Self-publishing is an intricate and complex dance between writing and marketing. It requires a balance of knowledge, timing, and hard work. An Indie author must both recognize and accept that choosing to self-publish comes with a steep learning curve. Writing a novel is challenging to begin with. Marketing said novel is even more so. Taking the time to appropriately plan and research before you publish will ensure that your novel has the best chance at earning a readership. Knowing the right steps will guarantee that your book doesn't become a cautionary tale.
While many of the mistakes we're covering today are the result of carelessness or of rushing in without proper planning, all of them are easily preventable. The wonderful thing about self-publishing is that there is always room for correction. If you find that you've made any of these mistakes, don't stress. Work towards fixing the issue and you'll eventually see an increase in both sales and reviews.
Mistake #1: Not Enough Research & Market Analysis
If you don't know the market you're trying to cater to, you can't expect your book to do well. Rushing because you want to release your story will leave you feeling like a failure once the post-publishing reality takes effect. It's safe to assume that if you didn't take the time to adequately research your chosen audience, genre, and the publishing industry at large, you didn't do the first step of self-publishing. The good news is that it's never too late to learn! Even if you've published a novel that has not done well, you can begin at square one and learn why. Common reasons why your novel may not do well is bad timing, you've categorized it in the wrong genre, you didn't stick within the guidelines recommended by publishers, or your topic is incredibly niche and doesn't appeal to a wider audience.
The Fix: Understand where you stand in the greater scheme of things. Forbes estimates that between 600,000 to 1,000,000 books are published each year. Don't let the numbers intimidate you. All it means is that you need to narrow down your scope of influence. Research what books are selling the best within your chosen genre and why. Find out what fans of this genre actually want to read versus what you want to write. Learn who your target audience is and how to reach them. Bottom line, it's a communication game. If you can figure out who you want to read your book and their habits, then you can guarantee that your book will find its way into their hands.
Mistake #2: Choosing Not To Edit (Or Hire An Editor)
A common mistake Indie authors make is skimping out on the editing process. Because it tends to be the most expensive part of self-publishing, many authors feel that they can save money here or simply choose to skip this step altogether. Don't! You are only hurting your novel's chances by skipping this step. Unless you have an overly inflated ego, you already know your writing isn't perfect. You can't logically expect an audience who loves the written word not to be bothered by too many commas, to not pick at every grammatical error, or even to Tweet their outrage over a bad sentence or two. You don't want your novel to be the brunt of a bad joke, or worse, be passed over altogether.
The Fix: Budgeting for an editor ahead-of-time will help you find the best fit for your needs and pocketbook. The reality is you don't need to hire an editor with a ton of experience and perfect credentials if you can't afford it (and if you can, go for it!). There are plenty of great editors out there who are freelancers. These are typically more affordable and can work with you on a more personal level whereas you may not get the same type of attention from a busier industry professional. It will also benefit your overall publishing budget- without leaving you in a grammatical pitfall that will hurt your ratings!
Did You Know: Writing It Wells offers both Copy Editing and Developmental Editing Services that specifically cater to the needs of Indie authors? To learn more email: email@example.com to see how we can best help you!
Mistake #3: Lack of Beta/Alpha Reader Feedback
Choosing to skip the beta/alpha reading stage is a missed opportunity. Getting free feedback from fellow writers and peer readers can be instrumental when it comes to collecting valuable information. It's a chance to grasp a sense of how your audience will respond, find plotline loopholes, flaws in character arcs, and to help you determine key marketing details such as what genre your book belongs in, quotes you can use as stand-out lures on promotional materials, and what branding elements you can use to help promote it. It's also a great way to generate excitement and hype for your book launch.
The Fix: It's never too late to get feedback. Even if you've already published, asking your writing friends to help you assess your novel can lead to productive updates. Need to find beta readers but aren't sure where to look? Turn to social media. Online writing groups on Facebook and writers on Instagram who post under the #writergram hashtag can be reached out to for help.
Mistake #4: Publishing With A Weak Cover
Your book cover is your reader's first impression of your book. Regardless of whether they are browsing in a bookstore or online, it's a visual competition. What makes one book favorable over another? Often you'll find the answer to this question is the cover art. Understanding what appeals to your genre's audience is important. In order to succeed you'll need to have a strong cover that is vivid, easily-read, and symmetrical. Begin by studying trends within your niche. What do they all have in common? What patterns, fonts, or stylistic elements keep reappearing? The more you look the more you should be able to piece things together. Next it's time to figure out whether you want to hire a cover artist or DIY it. Unless you have experience in design, it's best to find a professional who understands the industry and is willing to work within your price range.
The Fix: Not sure if your cover is the issue? Send out a survey! Asking your email list, readers, and online followers what they think of your cover will give you a clear-cut answer. If you find that this is indeed your weak spot, considering commissioning a new one. Choosing to update your cover can be a great decision. Go back to the drawing board and create mock-ups of different designs. Conduct a survey to see which people best respond to. You'll know you've found the right one when you start seeing more engagement.
