and important dates you need to meet. Hurrying through your tasks and cutting corners shouldn’t be options, as they’ll only result in a substandard eBook.
How to avoid this mistake: Schedule your tasks and eBook launch effectively.
Do better market research so you know when your readers are most tuned in and interested in your eBooks. An obvious example is a Thanksgiving cookbook; it makes no sense launching and marketing one in the summer months.
Similarly, an eBook on how to apply for jobs and nail interviews would be out of place in the holiday months; it’s better to launch and market this book in the months leading to and right after graduation.
The same thought and care should also be placed in scheduling the needed tasks for your eBook. When you schedule tasks, you need to allot enough time so that you can complete them in the minimum amount of time possible without compromising quality.
So you’ve done the whole nine yards and published your own eBook. (Win!)
But after all that hard work, the sales are disappointing, the reviews are dismal, and all those months of hard work are down the drain. (Ouch!)
At this point, it’s so darn easy to throw in the towel and say “what’s the point?” and go on your way. Never mind that despite the hard work, those months creating the eBook were the happiest and most content you were in a long while. Never mind the handful of readers and fans you gained who liked your work.
Yes, giving up self-publishing might be best if you truly feel that it isn’t for you and that you’d be happier doing something else. But what if you did feel fulfilled and you’re only giving up because your first attempt failed? Is that a good enough reason to quit?
How to avoid this mistake: Have the right mindset from the beginning.
If this is your first attempt at self-publishing, you need to start it with an open mind. You’ll have to be ready for both success and failure so that whatever happens, you’re equipped to deal with it. Admittedly, it’s much more fun preparing for success than it is for failure, but you need to be ready for any possibility.
Remember that not everything is a one-shot deal. There are certain things that you can keep practicing and keep doing before you eventually succeed, and self-publishing is certainly one of them.
When you’re writing your next and succeeding books, you come back with more knowledge, more experience, more foresight and thus wiser and more prepared than you ever were with your first book.
In addition, even if your first eBook is a bust, don’t take it off the market just yet. Those who enjoy your succeeding books will be curious about your previous work and will want to at least check it out.
Mistakes can be horrible, sure, but they’re probably the best learning tools you can hope to have. I sincerely hope that by knowing and avoiding these self-publishing mistakes, you reduce your learning curve a little bit and gain an early advantage, especially when you’re starting out.
Here again are the 12 worst self-publishing mistakes you can make.
Before I let you go and self-publish in peace, here’s a final reminder for you:
One of the fun (or not-so-fun, depending on how you look at it) aspects of life is that we can’t control everything.
Even if you somehow avoid all the mistakes I discussed above, unforeseen circumstances can still affect the success of your self-publishing venture.
The key to recovering from an unfortunate turn of events is to handle them gracefully; accept that it happened, figure out how to bounce back, and then do everything in your power to prevent the same thing from happening again.
Have you gone into self-publishing? What would you say would be your biggest slipup? How did you recover? Tell us your story in the comments!
JoAnne is your average, everyday, sane stay-at-home mom who believes in the power of the internet to make dreams come true. She has an insatiable appetite for chocolate, as well as all things internet marketing. She keeps up with the latest trends in blogging, affiliate marketing, e-commerce, and more.