11 Biggest Mistakes Self-Published Authors Make

In 2008, I was fortunate enough to accept a position as the first ever Author Coordinator for Mill City Press. Since that time, I’ve transitioned into the sales division of the company, and have been serving as a Senior Publishing Consultant for the last 6 years. In both of those roles with the company, I’ve spoken to countless authors, and have been able to see a trend with some of the biggest mistakes and misconceptions that authors seem to have before and during their publishing process for their book.

I hope that by outlining some of these commonalities, I’ll be able to help prevent some of the pitfalls for up and coming indie and self-published authors!

1. Skipping or Skimping on Professional Editing

Editing is the single best investment you can make in your book, period. There is a reason why books that are published through a traditional publisher go through countless rounds of editing by multiple editors before the manuscript is published. To me, trying to publish and sell a book without having it edited by a professional book editor is the equivalent of trying to sell a rough diamond to someone without having a gemologist cut and polish the stone first. First impressions are everything when it comes to readers, and when a reader finds an alarming number of errors in the first ten pages of your book, the chances are pretty darn high that not only will the reader NOT be finishing your book, he or she will also be taking the opportunity to point out all those errors in an Amazon review.

Also, when it comes to editing, you get what you pay for. If you choose to have your book edited by your great aunt Mildred who used to be a high school English teacher, or find the lowest cost book editor possible on Craigslist, or decide to rely on good old spell-check in Microsoft Word, the odds are pretty darn high that your book will have a lot of typos and errors that it wouldn’t have had if you had invested in a professional book editor.

And lastly, no author can self-edit their work no matter how much talent they have. Stephen King can’t self-edit his work, JK Rowling can’t self-edit her work, and neither can you. Summation: get a professional, credible, highly recommended and vetted book editor.

2. Not Considering the Importance of Well Directed Marketing

The sales success of a book is determined by how well the book has been marketed to its target audience. You could have the best book of the century, but if (the right) people are not aware it exists, you won't sell many copies. Publishing a book on your own is just like starting a new business. You can't expect your business or your book to do well if you don't apply any marketing efforts with targeted potential customers. A self-published book with a strong sales record is most likely because the author is treating their book publishing process like a new small business. This author has probably invested a substantial amount of time and effort into marketing and promoting their books to their potential customers.

Also, it isn’t possible to market your book to every potential reader in the universe. Targeted marketing is the key; figure out your book’s audience as early as possible, and try and promote the book to your target audience as much as possible both before and after the book is released.

3. Not Becoming Educated on the Publishing Business

One of the biggest reasons why so many self-publishing companies are able to take advantage of first time authors is because most authors don’t take the time to learn the language of publishing.

For example, almost every author I talk to confuses distribution with marketing, and they’re two entirely different elements. Distribution refers to anything that pertains to the selling activity for the book. Marketing refers to promoting your book to your intended audience. If an author isn’t aware of the difference, it’s easy to think that you’re getting a much better deal with a self-publishing company than you actually are.

If you don’t understand what a service means or entails, ask the publishing representative or consultant to explain it in plain language to you. If the representative or consultant can’t explain it to you, chances are you don’t want that service (or that publisher to be helping you publish your book).

4. Rushing the Publishing Process

Publishing a book the right way is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s a common misconception that writing the book is the hardest part, when in fact; there is a tremendous amount of time consuming work that goes into getting a book ready for publication and release. Yes, there are publishers out there who will promise that your book can be published within some insane time frame of 30 days or less. However, keep in mind that traditional publishers need a lead time of 1-2 years to release a book that meets their quality standards, and your book will be competing with these. The bottom line is that major concessions will need to be made to meet an expedited timeline, and that will most likely have a negative impact on the quality of the book.

If you want the fast food approach to publishing a book, that’s fine; just understand that your book is going to be more McDonalds than Le Cirque.

5. Not Taking Experienced Professional Advice

When you ask us for advice on what to do with your book, we provide responses based on the industry knowledge and experience that we’ve collected since we started publishing independent authors in 2007. Although one of the biggest benefits of self-publishing is that authors have more control over the publication of their book, it’s still in the author’s best interest to listen to any concerns or feedback that the publishing services staff provides to the author during the process.

I’ll give you a specific example; it’s well known in the industry that it’s much easier to get a book into bookstores if it’s published in a paperback instead of hardcover format. We had an author who published a fiction book with us, and one of the author’s biggest goals was to get the book into national distribution with Barnes and Noble. We strongly advised the author to publish in a paperback format instead of hardcover, or, at the very least, to consider publishing in both formats. However, the author was adamant about only publishing the book in a hardcover format and wouldn’t even consider paperback. The other critical error was when the author printed 5000 copies of the hardcover format. When the book was presented to the national fiction buyer for Barnes and Noble, they were enthusiastic about the book, but guess what? They only wanted it in paperback. We could practically hear the author’s heart sink when we broke the news to him. So, not only did the author have to eat the printing cost of 5000 hardcover copies of his book, he also had to eat the printing cost for re- publishing and re-printing the book in a paperback edition.

