Putting your new book out into the world is daunting. You’ve spent months; even years carefully shaping and lovingly crafting your manuscript, and now you’re ready to polish that document into a professionally designed book and get it published. While getting to this point is already a feat in itself, there will surely still be some hurdles ahead, and with this article I hope to help you clear those hurdles a bit more easily. I love helping authors and want your writing to sell, so read on to find out more about the most common self-publishing mistakes new authors should avoid.

Mistake 1: Not doing your homework

After years of helping authors and many, many conversations later, it’s not hard to notice that curiosity is a recurring personality trait that helps enable self-published authors to have a smoother publishing journey. These authors are the ones who spend hours researching, ask many questions, and compare all their options before signing on any dotted line (even those going the traditional publishing route). While just the idea of doing “homework” can give most of us scary flashbacks to Math class, it really does pay off in the end. Putting in some extra time to fully vet who you are trusting your writing (and your money) with can save you a lot of disappointment down the line. Unfortunately, there are scammers and fly-by-nights abound in the self-publishing world, who tend to disappear as soon as they have your hard-earned cash in hand.

Just recently, one of our authors forwarded us an email wherein a self-publishing company approached him with a seemingly amazing deal to publish his next title. Some sleuthing on Google proves that this company is not to be trusted, as the reviews from dissatisfied authors speak for themselves: horror stories of broken promises, bad communication and lost money never to be seen again. Thankfully, the author in question was privy to this company’s devious ways, but their pretty promises could just as likely pull any new author in.

Bottom line: if sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you are up for a bit more reading, check out our blog post on predatory publishers.

Mistake 2: A lousy cover

It may be tempting to try and cram your book’s cover with as many striking images as possible during the design process. You and your book have a lot to say and a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Well,  as with many things in life, less is more. The worst book covers – that very easily look unprofessional – are those that are so brimming with imagery that a potential reader doesn’t know where to focus and loses interest. Ideally, someone browsing (or scrolling) through the shelves should have their eyes drawn to a central image that should allude to the genre. Exercising restraint can be frustrating to an author, as you understandably might want a cover that captures all your story’s elements. Asking a single piece of glossy paper to do this is, however, a tall order since it is not your cover’s job to fully convey the book’s content. It should capture the reader’s attention and entice them to pick your book off a shelf or click “add to cart,” even before skimming the blurb.

While your book can overlap into other subcategories, there should be definite choice of genre at the core of your story. This will help guide your cover designer to choose the most appropriate fonts and colours specific to that genre. Defining your genre also helps determine who your ideal reader will be thus make your marketing team’s job easier.

That cover design with a simple outline of a mysterious cloaked figure disappearing into the forest might feel as though you are selling your epic fantasy novel short, but you can consider its job done if it tempts an idly browsing reader to want to find out more. Because in the end, even though we hate to admit it, we all have judged a book by its cover.

Speaking of that idly browsing reader, another way to pique their interest is a well-edited book blurb. Ideally no longer than 250 words to avoid looking squashed on your back cover, a blurb should sell, not summarise.  Think elevator pitch for your book, not a summary of the plot or content.

Mistake 3: It’s about the message, not the packaging

Your book is your message that you are putting out into the world, and that message can be packaged into and reach your readers in different formats. It’s important that you don’t confuse the packaging with the message, as the goal hasn’t changed: reaching readers.

With all the different formats available today, different readers prefer consuming content in different ways:

  • the romantics who still love the smell and feel of printed books;
  • the podcast listeners who pop on their headphones when doing the dishes or on the treadmill (honestly, how else does one find the motivation to act like an adult?);
  • the Kindle eBook-loyalists
  • and the road trippers with a library of audiobooks downloaded to avoid boredom with their own company.

All this to say: don’t let your preference of a single format deprive potential readers of your message. While there is still a strong bias towards paper here in South Africa, your book will be reaching readers who prefer all manner of different formats once it ventures abroad and into first world markets. Thus, those readers will be left behind if you only plan for print.

