As someone who has recently self-published a novel, and has seen many other authors self-publish with ranging success, I've started taking note of the biggest self-publishing mistakes I've seen.
Of course, I don't blame anyone for falling into common pitfalls. Publishing is a confusing, mysterious industry, and it can be very difficult to navigate. That's why I want to give you some ideas of mistakes to avoid.
This is not an exhaustive list, and I'll definitely do a part two soon, as my own self-publishing experience continues and I keep learning. For now, here are some of the biggest mistakes I've seen, why you should avoid them, and what to do instead:
You don’t use professionals and create a solid team
When you publish traditionally – that is, through a publishing house – a team of professionals will work with you to publish your book at its very best. Even better, they do this for free, and pay you! This might sound like a no-brainer, but traditional publishing is very difficult to break into, and comes with many of its own disadvantages (but we won't get into that today!).
If you’re self-publishing, you have none of the support that a publishing company will give you. That doesn’t mean you should do it alone – it just means you have to build your own team, and it means you’ll have to pay them a fair wage. If you want to be a career author (i.e. you don’t just want to publish one book and be done – you want to make an income) you need to think of yourself as having an author business. You are a publisher! A self-publisher. So take yourself seriously.
Self-publishing services are expensive. But, if you don’t have a good book cover, people won’t be drawn to the book (yes – people judge books by their covers). If the book isn’t edited or proofread, readers will leave bad reviews based on poor readability and typos. If the book isn’t typeset and formatted correctly, you’ll run into all sorts of visual problems. If your book description isn’t the best it can be, and you haven’t uploaded the book to online sellers like Amazon correctly (and used the best categories and keywords for your book), it’ll be so much harder to sell.
Some of these things you might be able to DIY if you learn the skills. Many authors with graphic design experience, for example, do their own covers. If you absolutely can’t afford people with these skills, here are some ideas:
Reduce editing costs by self-editing before hiring an editor
Purchase a premade book cover
Use beta readers or a manuscript assessment instead of a developmental edit
Take online marketing courses
Learn the ins and outs of publishing so you can count on your own knowledge
You don’t get your own ISBN and set up your own publishing company
When I interviewed Natalie Sea (author of Burnish), she made a great point about this, which I’ll share here because I couldn’t put it better:
One of my biggest tips is to own your own ISBNs and start a publishing company – which is super easy! When you use an Amazon-assigned ISBN, Amazon automatically becomes the publisher, so people who want distribution rights or have questions about your book don’t really have anyone to talk to.
When you own your own ISBNs and put your own publishing business’s imprint on the book, people know who to contact about it. Plus, it looks more professional to have a publishing imprint than to have your book say “independently published.”
You don’t market/advertise
No, you can’t just put a book out into the world and expect it to sell on its own (unless you’re a very established, successful author). Whether it's shyness, fear, a lack of time or a lack of budget, avoiding marketing is not an option if you want your book to sell.
There are plenty of ways to make marketing something that you can enjoy, do with confidence, and do with limited time and money.
Since you don’t have a publisher backing you, marketing will be all yours to do. Here are some common excuses and how to get past them:
If you’re feeling too shy or afraid to market:
Just start – confidence comes with practise!
Begin with lower-stakes advertising. Set up a website, post TikToks without your face, do Facebook Ads that are simplistic.
If it’s a fear of technology (i.e. you don’t think you can make the graphics, learn how to post online, make a website, etc.) remember that everything takes time to learn. Although it’s hard to pick up new skills, anyone can market effectively with enough training and experience.
No one knows your book like you, so no one can market it like you can!
If you’re feeling too lazy, or you don’t have time:
I don’t believe in laziness – it’s a mindset that comes from lethargy, fear, or any other emotion that puts a block between you and something you want or need to do. Start by changing your mindset and remember that marketing is something you get to do for your book, not something you have to slog through. It can be really enjoyable.
There are many kinds of marketing. If you really dislike some and find them tedious, put more effort into the kinds that you enjoy. In the end, they’ll do much better!
If time is the issue, you can start by creating to-do lists and prioritising what is most important.
You can also rework time you’re spending doing other things. For example, I was already spending around 30 minutes a day on TikTok – so creating content for the platform didn’t take any extra time. It was just reworking that time to something more productive (but just as fun).
If posting on social media every day is too daunting, use a scheduling app. I tend to use Later and Planoly.
If you feel like you don’t have the money to do marketing:
Marketing is so much more than just ads that cost money. Everything on this list can be free or cheap, depending which company you go through.
Set up your own website (I use Wix)
Start your email newsletter (I use MailerLite)
Set up social media accounts and post organic content (TikTok and Instagram – Booktok and Bookstagram – are my favourites and I never spend a cent)
Reach out to relevant newspapers, magazines, bloggers and influencers, journalists, podcasters, etc. for interviews
Use Canva to make simple graphics
Remember, if you have the funds to do so, you can hire someone like me to help with your book marketing! That will take the strain off you in all of these areas. Marketing costs you money, but it is there to help you make MORE money. You might not see returns right away, but it’s an investment in your author business.
You’re snobby and make bold claims
Be proud of your book and reaching the point of publication – but don’t go around telling people that it’s the next big thing, it's better than everything else you’ve ever read, and that it’s going to be a best seller.
Even if you fully believe this, it’s a bold claim to put it out into the world. It makes you look full of yourself. Especially if you’re putting down other books, people will see you have a bad attitude.
Making bold claims also heightens expectations, and if your book really isn’t ‘better than Lord of the Rings’, people will be upset that you’ve lied to them. (Don’t forget that fiction is subjective, and even if you think your book is incredible, EVERY book has haters.)
Also, beware of the comparative titles you choose. Saying your dystopian novel is the next ‘Hunger Games’ is a really bold claim – and honestly, a tired one. People simply won’t believe it. Aim for more niche comparative titles of successful recent books, and avoid classics.