The Top 10 Mistakes Writers Make When Self-Publishing a Book


In twenty-five years I’ve written twelve books. The first ten were traditionally published. However, when the publisher of my book, Enchantment, couldn’t fulfill an order for 500 ebook copies, I decided to self-publish my next book, What the Plus!

This experience taught me that self-publishing is a complex, idiosyncratic, and challenging endeavour—as Steve Jobs said, “There must be a better way. ” I wrote my latest book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book, to simplify and optimize the self-publishing process for others.

Along this journey, I’ve compiled a list of the top ten mistakes that writers, myself included, make when self-publishing a book. Here they are so that you can at least make new mistakes— if not avoid mistakes altogether.

  1. Writing for the wrong reason. The most common wrong reason to write a book is to make a lot of money. Statistically, you’re heading for disappointment. Instead, you should write a book for good reasons such as you have something valuable to say, you have a cause you want to further, or you want to meet the intellectual challenge of writing a book.
  2. Not hiring a professional copy editor. When I turned in the final copy of APE, I thought there were no mistakes in it. The copy editor found 1,400—that’s right: one thousand four hundred. Writing and copy editing are two different skills—just like the best salesman doesn’t make the best sales manager nor the best player make the best coach.
  3. Designing your own cover. The cover is one of the most important marketing pieces for your book, so hiring a great graphics designer is money well spent. The beauty pageant that is Amazon web pages displays fifteen to twenty covers at a time. With a graphic the size of a postage stamp, you need to entice people to click.
  4. Not building your marketing platform in advance. Self-publishing is not a serial process where you can write a book and then worry about marketing it later. You need to start building a marketing platform as soon as you start writing because the process takes a year. You should already have thousands of followers on social media on the day that you ship.
  5. Using a word processor other than Microsoft Word. Admittedly, Word is a beast, and you will need to wrestle it to the ground. There are cheaper and more elegant word processors, but nothing has the paragraph styles capability of Word nor the universal acceptance from the reviewers, testers, editors, designers, and resellers that you’ll use downstream.
  6. Inadequately testing your ebook. Do not assume that if your ebook looks right on one platform that it will look right on all the others. You can’t even assume that if your book looks good on a Kindle tablet that it will look good on a Kindle app. The only way to truly know is to examine your book on each platform.
  7. Selling only an ebook version. The ebook format is kicking butt in adult fiction. If you write for any other genre, you should still produce a paper version. The paper version of Enchantment, a non-fiction business book, outsells the ebook version by a factor of three to one.
  8. Depending solely on social media and word of mouth. Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn are powerful and inexpensive marketing methods, but old-fashioned PR is still necessary. There is no doubt in my mind that spending $10,000-15,000 on a PR campaign is a good investment.
  9. Not tapping the crowd. The crowd is a beautiful thing—there are always people out there who know more than you do and who are willing to help for the intrinsic value of helping a fellow human being. I tap the crowd for feedback at three stages: outline, first draft, and final draft. The crowd has pointed out thousands of mistakes and suggested hundreds of improvements to APE.
  10. Having only one plan. There are at least three plans to getting your book published: Plan A is to find a traditional publisher; Plan B is to self-publish; and Plan C is to implement Plan B in order to attract a traditional publisher and reinstate Plan A. There is no right and wrong; there is only what works for you and what doesn’t, so be flexible.

by Guy Kawasaki

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Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.