Self-Publishing Mistakes

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5 Rarely Discussed Self-Publishing Mistakes: What NOT To Do

self publishing mistakes

  1. Don’t self-publish your first draft: If you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of a self-published author banging his head on his desk. It happens every few seconds. Listen very, very carefully. There’s another bang. He thought the book was genius when he clicked publish and he had even “spell-checked” the manuscript beforehand, but now the Amazon reviewers are saying some really nasty things about his book. Things like, “I couldn’t get past the first chapter because of all the errors” and “This was obviously self-published…” Don’t be that guy. Fine-tune your manuscript by going through at least one round of revisions and self-editing and then hire a professional editor to bring a different perspective to the project. To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway: The first draft of anything is crap. Don’t publish crap.

Money pit:  A professional editor is not cheap.  There are prices per word, per 250 words, per 1,000 words, per page, and per hour.  DO NOT use friends and family.  Ask to see a résumé.  You should see something other than literature classes.  Words like “rhetoric,” “linguistics,” “grammar,” or a foreign language with complex structures such as Latin or Greek should tell you the person behind that résumé is professional.  A variety of literature classes tells you the person has experience with good literature — which I am assuming you are hoping to attain.

2.  Don’t overprice your book: I’m really surprised that more authors aren’t discussing this. I’ve seen multitudes of authors trying to sell their books at exorbitant prices. You need to think as the consumer. Why would a customer pay $30 for your paperback book instead of $12.99 for a NY Times bestseller? Or $9.99 for your e-book instead of $6.99 for Stephen King? They probably won’t! Try enticing the customer with a competitive (or discounted) price and watch what happens.

Money pit:  The problem with self-publishing is pricing.  If the price is discounted, you lose money on every copy sold.  Plan for the discount and you won’t be surprised.  If you expect to get rich over night, buy a lottery ticket.  You’ll have a better chance.  Stay true to your commitment no matter how long it takes.  Festivals are good venues where you can sell you book and expect to make money.  But is this what you want to do every weekend?

3.  Don’t count on sales at brick-and-mortar bookstores: It’s true that many indie bookstores will happily stock your self-published print book. Some of them will work out consignment deals with you. From my experience, they’ll want around 40%. Major chains will want at least 50% and you’ll generally need to go through layers of bureaucracy in order to get your book stocked. You’ll also need to take the risk of making your book “returnable.” As you can imagine, this could get ugly very quickly. For those reasons and many others, I advise self-publishing authors to focus primarily on online sales. Your profit margins will increase and you’ll be able to cover a ton of ground much more quickly.

Money Pit:  I have also encountered an additional charge of $60 as a “shelf” charge even though the books are not put on a shelf!  Bookstores generally operate via warehouses.  In this case, you will provide the warehouse with approximately 1,000 books at your cost; the warehouse will manage the books for approximately 3 years; and the unsold copies are shredded or the front covers are torn off so you have nothing to sell.  If you have several thousand dollars to waste, then this is the way to go.  

4.  Don’t think that just having an online presence is enough: “I’m on Facebook,” says almost every self-published author. “I’m on Twitter. I’m on Pinterest. I have a blog. I have a website…” This is all very nice, but it’s not enough to simply have an online presence. You need to be active on all of your platforms. In other words, you can’t just “set it and forget it.” Treat your online presence as you would your own home. Care for it, live in it, and love it.

Money Pit:  Maintaining all the social media can be quite consuming.  This leaves you little time for writing.  You can buy sites to manage your social media for you:  $10 for this, $270 for that.  Add up what you are willing to pay for marketing.  Don’t get caught in a trap.  If you pay a guy to pitch your book in Hong Kong, how do you know that is really happening?  If you want to check on it you’d have to fly to Hong Kong yourself, so why not do the pitch yourself?

5.  Don’t expect that strangers will automatically care about your book: I have to admit that when I first started self-publishing, I thought everyone needed my book. Everyone. My inspirational book could motivate and change lives. I knew it. But no one cared at first (aside from friends and family, of course). I had to make them care. I accomplished this by – wait for it – networking! I created Facebook groups (and even Myspace groups; remember Myspace?). I befriended book lovers on Facebook. I reached out to fellow writers by email and met them in person at signings and other events. Most importantly, I made good impressions on those people and most of them supported me by helping spread the word. I know this isn’t fun or sexy advice. Many self-publishing authors looking for advice don’t want to hear that this ride could be a long one. Throw away the idea of “quick and easy” and focus on building relationships!

Money Pit:  And don’t expect your family and friends to buy copies.  Family and friends expect you to GIVE them a copy.  Reach out to strangers and build relationships.  Set up author pages and blogs —  all time-consuming.  AND remember that aside from social media and book signings, conferences cost about $300+ plus room and board and transportation.  Book signings are even starting to charge admission.  Festivals charge fees.  Calculate your fees.