24 Self Publishing Mistakes to Avoid Like the Plague and How to Fix Them

self publishing mistakesAre you struggling in your self-publishing business?

The first thing I want to tell you is that you’re not alone. I’ve worked with dozens of indie authors since 2016, and ALL of them were struggling in multiple ways.

Those struggles are usually the result of making one or more of the following self publishing mistakes.

You’re also not alone there. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes since I got into self-publishing too.

I’ve outlined them all here, so you can avoid them like the plague!

The Self Publishing Mistakes That Could Ruin Your Business

This list is massive, so I will not waste any time. We’re just going to jump in!

1. Bad Book Titles

bad book titles

Early in my self-publishing career, I created clever book titles. The problem was no one ever enjoyed my efforts. Truthfully, no one was looking for my books.


Because the book titles sucked.

You can have the most brilliant book titles…but if you aren’t saying exactly what your audience is searching for online, then you’re screaming into a pillow.

Am I saying you should put keywords in your book title?

Only when it fits. If your title looks like this: Romeo and Juliet : Star-Crossed Lovers Suicide Died Suicide Pact, it looks like a lunatic wrote it and says “Avoid me, I’m an amateur!”

How to Fix It

  • Don’t rush
  • You’re a writer, WRITE your title
  • Let it rest. Walk away and come back later. Does it still sound good? Then it might be!
  • Ask someone else! I have a Facebook Group that is GREAT for this kind of feedback and so much more – join the conversation – https://dalelinks.com/facebook

2. Crappy Book Cover Designs

crappy book covers

All readers judge a book by its cover, so don’t pass off amateur graphic design for a five-star classic.

Amazon Cover Creator and online cover designing software come with pre-formatted cover designs that just don’t cut the ketchup. I’d be amazed if a crap cover could even draw money, much less flies.

If you aren’t a cover designer, then hire an experienced professional. And, if you don’t have the money, then raise the funds to hire a good cover designer.

The investment is worth it and your payday will reflect the quality of your cover.

How to Fix It

  • If you’ve shopped book cover designers, then you know it can be crazy expensive. Try someone from my vetted list of cover designers on Fiverr – https://dalelinks.com/bookcovers. My favorite is OliviaProDesign for her affordability and amazing designs! 5 bucks for an eBook cover!
  • See it in action – https://youtu.be/8X-SLk9KrY0

3. Overpricing

Assuming you have a great book title and cover, but you’re still not seeing any sales…you may need to re-examine how you are pricing your books.

I get it, you’ve just birthed this gigantic project, and it feels like it’s worth about $3 million; however, if you are not a celebrity or an established author, then you need to price your book accordingly.

Amazon royalties are complicated. For example, eBooks priced below $2.99 are automatically set at the 35% royalty. To get the 70%, you must price your eBook between $2.99 and $9.99. If you exceed $9.99, you get bumped back down to 35%.

See what I mean? Complicated.

Print books are a little easier.

Royalties for print books are 60% across the board. 40% for expanded distribution, meaning sales through bookstores, online retailers, libraries, and academic institutions.

How to Fix It

  • Search books in your niche on Amazon, and price yours accordingly, keeping the above in mind
  • Adjust as needed

4. Lack of Real Editing

Depending on the online retailer, your customer may have the opportunity to return your book with no questions asked. If your book is rubbish, then they can send it back.

The most common reason I see poor reviews on a book is a lack of editing. Much like a good cover designer, hiring an experienced editor is a necessity.

Publishing garbage on the market does NOT build a long term sustainable self-publishing business.

Readers see through hack work and aren’t afraid to share their thoughts on poor writing.

Without good professional editing, your book is doomed to eventual failure.

I would not be true to my DIY roots if I didn’t say this: you can self-edit if you are cash-strapped. Not everyone will agree with me, and some will be flat out offended, but it’s true.

Keep in mind that self-editing will take care of 90% of your grammar and spelling errors, but will not help with flow, development, etc. These are all things a professional editor does.

