Common Mistakes of Self-Published Authors

  • Agent / No Agent – One of the first dilemmas an author faces. Typically, an agent steers authors to traditional publishers. However, there are a number of smaller independent presses that do not require agents. The big publishers deal almost exclusively with agents. Only hire an agent if you really believe you have a shot at a big publisher.
  • Vanity / Subsidy / Partnership / Collaborative Publishing – Lots of authors are pulled into publishing opportunities for which they pay for services or agree to purchase a certain number of books up front. These scenarios come in a number of flavors and rarely benefit the author beyond getting their book out. These entities are rarely focused on selling books to the book trade, and instead make their profits from author services and sales. Traditional publishers do not charge fees and make their money by selling books.
  • Editing – Quite a few self-published authors use friends and family to assist them with editing. Many times, their friend, the English teacher, has helped to edit their book. While it is always a good idea to edit before publishing, a traditional publisher typically has a multi-round process that looks at much more than just grammar and spelling.
  • Cover Design – Contrary to popular wisdom, customers do judge a book by its cover. It’s important that a book looks like it is expected to – similar to other books in its category – and that it conveys compelling messages. I can’t tell you how many self-published books have a nice photo on the cover – probably taken by the author – of ocean waves crashing at the beach or of a sunset or a lone tree in a field. Fonts matter. Imagery matters. Use a graphic designer experienced in book cover design. A traditional publisher has people on staff to do this, or hires out to experienced professionals.
  • Book Design – Besides a bad cover, few things are more annoying than bad book design. The front matter should contain the expected elements. The margins should be set correctly. The pages should flow properly – right / left. I have seen hundreds of poorly designed books that scream “I was self-published” when I started to thumb through them. Quality in design is very important. There is a minimum expectation among book buyers – especially with the chain stores.
  • Format — EBook vs Print – Many self-published authors stick with ebooks only. Many stick with just the opportunities through Amazon. Recent trends have seen a decrease in ebook sales, and an increase in print. However, authors should have both. It’s very important ebooks are well-designed too and function as expected. It is not as simple as just loading up the paperback format and allowing a converter to generate an ebook.
  • Distribution – This is often the biggest challenge for self-published authors. How do I get my book into as many stores as possible. Unfortunately, distributors require deep discounts from the cover price in order to process your inventory. Often this is just a small percentage about print cost. As soon as return fees hit from an unsuccessful book signing, all profits for the author/publisher are wiped out. It is important to be in the right distribution channels at the right cost. Do not overreach and put yourself into a negative cash flow situation.
  • Marketing – Self-published authors are faced with marketing on many fronts – how to sell to the book trade through distributors, how to sell directly to independent stores, how to sell directly to readers, how to sell online, etc. Each channel requires a different strategy. It is important to know who the target reader is, and where they are likely to be found.
  • Advertising – The vast majority of advertising – especially print – does not work. There is a negative ROI. Web advertising is almost as bad, unless you hit the target perfectly. Direct email campaigns are low cost and yield weak results. How do you build buzz without breaking the bank? The answer to this question is evolving.
  • Author Publicity – Authors often confuse this with book marketing. Author publicity involves promoting the author as a brand – in addition to the books they’ve produced. It’s important that authors engage with their public, whether in person, in the media, or online. Publishers tend not to be involved with author publicity. Publishers focus on book marketing and merchandising.
  • Reviews – Word of mouth is a great way to get attention. Good reviews on Amazon and GoodReads can garner attention. However, bad reviews can be the death of an author. It is so important to be sure you are putting out a quality product – well designed – as expected. However, that doesn’t mean the content itself is well-accepted. Regardless, don’t let a bad review about poor design or editing be the end of your writing career.