Mistake #5: Refusing To Build/Use Your Personal Network
As an Indie author you have to wear many hats. Assuming full responsibility for the level of success your novel reaches is solely the result of the effort you put into it. Being realistic about your time constraints, work schedule, family needs, and personal energy levels can help you build a sustainable marketing plan. Social media is one such aspect that can be particularly draining, and it's here where you see authors shrug their shoulders and refuse to participate. If you fall into this category, then consider only taking on one or two social media accounts.
The Fix: Contrary to the myth, you don't have to be on every social media site out there to garner a following. Even if you solely focused on one account and grew it slowly over time you'd still see progress. Building an authentic, loyal audience is the goal. Even a small loyal following will bring you sales and reviews. That being said, if you simply refuse to use social media of any kind, the harsh reality is that you won't be selling books any time soon, mainly because nobody will know about it.
Mistake #6: Bad Timing
Pay attention to when you decide to launch your book. Many times authors will have the tools for a successful launch but will ultimately flop due to when they choose to release their book. This is because they've forgot the golden rule: Always check your calendar. Being aware of holidays, large social events, times of remembrance or another somber affair can all affect when your audience is willing to buy. This is true for every product being sold on the market, and it's true for the literary industry as well.
The Fix: Avoid launching your book directly before or after major or minor holidays. These are periods when people tend to be busy with family and away from their computers. The only exception would be shopping holidays like Black Friday. You'll also want to pay attention to seasonal cues and current events. Publishing a novel that takes place in a Christmas setting in July won't sell, just like trying to promote a beach book in the middle of winter won't. If you're writing a nonfiction novel about elections and publish it the day before the election- you'll be fresh out of buyers. At this point you've missed your prime selling window and all your buyers have moved on. Try to find a relevant stream of events that can help give your book a sales boost. For example, if you're writing a fantasy novel about ancient Egypt, then launching it in the wake of a new discovery of mummies can help build up excitement and keep you relevant when pitching to media companies.
Mistake #7: Not Selecting A Release Date Or Lack Of Accountability
One of the double-edged swords of self-publishing is being in charge of picking a launch date. While it can be wonderful to have the freedom to do what you choose, avoid picking a release date (or multiple dates) and then flip-flopping. Nothing confuses and disappoints potential readers more than when you don't fulfill a promise you've made to them as an author. Breaking or delaying your release date can have a harmful affect on your launch. One, it communicates to your readers that you're unreliable and therefore you lose authority within your niche. Two, it drives potential readers away because they don't know what to expect, or because they get fed up with waiting for you to get your act together. Either way it's a loss of sales and unfortunate for your author reputation.
The Fix: It's okay to not have everything together or to be indecisive. Just make sure that that isn't the message you're sending to your readers. Hold off on announcing any dates or setting expectations for yourself publicly. It's perfectly okay to set a goal and share it, but be transparent up-front and let your readership know that it's a tentative date that is subject to change. That way if you find yourself lagging behind or otherwise unable to follow through, they already know it was a very lose goal and that there was room to be flexible. If you do give yourself a firm deadline, then stick to it. Don't let your reader's down. Likewise if you set a deadline and something happens (example, a death in the family or a major life event), then be honest about the reasons behind the delay. Your readers will understand so long as it doesn't become an endless stream of excuses.
Mistake #8: A Mediocre Book Description
Have you ever picked up a book, glanced at the back and thought "Eh, this is just okay"? It's exactly this scenario that keeps so many books left behind on the shelves while others are chosen. Aside from your book cover, your book's description is your second line of offense when it comes to convincing your reader to buy. This is where you are actively attempting to capture your reader's attention and intrigue them enough so that they feel compelled to buy your novel above others. If your book description is boring, rambling, or self-congratulatory these are all reasons why it might not be selling.
The Fix: Read as many book descriptions in your genre as you can. Doing so will show you what to emulate- commonalities, structure, and what kind of plot points are emphasized. Once you've seen a wide selection it will be easier to write a great description of your own. Already published? No problem. This is a simple update that can make a huge difference. It's a good idea to assess your description periodically for it's effectiveness and tweak when needed.
Mistake #9: Incorrect Formatting
Publishing typically means that you're going to be uploading your manuscript to multiple platforms. These platforms all have their own requirements and formatting differences that you'll have to pay close attention to. These standards exist for a reason. They are there to ensure the quality and uniformity of the product being offered (in this case, your book). When you're not a formatting expert, this can be one of the more frustrating aspects of book publishing. It can also be challenging for anyone who isn't particularly tech-savvy. Incorrect formatting can be your book's downfall because, like grammar errors, avid readers will pick apart any mistakes that are made. Issues like graphics being out of alignment, too much blank space, wonky paragraph and section breaks, and a lack of uniform line spacing can all impact the way your book is read and perceived.
