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8 Mistakes Self-Publishers Make And How to Avoid Them! Guest Article by Peter Bowerman

bowermanblog1Parts 1 and 2 of the Peter Bowerman 3- part series:

How to Turn One Book Into a Full-Time Living | Reflections on Bogus Blurbs, Unreal Reviews, and Manufactured Bestsellers

Mistake #1. You wrote an unnecessary book

Harsh? Perhaps. Honest. Absolutely. Are there already 20 titles on your non-fiction subject? Does the world really need a 21st? If so, how is yours different? Put another way, write a book people will want to read. No books on your subject? That could be good or could mean little market exists for the book.

Mistake # 2. You have a bad book cover

It is categorically impossible to overstate the importance of a good cover. More than 190,000 books are published every year. Those who wholesale, distribute, stock, and review books are constantly looking for reasons to cull the herd. A cover is the easiest place to start. I’ve always been mystified by self-publishers who work so hard on their books and then settle for a crummy cover.

Hire a graphic design pro or, ideally, a full-time cover designer, NOT your cousin who’s artistic and not your printer’s in-house graphic designer. Got a bookstore in the neighborhood? Visit it (with your designer if possible) and study the books in your genre. Figure out what works, what doesn’t and why. Designer can’t join you? Send Amazon links for similar books whose covers you like. A great cover WILL cost you more, but if you’re in this game for the long haul and to make some bucks, it’ll be a pittance.

Mistake # 3.  Your title is lame

Or weak, nondescript, confusing, boring, or bizarre. Written a how-to book? Make your title a promise: show what’s in it for the reader (e.g., The Well-Fed Writer, The One-Minute Manager, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Fix-It-and-Forget-It Cookbook). Entice the reader. If you’re just not creative in terms of titles, hire someone who is, like a professional copywriter.

Mistake # 4.  You didn’t hire an editor and a proofreader

A good editor and proofreader (sometimes the same person) will find lots of glitches you missed and offer tons of constructive suggestions that never occurred to you. You may be a wonderful writer and have great things to say, but if your book is full of errors, no one will read long enough to know that.

Mistake # 5. You think small (Part One)

Since I began my self-publishing adventure in 1999, I’ve read or heard countless accounts of self-publishing “success” in newsletters and at meetings and conferences. Often, the “coup” was getting an independent bookstore to carry a few copies of a book or convincing a library to stock the title or landing a review in some minor publication. Nothing wrong with any of that.

But I say that celebrating any validation from the larger world, no matter how modest, is thinking small. Like all you deserve is the scraps. Lose that mindset. You have every right to be there.

Mistake # 6. You promote the old-fashioned way

The standard book marketing/promotion template calls for hitting up mainstream media to land reviews, articles, radio/TV appearance, etc. That may make sense as part of a marketing campaign for a mainstream book, but if yours is a niche book, here’s the truth: the average media pro doesn’t care about you.

Even if you do have a mainstream book, but you’re an unknown author, chances are still excellent they don’t care about you. An unknown author of a niche book? Fuhgedaboudit.

The better way is targeting via the Internet. In a nutshell, identify your target audiences, figure out where they hang out online, contact the gatekeepers of those sites and work hard to land reviews, blurbs, interviews, green lights to write articles, etc. And then repeat. Over and over again. Speaking of which…

Mistake # 7.  You think small (Part Two)

You’re not going to make your book a commercial success by sending out a few dozen review copies. Think 350-400+. Send out that many with carefully crafted materials to a targeted list, follow up, and something’s gonna happen. Yes, 350-400 sounds daunting (When am I going to have a life? you wail), but keep in mind three things: (1) that was over three or four years; (2) one-third to one-half that number were done in the initial 2-3 month push, and most important, (3) do what I did and hire an intern to handle the marketing grunt work.

I simply set my intern up with standard cut-and-paste email pitches, a list of people to contact, and guidelines for pursuing prospects. All for about $9 an hour. It worked out well.

Mistake # 8. You forgot that you have just ONE job.

Self-publishing doesn’t mean everything falls to you. As a self-publisher you have one job: Build demand for your book. Yes, you need to oversee the book production process (hiring creative pros to handle editing, layout, cover design, indexing, and printing), but once that’s done, most if not all tasks not specifically related to marketing (i.e., to building demand) should be delegated to someone else. That can mean Web design, warehousing, fulfillment, accounting, and more. You’ll be saner, have more fun, and boost your bottom line.


Peter Bowerman is a professional copywriter, self-publishing coach, and the self-published author of The Well-Fed Writer titles (52,000 copies in print and a full-time living for more than seven years; www.wellfedwriter.com). He chronicled his self-publishing success in the award-winning 2007 title, The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. For more details, visit www.wellfedsp.com.

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • jorgekafkazar

    I’ll put it on my list. I’m still early in the process, but I can give a snapshot idea of where the project is and where I think it will go, then update you later on.

  • Jorge, the coop idea sounds like a good one… and if there isn’t a coop in a genre one could be formed. You could write for me about coops too. 😉

  • My thought is that the one-author website won’t hack it unless you’re already famous. For my next book, I’m going with a local coop publisher that has a dozen good authors and does actual publicity in their genre. I’ve already done a short private run via Lulu to get a few pre-publication comment copies out into the target audience, as well as to have some fun with cover design, and so forth.
    jorgekafkazar recently posted..Watcher in the Night decipheredMy Profile

  • Anne


  • Elizabeth West

    I looked it up too…I thought, “Well, I must be skilled then, because I have the most HUGE self-doubts!”

    Elizabeth West

  • Thanks for the wiki link, Anne. I had to look it up, too. 🙂 How hilarious! I know a handful of former clients just like that. LOL

    Lori’s last blog post..Where is the Love?

  • Anne

    lol, sometimes you just can’t help people!

    had to look up the DK effect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning-Kruger_effect

  • I had helped an author find a designer and the cover wasn’t bad. He went to the book store recently though, and claimed that all of the books in his genre were plain white with a horrible font, because that’s what he has revised his cover to look like based on his own research. This is the “new style”, and the previous one was “outdated”, according to him.

    I have to say that these are all great tips. However, unfortunately many self-publishers suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

    Mark Adams’s last blog post..Asking for ID for credit card purchases

  • Anne

    the real challenge in the future I think will be sorting out the dreck from the good stuff… not sure how that’s going to happen… book reviewers may become really necessary or some sort of intermediary to help people find decent books. Wonder if libraries might not fit into this roll?

    So sorry about your friend… had something similar happen and it isn’t pretty.

  • Oh my lord. Peter, I swear you’re in my head. This is exactly the list I’d make after reading one self-published book. Every point but the first one fits the author’s dilemma to a tee. The title is lame. The cover is just, well, embarrassing. Last night as I was reading it (out of friendship), I stumbled upon 11 or 12 errors that a proofreader could have picked up on. I read maybe 25 pages. That’s just unacceptable. Let’s not even go there with the lack of promotion.

    I think others’ mistakes do serve as a very good lesson for the rest of us. Take care in what you write (research the devil out of the market), be ultra-picky (don’t go ga-ga because it’s your first sale), and work your tail off to find new ways to promote (toot your own horn more effectively). I love your point to oversee the production process. Anything that has the writer’s name on it deserves the same care and attention as it had in its creation stages.

    Lori’s last blog post..The Vendor-Client Relationship: Real World Style

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