The Six Biggest Mistakes Made by Self-Published Authors

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Here at FriesenPress, we’re in a position to see A LOT of self-published books. Not only that, we have the opportunity to work with each author individually, while also getting to know their goals and dreams, their manuscript, their book design and marketing efforts. It’s a process where we really get to know our authors well.

After working with hundreds of authors, however, we’ve noticed a few reoccurring errors that they seem to make. Fortunately, they are avoidable, and we’re here to tell you how! Here are the top six mistakes that you can learn from:

#6 – Don’t stop marketing your book after the book launch.

Marketing has a honeymoon period, and it’s triggered by a lot of things – the rush of having a book in your hand, the boost of sales through your friends and family, the thrill of seeing your book on sale. Talking about your book, sharing your journey, and having an interested audience listening to you is a wonderful feeling that you’ll never forget. That’s the honeymoon period.

What follows, though, is the reality of marketing – rejections, disinterest, lack of audience and low sales. You start to feel like your book has run its cycle and you should give up, write a new book, while you begin to see yourself as a failure. Everyone goes through this. But that’s the difference between successful self-published authors and unsuccessful ones – if you give up at this stage, that’s as far as you’ll go.

Instead, you need to see this as the moment you can shine. This post-honeymoon moment is when you can distinguish yourself from others. Now that your friends and family have bought the book, the real purpose of marketing kicks in – to market to people you don’t know, and to reach and to touch strangers who can appreciate your message.

Marketing is a continually time-consuming process. The key operative word there is continually. The book’s impact ends when you stop marketing it. The life of the book depends on your will to push forward. It’s your book, your baby, your vision. Grasp it!

But that being said…

#5 – Don’t try to do it alone. Surround yourself with people you trust and trust them.

As an author, you’ve read hundreds of books, written countless pieces, and honed your craft over years and years of writing – this is what enables you to be the expert at what you do. What this means though, is that you’re probably not an expert at other things. This is where you need to find people you trust to do things for you. It’s knowing when to let go of 100% control and let your work become the best that it can. Too often, we see authors who are so attached to their book that they can’t let the experts around them do their jobs. In particular, I’ll mention two scenarios:

I. Professional Editing

We can’t possibly stress how important this is, because a good edit can make or break a book. It’s the difference between a page turner and a book people won’t finish. It’s the difference between a book people will recommend, and a book people will ignore. Next to your manuscript, it is the most important part of your book. You might be a great writer, but even the greatest writers have editors, and there’s a good reason for it. In fact, some traditional publishers are known for their superstar editors as much as their authors!

So get a professional edit. Not your sister, or your brother, or your uncle who wrote a book back in the day. Your book will love you for it.

II. – Book Design

A lot of people don’t know that professional graphic designers adhere to a certain ethic and a set of standardized practices. To become a professional graphic designer takes years of schooling and experience – and to become a book designer, a graphic designer needs to have countless book designs under their belt.

We all know that a book cover is a really key part in promoting your book. So it’s natural that authors want to have full control – the problem is, they are not experts in design. The biggest mistake we see with author-designed books is that it is too busy. Authors are too close to the subject matter, and they often want to cram all of the metaphors and significant objects/people/places into the book cover. What results is a really complicated book cover that the author loves, but the rest of the world cringes at. The book cover needs to be simplistic, especially in this day and age  (…I won’t even go into bad font choices, but let me stress that Comic Sans is not a professional looking font, no matter what the book). Again, this is where authors need to let go, and trust people. Let the professionals who have years of experience handle it, and you’ll have a great-looking book that you can rightfully be proud of (you should still have input of course).

Of course, none of this really matters if you make the next mistake…

#4 – Don’t write without a target market in mind.

So many authors are clueless about their target audience, and this is astounding. Authors should always write their manuscript with a specific target market in mind. Without it, the book will be an unfocused mess.

Imagine Harry Potter written without a target market in mind (children who are nine years and up, perhaps). It could have had words and sentences that are too long and complicated for children. It could have had scenes and words that are inappropriate for children. It could have been too simplistic, such that it was more appropriate for toddlers. But what is even more likely, is that it would have had a mix of all these things, in one big mess. That’s exactly what we see with some of our manuscripts – they are written without an audience in mind, so it meanders between styles, voices, and age appropriateness.

So make sure you write your manuscript with a target audience in mind. When it comes to actually publishing it though…

#3 – Don’t be complacent about your reviewing your proof copy.

When people publish with us, we give most of our authors two proofing rounds. This means that they get to see an electronic version of their book exactly as it will be printed, and they have the opportunity to make any changes that they would like. They do this twice, and then the third time they are given a final proof. Once this third proof is approved, we then convert the source files into print ready files, send them out to our different printers/distributors and the book is published for sale.

Once the book is published, it is very expensive and time-consuming to change a book. This is particularly true if authors add or subtract significant portions of their book, because this affects the size of the cover file, the weight of the book (and shipping costs associated), the price to print the book, and the retail price of the book. This is why we carefully warn authors to look over their proofs before they approve each stage (and why you need to be patient) .

Yet it is surprising the regularity with which authors find mistakes after the book is published. We’re not talking about minor spelling mistakes either, but spelling mistakes on the cover, or even entire chapters that were somehow left out. This is self-publishing, and that means authors need to be extra vigilant about the quality of their work!

Again I’ll stress that pulling your book from distribution and printing a second edition is time-consuming and expensive. Be patient and thorough the first time, and you’ll save yourself the horror of finding a massive mistake in print.

Once you have a great book though, make sure you…

#2 – Don’t oversell your book on social media.

The biggest marketing mistake we see is over-selling on social media. Spamming with Facebook posts, emails, Twitter feeds and others with a constant message of “Buy my book! Buy my book!” does not only not work, it turns people into enemies who will actively discourage others from buying your book. I’ve talked about why this is the case in another blog post

, and what you should be doing instead, so I’ll keep it short here. As a marketer, the one thing you need to be constantly thinking to yourself is “would this marketing tactic work on me?”

When was the last time you bought a book because somebody spammed your Facebook wall or your email account? Why would anyone care about a Twitter feed that has nothing but sales pitches?

In the end though, I think all of these things can be summed up with the final mistake…

#1 – Don’t treat this like a hobby.

If you want to succeed, you need to treat your book like a business. This of course, includes all of the above mistakes I’ve already talked about. But I’d like to talk about a specific part of this, the one aspect that everything else hinges on (and yet many many authors have trouble with)…

The right attitude.

If you want people to interact with your book, if you want people to believe in your book, if you want your supporters to believe in the book, if you want to meet new people who can help you succeed… then you need to be kind. You need to be giving. You need to be honest, and you need to be patient. Have you noticed that all the other mistakes boil down to these factors?

Do you want to be noticed by the head honcho of a big publishing house? Then you need to be nice to the secretary of that publishing place. Do you want to make connections with influential bloggers or Tweeps? Then you need to give them value first, interact with them, network with them, and do them favours. Do you want to save yourself money? Then you need to be patient with your edits, and treat the editors (and other professionals around you) with the courtesy of respect for their expertise.

Treating other people with respect and keeping a professional attitude throughout is important, but it also extends to how you treat yourself, too. You need to believe in yourself and your art, because no one else will do that for you. You need to be your biggest cheerleader, just like an entrepreneur.

An audience makes the book come alive… but the best books also make the audience come alive too. Remember both of these things and you’re well on your way. Good luck!