Self-Editing Workflow

  1. Proof your book using a tool like ProWritingAid.
  2. Paste it into https://hemingwayapp.com/ and run through the suggestions. This is an additional and separate run-through than the one you did with PWA.
  3. Go through with PWA again.
  4. Go backwards, one sentence at a time. Make sure each sentence is complete and punctuated correctly, completely out of context.
  5. Go through and read it forward again.
  6. Ask a friend or relative to read it and report and typos they see.
  7. Fix what they find as you go through again with PWA.

By the time you’re done, you’ve been through your book 6 times. This is your best work!

How to Fix It

  • Hire an editor from our vetted list on Fiverr – https://dalelinks.com/list
  • Use the method above to self-edit your book
  • Do both!

5. Reckless Spending

self publishing mistakeA lot of times, this comes down to the time vs. money paradigm.

If you have more money than time, you tend to want to throw money at everything in your self-publishing business. If you have more time, then you want to DIY it.

Here’s the deal, veteran self-publishers have enough monthly income to scale their business. So, they can hire virtual assistants, multiple freelance writers, cover designers, and editors.

However, if you are new to self-publishing, then save your money and build your business one brick at a time. This means you should only hire out if it’s necessary.

Let me clarify…

In self-publishing, it’s beneficial to do everything yourself at first (I’m not talking about cover design). Not only to save money but also so you understand what self-publishing entails. You should only hire someone if the learning curve is steep enough that it will take you weeks or months to learn something or if it’s a matter of expertise, like book covers. Definitely hire someone!

Once you have consistently broken about a thousand dollars or more per month, then consider scaling your business by hiring out the more minor tasks.

How to Fix It

  • Keep a vigilant eye on your bottom line, especially when you’re just starting out. Any one of the mistakes in this list could tank your profits and put you in the red. Do your due diligence so that doesn’t happen to you.
  • Do everything you can yourself and hire out the rest.
  • Don’t spend more than you can stand to lose a.k.a. spend your rent on self-publishing books. Bad move!

6. Chasing Trends

Adult coloring, erotica romance, and no-content paperback books have been the all the rage lately.

Naturally, once self-publishers see the market trends shift, they adjust their business model to accommodate these changes. This business practice is a never-ending battle to keep up with the ever-changing trends.

Self-publishers whose business is chasing trends are running on the proverbial hamster wheel. You will get instant gratification, but never establish a brand by trying to keep up with the market interest.

By building a brand and growing a reading audience, you have a greater chance of survival and sustainability.

How to Fix It

  • Stick to what you know and love
  • Build a brand around it

7. Your Description Sucks

You can have the best cover in the world, but if you don’t optimize your book description, no one will buy it.

If you’re getting clicks to your book page, your cover and keywords are doing their jobs. If you’re not getting sales, your description is most likely to blame.

It doesn’t have to be long or detailed, but it needs to be intriguing. That curiosity is what will trigger the buy.

How to Fix It

  • Look at books on Amazon in your niche. Look at their descriptions. Take notes. What makes you want to buy the book? What format is easy to read? What length provides just enough information and adequate intrigue?
  • Go to your local bookstore or library and read the synopsis on the back of books in your genre
  • Follow Brian Meeks’ template from Book Rescue. Links to his free template and his contact info are linked in this post – https://bookrescueshow.com/amazon-book-descriptions/

8. No Proof of Concept

If you want to sell books, you can’t just write whatever and publish it. You have to do some type of market research and analysis to ensure your book has the potential to make sales.

I can’t imagine anything more disappointing than sinking a ton of money, time, and effort into your magnum opus just to watch it fizzle into oblivion because there’s currently no market demand for underwater basket weaving or whatever.

How to Fix It

  • Take some time to find out what’s selling in your genre
  • Find out what readers want to read
  • Plan a strategy on reaching your audience
  • Size up your competition!

If you can’t do it on the level or above of what’s already there, head back to the drawing board.

9. Bad Timing

Hey! You might want to rethink launching your summer romance book in November! I’m just saying!

