OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
To be an independent author means taking your book project seriously. But most of us haven't been in publishing for our whole careers, so it's inevitable that we make mistakes along the way.
Mistakes aren't bad either. They are the human way to improve and learn. But it helps if we can help each other!
I'm not perfect and I continue to learn along the writer's journey but here are the worst mistakes I have made and seen others doing too. I'd love to hear from you in the comments about your mistakes as by sharing, we can all improve together.
(1) Not spending enough time learning about you, your book and your audience
You need to get to know yourself, as well as understand the goals for your book and the needs and expectations of your audience. If you don't understand your goals, how will you know what path to follow and whether you are successful or not?
- Know yourself. If your dream is to have your book in every physical bookstore and airport, then you should be looking at traditional publishing. If you just want to reach readers, go ebook only with a low price or free. If you want to make income, make sure you have other products behind the book.
- Know your book and your genre. If you are writing historical romance, you should be reading that type of book and understanding what the audience look for and then making sure your book fits the niche – or look for another niche
- Know yourself. Are you in this for the long haul or is this one book everything to you?
There are lots more questions to ask yourself. The key is to spend time reflecting and writing around these topics which will really help shape your publishing decisions.
(2) Not getting a professional editor
The #1 criticism of self-published books is that they are not professional enough and I believe quality is in direct proportion to the amount of editing you have. Seriously.
I really think that every writer needs an editor.
If you get a professional editor, and take their advice, your book will improve beyond anything you could imagine. I'll go further and say you need two editors when you're starting out – a developmental one for the structure of the book, and a copy-editor for the line detail and cleanup.
(3) Not getting professional book cover design
As above, we want our books to stand alongside traditionally published books and have the same level of quality. Unless you are already a designer specializing in books, then I recommend you hire someone. Here's a list of book cover designers.
If you want to DIY, then there's a tutorial here on how to make your own cover on MS Word. But remember to compare your book to the Top 100 books in your chosen category and make sure yours is just as good.
(4) Doing a print run without having a distribution deal
This was one of my big mistakes and I still hear of people doing it. Consider carefully whether you really want to publish a print book. If you do, brilliant. For the best result, hire a book designer and go with print on demand as the first option. You can order a few copies at cost to give to people.
But do you need to do a print run locally and have thousands of books delivered to your door?
This is important as you will have to pay in advance for printing. You'll also have to store them and ship them if you sell from your website.
Yes, it works out cheaper per book if you sell them all but are you going to sell them all? Do you have a distribution channel in place? e.g. a speaking platform or a guaranteed bookstore?
See the picture on the right? That's me in 2008 with way too many books that I didn't sell, before I discovered print on demand. They mostly ended up the landfill. Don't make this mistake.
If you need help with self-publishing, then invest in Choosing a Self-Publishing Service by the Alliance of Independent Authors which will save you time, money and heartache on your journey.
(5) Paying way too much for services you can do yourself with a little education
I still get emails from people who have paid $10,000 for an author services package and received 100 books as well as losing the rights. Or people who have paid $5000 for their author website without knowing how to update it themselves. [Here's my tutorial for how you can build your own author website in 30 mins.]
I know most authors aren't that interested in technology, but it is worth a little short term pain to empower yourself with some knowledge and save yourself a lot of money in the process. For example, if you just have a plain text novel, pay $49 for Scrivener and do it yourself. Then you can change the files whenever you like.
It's fine to pay professionals for a service but make sure you know:
a) why you need it
b) how things will work in the future e.g. changing things, which is 100% likely to happen
c) what your alternatives are
(Obviously I don't mean you should scrimp on editing or cover design but shop around and get the best deal for you and the right person for the job!)
(6) Doing no marketing at all, or getting shiny object syndrome
When I launched my first book, I only knew about offline marketing and mainstream media. I made it onto Australian national TV and radio and still sold no books. That's when I decided to learn about online marketing. Life has been a lot better since!