Long story short, when we tell you to consider doing something for your book (or not do something for the book), it’s always in your best interest to listen. Let our experience help you be more successful.

6. Not Reading the Publishing Contract

This is another example of how many self-publishing companies take advantage of first time authors. The publishing contract is a legally binding document. If it’s done correctly, it should stipulate every possible scenario of where an author can incur additional fees during their publishing process beyond their upfront cost.

Ask to read the contract for any publishing company that you’re considering using. If something in the contract doesn’t make sense to you, ask the publishing representative or consultant for clarification. If the publishing consultant can’t explain it to you, that should be a huge red flag for you. Also, if the contract is only one page long, that’s another huge red flag.

7. Not Investing Time in Your Craft

I recently read Amy Pohler’s Yes Please, and one of my favorite aspects of her book is that she constantly refers to how hard it is to write a book. She’s absolutely right. Even the most talented and gifted contemporary writers recognize the need to work on their craft on regular basis.

I love it when I hear an author tell me that they’ve attended a writing workshop, or joined a local writers group, or have a writing coach. If you take the opportunity to use any resources that are at your disposal to give you a fresh perspective on your writing, I guarantee that your work will be better because of it.

8. Assuming Children’s Books are Easy

I could literally write an entire book on why publishing a children’s book is one of the most challenging genres, especially when it comes to self-publishing.

First of all, the success of any children’s book is largely dependent on how good the illustrations are, so you will need to find a fantastic illustrator, which is usually going to mean investing a substantial amount of time and money. Depending on the type of children’s book you want to print and publish, the chances are also pretty good that you’ll have to print the book with an offset printer, which means that you’ll need to print in volume, which means a hefty investment into printing costs (which are not the same as publishing costs).

Cost wise, if you want to publish a children’s picture book that is comparable to a classic one that’s on the market today through a traditional publisher, be prepared to spend at least 10-20k overall. Your chances for breaking even for cost on a children’s picture book are marginal at best. It’s an extremely competitive genre in today’s marketplace.

9. Believing Your Book is the Exception to the Rule

Many authors fundamentally understand how difficult it is to write, publish and sell a book, but they often think these norms don’t apply to them or their book. Of course it is possible. Your book just might be the exception to the rule… But chances are it’s not. Therefore, it’s in your best interest not to do something really off the wall or out of the box because readers don’t want to do a lot of work when it comes to reading books. You want to make it as simple as possible to engage your reader as early as possible, so don’t make it an impossible task to “get” your book (literally or figuratively).

10. Not Using Social Media Effectively

Is it good to connect with your readers to help build a following? Absolutely! However, it’s important to know how to do this in an appropriate and productive manner. If you use social media to connect with your readers or target audience, don’t overstep your boundaries. No one needs to hear about how nervous you are about your upcoming colonoscopy, or the weird rash that you found on your foot yesterday. Use social media to provide readers with updates on your published work, and only give personal information about your life that’s relevant to the work (i.e. if your book is about being a dog owner, talk about your dog).

Also, even the best writers sometimes get negative reviews about their book. If a reader posts a negative review about your book, don’t get discouraged, and most importantly, do NOT get defensive or attack the reader that posted the negative review. If you do feel the need to respond, (which I don’t recommend, see # 5) do so only in a gracious manner and thank the reader for taking the time to read your work and to give their feedback.

11. Assuming It’s Easy to Get into Bookstores or Major Retailers

Here’s the deal; physical retailers have a limited amount of shelf space. Therefore, any retail buyer for a brick and mortar vendor has to be extremely selective and savvy about which titles they think will have the best chance of selling. Airports are going to be a total no-go for any self-published author. The next time you visit an airport, take a look at how many books are in that small confined space that are aren’t written by major best-selling authors; my bet is that you won’t be seeing any.

But don’t despair, there IS hope. As long as you have a returns option for your book, many independent bookstores are willing to give local authors a chance if they feel the book has selling potential. Therefore, get chummy with your local bookstore and be prepared for the information that they’ll need to know about stocking your title (i.e. wholesale discount, which wholesalers they can order the book through, etc.). 


To help you avoid these mistakes, download Plan to Publish, which will help prepare you for the bigger editing, design, distribution, and marketing decisions you'll need to make during the self publishing process. 

It will also help you get a good handle on expectations, timelines, and budget. And we've included some additional truths about self-publishing we think you deserve to know.

Share this Post:
Pin this article on Pinterest