The Fix: Begin by double-checking all the requirements necessary for each platform you plan to upload to. Pay particular attention to the type of file uploads you can use, as these vary. Then consider which suits your book best, especially if you have lots of photos involved. Next step, consider your formatting at large. Is it clean? Is it simple? These are the standards you should aim for. Not sure if your format is what it should be? You can always hire a professional to help you sort things out.
Mistake #10: Charging The Wrong Price
When evaluating how much to price your book, base your assessment off marketing research, not how much you personally think your book is worth. It sounds silly, but many authors choose their pricing based off what they think it should sell for or what will ultimately balance out their publishing expenses. Unwittingly they wind up preventing their book from selling because it's not competitively priced. Another common mistake is failing to realize that there are different price points that work for different types of media. Pricing a paperback version of a book is different than a hardcover version due to production costs. Pricing an Ebook is different from an audiobook and so on.
The Fix: It's a tricky decision to make. Charging too much will ensure you'll never sell a copy. Pricing it too low may generate some sales, but then it won't be worth the cost it took to produce it in the first place. Then there's the added issue of perception. Readers may think your book is cheap because it isn't any good, which then hurts your author reputation. The best approach is to research what books in each format are selling for (on average) within your genre. This will vary depending on your niche. You'll quickly see a pattern. Choose a price that fits within the medium range for the best results. Also consider that using discounts and sale prices to generate interest is a double-edge sword. While it is effective in the moment, it can discourage buyers who will wait till they know a sale is coming to purchase your next novel.
Mistake #11: Lazy Or No Marketing
Publishing a book is not the end of a writer's journey, rather it is only the beginning. Few authors truly understand what they're signing up for before they publish. The excitement of producing a novel and sharing it with the world becomes the focus and everything else takes a backseat. Flash forward to three months post-release. The reality begins to set in and the realization that their book isn't going to sell itself sets in. Cue panic. This is the moment where authors tend to take two routes. Either they pull themselves together and take on the daunting task of marketing or they choose to ignore it altogether and then complain when their book flops. Then there are the authors who fall in between. Those who take some steps to promote their novel but then are convinced it will be too hard to continue so then they quit. If this sounds familiar, your issue may be a lack of knowledge.
The Fix: Many of us dream of being "discovered". The reality can be jarring in comparison, especially for an Indie author whose journey is a constant, laborious upward climb. Knowing what your responsibilities are is half the battle. It's your duty as an author, Indie or not, to actively be talking about, promoting, and spreading the word about your book. If the public doesn't know it exists then nothing will come of it. Marketing is the art of communicating to your ideal reader that your book is ready to be purchased and why they should choose your book over others that are similar. Utilizing social media to help spread the word, even before you publish, is a good way to start. Share your writing journey, your progress, details about your characters and story. The more you share and encourage other writers on their journeys, the better off you'll be.
To learn more about book marketing visit the archive of marketing posts on this site. We cover all things book marketing, from how to build your author platform, social media tips, book launches and more.
Need more structure and personalized help? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and inquire about our Marketing Coaching for Indie Authors. We can help provide you with the knowledge and support you need to succeed!
Mistake #12: Selling Through Only One Distributor
Limiting yourself to one seller can hinder your growth. While it makes sense to focus on one at a time, eventually you should consider expanding. Visibility is one reason why. Different people use different sellers. By publishing your book on multiple you are expanding your reach and allowing potential new readers to find it. When authors don't sell through different avenues, it's typically because they aren't aware of what the options are. It also takes extra time and work, which can be discouraging. However, the benefits of further sales is simply too good to pass up if you're serious about making your author business profitable.
The Fix: Explore your options. Only when you know what's out there can you decide what's best for your business. Investigate places like IngramSpark, Amazon, Smashwords, and Digital2Digital. Keep in mind that you have various forms to work with (physical copies, Ebooks, audiobooks, etc). Each of these formats have multiple places where you can share and publish your work, each with fresh audiences waiting for you to tap into.
For a comprehensive guide, we recommend Jane Friedman's How to Get Your Book Distributed: What Self-Published Authors Need to Know.
Mistake #13: Giving Up
Undoubtedly the worst of all these mistakes is giving up. Experiencing feelings of defeat, failure, and disappointment when your first book doesn't meet expectations is normal. In the grand scheme of self-publishing it's not uncommon to hear stories of Indie authors whose first novels were more exercises in learning rather than instant successes. What matters is what you do in the face of adversity. While giving up is an a option, it's not the only path.
The Fix: Keep going! There's a reason why authors have to be resilient. It's in the nature of this business to pass out rejection like it's candy. You have to learn how to be thick-skinned, how to rise up from disappointment, and like a Phoenix keep reinventing your work with fresh invention. You will see this natural cycle of emotions play out in all aspects of writing. There will be good and bad days, trials and triumphs. Typically it takes an Indie author several novels into their career to begin seeing any kind of real success. Know that you are not alone and that better days are ahead the more you learn, friend. Don't give up.
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