Many authors think marketing involves bookmarks or book signings but these are probably the least effective forms of marketing.
Other people get into blogging, then Twitter, then Pinterest, Facebook, podcasting, video etc all in the same week and then burn out with exhaustion and decide that marketing doesn't work.
This is shiny object syndrome – jumping onto the newest, latest thing without giving the last thing a chance to work.
My advice here is to give something a try for a few months of concerted effort before you expand. I started with a year of blogging, then moved into Twitter and podcasting, later I went with Facebook and video. These are my core marketing and platform building activities but they all took time to build.
Find what you enjoy and give it some time to work.
(7) Focusing everything into one book
When my first novel, Stone of Fire, came out, I was entirely focused on marketing it and making my new fiction career work. I heard the pros say you need more than one book but I was sure I could make it successful.
I put everything into the launch and utilized the large network I had build up over years online, but my initial sales weren’t enough to really launch any kind of career. Fast forward a few years and I have a lot of books and the income is substantial. I'm now one of those (annoying) people who preach that the best marketing is writing another book!
I definitely believe that you need to do some marketing to get the sales rolling, to gain initial reviews and build your platform for the long-term, but you also need to get writing.
The long haul career of a pro-writer involves always working on the next book.
Celebrating the last, but getting on with the next. This is our passion, but also our job. Obsessing over marketing one book isn’t as important as getting on with the next.
I hope my mistakes stop you from making the same ones!
I'd love to hear your comments. Do you agree with these mistakes and what else can you add?
edison hudson says
Good morning Joanna, you are right I made mistakes when I wrote the discription of my last book, after it was on sale I had to take it off the shelf and made the necessary corrections.About hiring an editor is something by itself,as you said one needs at least two editors and you’re talking a lot of cash. As far as selling is concerned I do mine door to door because I live in a small tourist town. o.matt indie author.
Mel Small says
#7 makes a lot of sense.
Norine Jackson says
Wow! I am so thankful to have come across your site a couple of years ago. I subscribed to your newsletter, but did not start reading them until recently, as I I have now gained he courage to write.
I’m now ready to write my own books. My goal is to become an indie artist and make a living from producing good content, and provide products and services that will be useful to my audience.
I am reading your books and getting through your website. It’s a goldmine of information!
I’ve waited so long to start writing because I’ve been afraid for fear of failure. I no longer feel this way, and can’t wait to get started1
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Joanna!
Lydia Sherrer says
All really great advice! I’m happy to say I’ve heard it all before, which I think means that I’ve done enough indie author research to know the basics (yay!) right now I’m trying to figure out if I should do book signings at my local libraries BEFORE the book is available on Amazon, or after. I figure, if I bring a stack of books with me and do it before, people can just buy the book there, I can use it as a marketing tool. But my husband points out that book signings are for people to bring their own books to get them signed, so I should do it after…I’m not sure what to do, but I’ll poke around and figure it out. Thanks for taking the time to write this! I hope, after years of hard work and many books, to also be able to say that my income is substantial.
That is a really good point! I say, do both. One before where you supply the books and one after where your fans can bring their own for signing! Good luck 🙂 -Anna
Kacy Andrews says
I’m not new to writing, but I am new to fiction writing and self publishing. I totally agree that ‘writing the next book’ is the best marketing tool. I am working on a fiction series that profiles a particular volunteer fire department, and just recently published the second book in that series. The first book sold marginally well in my opinion, though I promoted it heavily. A few weeks ago, while book #2 was still in pre-order on Amazon, I saw some sales of my first book, that translated into pre-orders of my second book a few days later. This with little to no promotion. I’m really looking forward to getting books #3 and #4 out later this year and hoping to boost this series into something great.
Tisha | RakshiCreations says
Joanna, your site is a gold mine. I am planning to self publish a book and your site has all the resources I need. Thanks!
Ava James says
Thank you so much, as a Christian Indie author I am realising this and have to go back and read up on everything. So helpful!