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Publetariat Dispatch: The 7 Worst Mistakes Of Indie Authors And How To Fix Them

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author and publishing consultant Joanna Penn offers a list of common self-publisher mistakes and how to ensure they don’t happen to you.

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?

For example,

* 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 pro editor, and take their advice, your book will  improve beyond anything you could imagine. I’ll go further and say you  need 2 editors – a developmental one for the structure of the book, and a  copy-editor for the line detail and cleanup. Pentecost went through 3  editors in the end and I have just engaged a fourth to help me improve  my writing further.

More on editors here.

(3) Not getting professional 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. Check out Joel at The Book Designer or Derek Murphy’s CreativIndie book covers here.

If you really want to DIY, then read everything on including the Ebook Cover Design Awards so you can understand what works. You can also check out Ant Puttee at

After evaluating my sales numbers and deciding that I don’t want an amateur product, I have decided to pursue ebook only for my books going forward. Your book publishing choice is up to you, but just make sure it is professional.

(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.

<— Me in 2008 with way too many print books


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 the  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.

Also, check out this infographic for some great comparisons of offset vs print on demand.

(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.

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.

Me at Channel 9, Australia———————————->

My advice here is to give something a try for 6 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 stick at it.


(7) Focusing everything into one book

This is something I have only learned recently, and perhaps we can’t learn this except through our own experience.

When Pentecost 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. It has now sold  over 30,000 copies which is a modest success but more importantly, the  sales figures have increased again with the launch of Prophecy. I can  expect the same pattern on the release of future books too as new  readers find me through the increased “shelf space”.

I am also understanding 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 one  book isn’t as important as getting on with the next.

I’d love to hear your comments. Do you agree with these mistakes and what else can you add?


This is a reprint from Joanna Penn‘s The Creative Penn.


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