I’ve seen it hundreds of times. People launching books at completely the wrong time. I’m not sure why everyone is in such a rush when it comes to self-publishing, but one of the best tips I can offer is to slow down!

Think about what you’re doing! No one is reading your Christmas book that you waited until Christmas day to release.

How to Fix It

10. No Follow Through with Your Launch

You set the date for your book release. *confetti* It’s exciting! You’ve been telling your family and friends. You’ve set up your pre-order.

Then, you lose momentum.

You drop the ball and all of that buzz you managed to build dies out and you miss your launch date. This will be detrimental to your book business. The next time you try to build excitement around your book, no one will put any stock in it.

That one miss of the mark will make you unreliable to potential readers.

How to Fix It

  • If you set the date, release no matter what
  • Follow through!

11. Improper Formatting

Whether you’re publishing an eBook, print book, or both, if it looks like hot garbage, your readers will not be happy. You will end up with bad reviews and probably some returns as well.

eBook formatting is pretty easy and I’ll include a tutorial link below. Print books are a bit complicated and you may want to hire someone, especially if you have a lot of images. As usual, you can find providers on Fiverr at affordable rates.

If you are hellbent on DIYing it, then you’ll want to get some software like Atticus, Affinity Publisher, or InDesign and learn to use it.

The bottom line is that properly formatting your book is a bare minimum requirement for any hope of self-publishing success.

How to Fix It

12. No ARC Team

No what?

You’re not handing out advanced reader copies to get feedback from people who’ve actually read your book before you publish it.

Your ARC team is kind of like beta testing your book. It’s also how you get reviews on launch day, so assemble a team willing to support that in exchange for a free read.

I get it. You’re scared of criticism. No one wants to be told their baby is ugly. It’s better to get these criticisms out of the way NOW than in the review section of your book’s sales page on Amazon!

How to Fix It

13. You’re Not Actively Marketing Your Book(s)

If I had a dollar for every time someone wondered why their books weren’t selling, I would be a rich man. As independent authors, we have to do it all. That means the marketing too!

Most of us hate it. After all, the fun part for us is the writing!

So, I get it, but if no one knows about your book, then how can you expect anyone to buy it? You’ve got to be shouting about it from the mountaintops.

Are you second-guessing your decision to self-publish? Even traditional publishers are asking authors to help get the word out about their books these days.

Any way you toss it, you’re going to have to market your book to make sales. It’s black and white.

How to Fix It

14. You’re Publishing on Amazon Only

While the exact figures are all over the place, it’s no secret that Amazon corners the market for eBooks. That’s how this whole self-publishing revolution got started. Amazon released the first Kindle in 2008. Along with it, they also amassed a library of free books from the public domain to get everyone started.

Amazon KDP launched in November of 2007 opening up the eBook market for the average Joe. It’s been in a revisionist state ever since trying to keep things professional.

Publishing to Amazon makes a lot of sense; however, you shouldn’t stop there. There are plenty of other markets out there and if you don’t get your book on them, you’re leaving money on the table.

How to Fix It

  • Use an aggregate publisher like https://draft2digital.com in addition to KDP to get your book on all the other main selling platforms, in bookstores, and libraries

15. Failing to Leverage Your Personal Network

I’ve said it more than once…friends and family tend to make really bad customers, but they make amazing megaphones and cheerleaders.

Just because you can sell them a book doesn’t mean you should.

Every aspect of your network, including your friends and family, has the potential to help you reach new audiences.

How to Fix It

  • Ask your friends and family to share your posts about your books when they encounter them in the wild on social media

16. You Quit

The going got tough, so you got going.

Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart. It’s an enormous commitment. Once you complete the monumental task of writing your book, you’re stuck with every other aspect of getting it sold.

It’s overwhelming.

I understand why you quit. We’ve all thought about it.

There’s a lot of moving parts. Heck, look at this giant list of 23 mistakes that might sabotage your efforts. I don’t mean to go full cliche on you, but if at first you don’t succeed, say it with me: try, try again!

How to Fix It

  • Don’t rush the process. Take your time
  • Try again. Your next book will be better!