Mistake 4:  Not maximising your book’s distribution

Monopolizing giants and domineering bullies are only “cute” in children’s stories, where the giant is slain and the bully gets their comeuppance. Unfortunately, these tales of our childhoods do not resemble real life, especially when self-publishing your book. While you might want to avoid Amazon for their subjectively monopolistic practices and take the moral high ground, your readers in the valley below will be missing out on what you have to offer. Whether your feelings toward the megastore are love or absolute apathy, the truth is that very few self-published authors can sell stacks of books without their help. So, take a breath, swallow any pride and get that book listed within Amazon KDP now.

If you are looking for an additional platform to maximise your book’s reach, you might want to consider also publishing the eBook version using Draft2Digital. This platform serves as a “middleman” to get your book into extra stores, even the hard-to-reach ones.

Mistake 5: Leaving marketing to the last minute

So, your book is live on Amazon. Every friend, family member and colleague has a copy. Stacks of books are scattered around your living room. Now what?

We have seen it again and again: too many authors start thinking about marketing their book too late and only start considering it once it’s on the shelves. It’s understandable that many authors might be afraid of selling and prefer to throw money at some freelancer wearing a marketing cap to make it their problem. Too often, this path leads to a disappointed author and those once glossy stacks of books gathering dust.

We get it: marketing can be scary. It’s one of those subjects that can make an author’s eyes glaze over, like when your significant other says those fateful words: “We have to talk.” If this sounds like you, dear reader, then a new perspective might be helpful here. Rather try asking yourself: “How can I reach new readers?” I am sure that sounds easier and like something you can answer with less inner resistance.

There are many more ways to find your audience than can be listed here and the human attention span only stretches so far. I will instead share a few simple ideas for you to ponder over.

No one right way

Finding new readers requires multiple tactics, so anyone promising to get you on the Best Sellers list instantly should best be avoided. Some of these tactics will work, some will fail. Some give results quicker but require upfront funding. Some are free and might require you to get your hands a bit dirty. In this way, marketing your book can be seen as an experiment.  Should you decide to make use of outside help, find a marketing person that explains everything simply and in a way you can easily understand, including exactly how their services can benefit you. Find someone willing to build a relationship with you rather than just a quickie (got that same advice from my parents, coincidently).

Social media

While you might wish it differently, all those “likes” on your post promoting your book does not mean you have sold a single copy. It’s so easy to get distracted and disheartened by shallow audience engagement metrics and get sucked into spending all your time trying to change that. There are so many other, more worthwhile ways to be spending the time and budget allocated for promoting your book. While social media does have its place in spreading the word about your book, it should all be put into perspective and the money spent on marketing should rather be measured against books sold.

Your author website

Have you considered investing in a digital home for your book? Any author worth the ink their book is printed with should first be establishing an online presence in a domain they are fully in control of, i.e., an author website. This investment in a piece on online “real estate” helps you rank online without distracting notifications and ads competing for your readers’ attention. This is especially relevant to authors penning a series of books, or who have a business behind the book.

Advertising on Amazon

Check out our recent article on Amazon KDP Marketing for a step-by-step tutorial on how to set up ads for your book on Amazon.

Mistake 6: Gambling

While going all-in might be a strategic move in poker, it’s important to remember that this is not Casino Royale and you are not James Bond. Publishing your book should not be like sitting at the roulette table hoping and praying that your next bet will pay off. No matter how amazing your book is and how smart you are about being about marketing it, the truth is that royalty returns can be frustratingly slow, especially for new authors still building their platform and finding their audience. Publishing your book is an investment, as with any other investment you should only spend what you can afford to and make sure that the timing is right. So if you need to take out a loan to finance self-publishing your book, right now might not be the best time to do so.

Still not convinced and tempted to take a gamble? This article on our website might convince you otherwise to Never Bet Your Bottom Dollar.

While this article only covers the tip of the iceberg, I  really do hope that it helped you and that you enjoyed the read. Take a second to share it with a friend who needs this advice (we know you have one). Stay strong, remember there are good people out there, and do your homework. We can’t wait to see your book on Amazon 😊