How to Self-Publish a Book at Any Age: First, Avoid These 5 Mistakes!
Working with first-time authors to complete and publish their work is incredibly rewarding. Helping people nurture and develop a concept, research a subject or share a personal story is exciting for both the author and me, in my role as coach and book shepherd.
Unfortunately, while the opportunity to share your words is expanding – more than 700,000 titles are self-published every year – the chances that you’ll make mistakes along the way are pretty high. Navigating the process is not impossible, even for new authors, but too many people are so eager to share their words that they rush to publish before they’re ready.
Here’s my list of the five most common self-publishing mistakes.
Publishing Without a Marketing and Publicity Plan
As I said in my previous column, you need to strategize ahead of time for how you will attract readers. Whether you’re blogging or tweeting about your book, or speaking about the subject matter, you should start these activities at least several months before your pub date. You want to build interest or buzz around your book so that people will pre-order it on Amazon.
Designing the Book Jacket or Cover Yourself
What’s in a cover, you ask? Look at your favorite books, especially those you have kept for years. In some cases, you may have chosen a book because of the typeface or the image on the jacket. Designing an appealing and strong book cover is not the same as advertising, graphic design or other types of illustrations.
There is a skill to selecting a typeface and creating a design that highlights the title and author’s name. That’s what a professional book designer understands and brings to each book. I’ve seen many self-published books where I couldn’t easily decipher the title or the author’s name because the design was so busy and cluttered.
Remember that potential readers are often looking at a very small image of the book cover on Amazon so readability is key. The costs of having a book cover designs varies greatly; you can solicit designs online or you can use a full-service house that will design the jacket as well as the book’s interior and provide other publishing services.
Not Using an Experienced (and Objective) Editor
Several times a month authors tell me their book is ready to be printed. When I ask whether the material has been edited for content (a development edit) or for grammar (a copy edit), I’m usually told that the book has been through several revisions and the author’s partner, sister-in-law or a pal from college has edited the book. Often, these family or friend editors are not professionals. All authors, even experienced ones, should have a skilled editor review their work.
Authors are too close to their own work to effectively review their words, especially if they have been working on a book for a long time. People tend to skim words or sentences without reading them carefully.
Ideally, authors should be working with editors as they’re writing so they get feedback along the way. A development editor can suggest restructuring of chapters, adding or deleting unnecessary material and using boxes, charts or other elements to strengthen the book.
At the very least, self-published authors should have their works copy edited. Mistakes are easy to catch and with readers able to criticize online, you simply don’t want to risk having readers make comments along the lines of “… great plot but why are there are so many grammar errors or misspelled words?” A good source of freelance editors is Reedsy.com.
Falling in Love with a Title
You know what your book is about and the readers you want to attract so only you can choose the best title for your book, right? That’s not really true.
Everyone wants a memorable title that also conveys what the book is about. There are many unique titles that you recall years after publication. Think of titles like Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus or Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask.
When you self-publish, most of your books will be bought online. Consequently, you want your book title to appear in searches or in certain categories on Amazon. Think about the key words that describe your book and how they could be used in a title or subtitle. I’m not a fan of overly cutesy titles or coining a word or phrase that won’t be recognizable.
When I managed a business book program for a major publisher, I would choose straightforward words rather than something clever. My reasoning: If people want a book about 401(k) plans, they will look for books that have the word “retirement” somewhere in the title. You obviously have more leeway with fiction and/or memoirs but before finalizing your title, you should get feedback. This can be done easily and informally through Facebook or LinkedIn.
Abusing Your Personal and Professional Networks to Promote Your Book
Of course you hope your friends, family and colleagues will buy your book and tell people they know to buy the book. You probably have a good sense of how much of a “favor” you can ask. Your best friend for the past 20 years may be glad to tweet about the book. Your employer may be willing to mention that you’ve written a book in an employee newsletter.
If you are asking for a favor, be direct but don’t make demands. I am acquainted with many, many authors but when I get an email from someone who I don’t know well asking me to purchase a book on a certain day so that his or her book will become an Amazon best-seller, I immediately delete the email.
Be discriminating when you’re asking people to support your book. Perhaps your close friends on Facebook will be more willing to spread the word than, say, your professional contacts. While you want to utilize your network to attract readers beyond your immediate circle of contacts, don’t be obnoxious when you’re asking for support.
Don’t send annoying or demanding mass emails to people who don’t know you well. Don’t reach out to individuals with whom you have no interactions for years and expect them to promote your book.
If you have avoided Mistake #1 and have devised a smart marketing strategy, then you will less likely to make Mistake #5.
Have you self-published your book? What was your experience? I would love to get feedback on what you feel you did well and what you wish you had done differently. Please share in the comments.
Debra W. Englander is a writer, editor and book coach based in New York. She has written for numerous publications and managed a business book program for John Wiley. She writes “The Savvy Self-Publisher” column for Poets & Writers. Follower her on Twitter @DebraEnglander.