17. You Have No Brand

Not to beat a dead horse, but the name of the game in online business these days is brand building. If you want people to remember you, you need to be memorable.

I know. You didn’t know you were signing up for all this when you decided to write a book.

Self-publishing is a business. Businesses need a brand. In my opinion, the brand part is easier than the marketing and makes the marketing easier since you’ll have something to market!

Here’s What You Need

  • A logo – This might be a graphic that represents your brand or even a professional headshot. Both would be ideal. You need an image to represent your brand that you can use everywhere.
  • Social Media – A Facebook Page and Twitter Profile at minimum. If you’re crunched for time, start with one platform. Consistency is more important than quantity.
  • Website – You need a central hub for all of your information and content that you own. I recommend self-hosted WordPress and Namecheap is a cost-effective way to get it.
  • Media KitCanva actually has a template to help you build your media kit. Download as a PDF and upload to your website!

18. Bad Categories and Keywords

If you master Amazon keyword research, then you will master discoverability.

Categories and keywords are important elements of your metadata and really some of the easiest stuff to nail the first time, every time.

The hardest part is finding straightforward and correct information on how to go about it. That’s kind of what I’m doing here! I recently covered both categories and keywords in new blog posts here on SPwD, so…
How to Fix It

19. Your Book is For Everyone

“Heck yeah, it’s for everyone! I want anyone and everyone to buy my book!”

We all do, but here’s the thing, a book that is for everyone could just as easily be for no one. Not to mention, trying to market to everyone is insane.

You will have much greater success by gaining an understanding of your audience and marketing and promoting to them specifically.

How to Fix It

  • See sections above about proof-of-concept and book marketing

20. No Reviews

In their Amazon Advertising course, Amazon states that in order to be retail ready, a product should have a minimum of 15 reviews that are 3.5 stars or greater. Yep, including your books!

I used to advise that you not sweat reviews too much. At the time, there was a lot of review swapping going on, and Amazon was cracking down on that practice.

The best reviews are organic reviews, but it’s tough to meet that 15-review requirement at launch organically.

How to Fix It

21. Rushing

I’ve said it a few times throughout this post, but don’t rush. Rushing any part of the self-publishing process is a bad idea. By doing so, you’re cutting yourself short on the opportunity to create better books.

Take your time. Think things through. Make sure your knowledge is topped off.

How to Fix It

  • Don’t rush!

22. Failure to Plan and Execute an Official Launch

Once you write the book, your job has just begun. Even though the hard part is done, your work is cut out for you. It’s time to plan an effective launch so your book has the springboard it needs to be successful.

How in the heck do you do that?

Grab my checklist!

23. Stopping After One Book

As an author who has built a brand and published a book, you can’t stop there. To truly double down on your success, you need to keep going!

I don’t know any authors who aspire to just write one book and then quit. Pretty much all of us are looking to build a catalog of books. This increases your presence as an author exponentially.

I encourage you to plan out your series and/or additional works before you even publish the first one. Have a plan and run with it!

Authors need to author!

How to Fix It

  • Write more books!
  • Have a plan
  • Plan a series

24. You’re Publishing eBooks Only

The barrier to entry for eBooks is relatively low. They’re easy to format and less complicated all the way around. You might be tempted to put all of your efforts into eBooks and ignore the rest. You won’t be the first author to do so or the last.

If you want to stay digital, I get it, but you must understand that by doing so, you’re leaving a ton of money on the table. Print books are still wildly popular and audiobooks become more popular all the time.

Your competition is probably publishing all three, and you should too!

How to Fix It

  • Expand into print and audio

Success in Self-Publishing

Self-publishing isn’t an easy business; otherwise, everyone would do it and become wealthy in the process.

You can increase the likelihood of success in this business if you minimize the number of mistakes.

Inevitably, you will make errors, but if you take my advice, then you just may prosper quicker than most self-publishers.

This article was originally published to SelfPublishingwithDale.com on Sept. 20, 2016 as 7 Self Publishing Mistakes Killing Your Business.

Scroll to Top