Self-Publish Like a Pro: 7 Mistakes New Authors Make and How to Avoid Them
The world of self-publishing can be overwhelming, and there is an abundance of conflicting advice around the internet-wild-west that can leave your head spinning. However, most publishing industry professionals would agree that there are several common mistakes we see from new authors and indie book publishers. Take note of these mistakes so that you can ensure your self-published book is produced in the most professional way possible. (Hint: Your book should look like it was produced by a big New York publishing house.)
Self-Publishing Mistake #1: Unprofessional Cover Design
Like it or not, the old adage that we judge a book by its cover is one hundred percent true. One of the best ways to overcome some of the stigma that exists around self-publishing is to have an experienced book cover designer create a dazzling cover for your book.
Book covers have many elements that us non-graphic designers can’t begin to understand. Font sizes should be legible when the cover is viewed in a small thumbnail online, there shouldn’t be too many graphic elements, and colors should be balanced. Scroll through a list of New York Times bestsellers and you’ll see the beauty and simplicity in the covers.
Please, please, please do not let your cousin, sister, friend’s aunt, or an inexpensive overseas contractor design the part of your book that is going to make the first impression with potential readers. Invest in a cover that impresses your potential readers.
Self-Publishing Mistake #2: Lack of Editing
Hands down, one of the biggest mistakes self-published authors make is skimping on editing. Unfortunately, just because your cousin is a high school English teacher or your sister is an avid reader, it doesn’t mean either is qualified to edit your manuscript.
Professional editing is essential to the success of your book. Not only will pro editors make your manuscript better, they will follow industry standard style guides that most people don’t even know about. There are several different types of editing:
- Developmental Editing – The editor suggests changes to the storyline, character development, and other areas that need improvement, and then the author incorporates changes and works with the editor on a collaborative basis.
- Substantive Editing – The editor rewrites portions of the manuscript to improve the flow, clarify points, and generally make the work better.
- Copy Editing – The editor focuses on sentence structure, removing redundancies, improving word usage and providing alternative words that strengthen the work.
- Proofreading – The final phase of editing to check for grammar, spelling and punctuation errors.
While not all writers need developmental or even substantive editing, every manuscript will benefit from copy editing and proofreading. And because editing is a human function and no editor is perfect, ideally you should have at least two professional editors (people who edit manuscripts for a living) review your work before it goes press.
Editing is often the most expensive part of publishing a book because it is labor-intensive. However, it’s also the most worthwhile investment you can make in the success of your book.
Self-Publishing Mistake #3: Wrong Publishing Company Name
If you are publishing your book with a print-on-demand publisher, be sure to establish your own publishing company name. Allowing your brand to be associated with “big box” self-publishing services instantly tells media pros and potential readers that you’re self-published.
When deciding on a publishing company name, choose something that sounds like a legitimate publishing company. If your name is Annie Author, avoid using something like “Annie’s Publishing Co.” Remember, the goal is to create a professionally-produced book that doesn’t look like it was self-published.
Self-Publishing Mistake #4: Problematic Typesetting
The interior pages of your book should be professionally laid out (typeset) by a graphic designer who works with book formatting on a daily basis. Typesetting a book for printing is usually done with graphic design software, and pagination is a big part of the process. Chapters need to start on the right, chapter headings need to be consistent throughout, fonts and paragraph spacing need to be consistent. If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you may be able to do this on your own, but this is a function that is often better left to the pros.
Also, note that fonts should be in the serif family for easier reading—and to ensure the book looks professional. Readers don’t want to spend hours reading books typeset in Arial fonts or Comic Sans.
Self-Publishing Mistake #5: Weak Jacket Copy
The description of your book that goes on the jacket is typically the same sales copy that will be published on Amazon, BN.com, etc. This description is often your only chance to convince a reader to buy the book, which means that it must convince a potential reader to fork over some cash.
For nonfiction, jacket copy should explain the benefits for the reader. For memoir and fiction, the copy should highlight a compelling story. If you’re not experienced with copywriting, this is an important element that you may want to outsource to a freelancer.
Self-Publishing Mistake #6: Erroneous Book Pricing
A sure sign of a self-published book is when its price doesn’t align with others in its genre. For example, if you’ve authored a short, 100-page self-development book, don’t price the paperback at $24.99. When you do a little research into the genre, you’ll find that a short nonfiction book will more likely land in the $14.99 price range.
You also need to make sure you allow for enough margin to make a profit. Using the same example, your 100-page trade paperback will likely have a wholesale cost between $3 to $5, depending on your printer. When you set the retail price at $14.99, Amazon and other retailers will typically take around 50% off the cover price, thus paying you $7.50 for the book. If your wholesale price is $4.00, you will earn $3.50 per book. Make sure to run these calculations before setting your retail price.
Self-Publishing Mistake #7: Forgotten Marketing
Waiting until the book is published is the absolute worst time to think about marketing. Ideally, your book marketing plans should begin as far in advance as possible. This can mean months or years before the book is released. Do yourself a favor and start building a marketing plan long before your next book becomes available.
Stephanie Chandler is the author of several books including The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan: The Professional Guide to Profitable Self-Publishing and The Nonfiction Book Marketing Plan: Online and Offline Promotion Strategies to Build Your Audience and Sell More Books. Stephanie is also founder and CEO of the Nonfiction Authors Association, a vibrant community for writers, and the Nonfiction Writers Conference, the only event of its kind conducted entirely online. A frequent speaker at business events and on the radio, she has been featured in Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek, and Wired magazine. See also: @steph__chandler and @NonfictionAssoc on Twitter and Facebook.com/NonfictionAuthorsAssociation.