The 5 Biggest Self-Publishing Mistakes I Have Made

The Dumbest Mistakes I Have Made As A Self-Published Author

I have made a lot of mistakes.

But I prefer to call them, experience.

There was no instruction book to follow. So when I began self-publishing, way back when, there was no choice other than to use trial and error.

There were lots of trials and even more errors. But perhaps my experience can help you avoid a few very common self- publishing mistakes when you write and publish a book.

There are no self-publishing rules

For authors new to self-publishing, there is still no rulebook.

But at least now there is a mountain of advice available online.

You can follow established authors, technical blogs, Facebook groups, and social media writing forums.

Don’t rush into publishing a print on demand paperback or ebook. I would always advise a new author to do a lot of research about the publishing process first.

But to give you a quick shortcut, here is a list of the worst mistakes I have made over the years. Hopefully, they will be ones new authors will avoid making.


1. Oh look, I made my own book covers.

I have kept copies on file of some of the cringe-worthy covers I created when I first started publishing ebooks. I keep them because they are a reminder of how dreadfully awful they were.

One look at them would drive readers away in droves, which probably happened back then.

It took a couple of years for me to realize my mistake. I finally understood that paying for a book cover designed by a professional designer was money well spent.

Strangely enough, it was soon after I shelled out some money on my book covers that my book sales increased. Odd coincidence, huh?

There is another angle to this, though. I know a few authors, who publish a lot of titles.

They have invested in learning how to use Photoshop so they can design and produce their own covers.

Book covers often need updating or refreshing.

So spending some time and money on learning how to produce top-quality book cover design can be a wise investment in the long-term.


2. Oh dear, I thought I could proofread.

Hey, I’m an English teacher, so, of course, I know how to proofread.

How wrong I was. It only took a few bad reviews, and a lot of embarrassment, for me to realize the errors of my ways.

There is absolutely no way that a writer can accurately proofread their own writing, no matter their ability or qualification.

Sure, you can find some grammatical errors, typos, and make notes for revision. But a writer’s brain is an odd beast.

It can so easily ignore the obvious. Even in a short text such as a book description, which is a real disaster.

Proofreading is hard work. You can ask friends and family to help you.

Never publish a book until it has been proofread by as many sets of eyes as you can get. If you can afford a professional editor, so much the better.

But the rush to publish is a sales killer. So wait, wait, and wait until your manuscript is error and typo-free.


3. Oh, it’s easy. Book promotion and marketing is only about using social media.

Like many authors, after publishing my first ebook, I popped it on Facebook and Twitter. I thought that book sales would roll in.

They didn’t, so I increased the regularity of posting my brilliant new ebook on Facebook and Twitter. In desperation, I started blasting out my brilliant new ebook every hour.

It had to work because there are millions of potential readers on social media, aren’t there?

Twitter was very new back then. A nice guy I was following gave me some sage advice. “Blasting your book won’t work, Derek. Unless your aim is to be unfollowed by 1,000s.” 

He was right, but luckily, I was only unfollowed by 100s, because my Twitter account was very small.

It took me a while to understand that social media is about interacting, engaging, informing, and entertaining.

It’s about making friends and contacts. It is not about screaming, “buy my book, or else!”

Book marketing is a broad term.

But generally, it is about blogging, commenting, interacting, informing, participating, using metadata, reading, learning, knowing your target audience, and yes, paying for some book advertising.

I found out that a book marketing plan involves spending – both time and a little bit of money.


4. Oh, I think I’ll pop my ebook back on KDP Select for a while.

Amazon exclusive or open publish?

This choice was not even a consideration when I first started. But when Amazon introduced KDP Select and demanded ebook exclusivity, it created a dilemma.

For quite a few years, I was trying to get the best of both worlds by having some titles in KDP Select, and some not. And then switching them around every few months or so.

It wasn’t until Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited that I sat down and had a long think, and did some research.

What I learned was that by continuously moving my ebooks in and out of retailers, it meant that my titles never had time to gain traction.

For example, each time I removed a title from iBooks to move it back into KDP Select, all my sales data was lost on iBooks. So the next time I returned the title, it started from scratch.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both Amazon exclusive and open publishing. But chopping and changing is not a good idea.

Make up your mind as to which is the best solution for you in the long-term. Then stay exclusive to Amazon, or remain open published.

The only exception to this is a new title. It can often gain traction on Amazon in its first few months by being exclusive and available on Kindle Unlimited.

But after one or two KDP Select terms, it can then be open-published.

You can try to find new readers and perhaps price your book differently on some retailers to see if certain price points work.


5. Oh, how I love writing in different genres.

I have a big admission here. This is my most serious mistake, and I am still making it and paying for it.

Readers like to know what to expect when they buy a book and have very decided genre preferences. Successful self-published authors, and particularly romance authors, really, really, understand this.

I can give the example of a very famous author who wrote some books about a wizard called Harry. After all her success and money, she had the insatiable urge to write in a different genre.

Alas, the detective novels didn’t go so well, and Harry has made an unsurprising return.

Readers love what they love to read. Think Ian Rankin and Rebus. Today, series ebooks do very well and offer many marketing advantages.

Sure, writing in different genres is challenging and fun. But it is not necessarily a great recipe for financial success.

I do have some best selling books, which you should notice here that I have not classified as bestselling in one word. They are a four-book series of science fiction farce. I should write a fifth, I know, but I haven’t.

But in between, I write books in other genres. They didn’t go quite so well.



I only picked five of my dumbest mistakes. If I had listed all of them, this blog post would have extended to book-length.

However, by avoiding these big five mistakes, I hope you will make headway much faster than I did. Even if you have already published your book, you can improve it.

If you want to write books and then sell your books, know that book buyers only buy top-quality books. They will settle for nothing less.

They don’t differentiate between books by traditional publishers and self-publishers. They just want a great book to read.


More reading: How To Find Amazon Keywords For Kindle Ebooks And Books

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent teaching English and writing, as well as testing and taming new technology.

15 thoughts on “The 5 Biggest Self-Publishing Mistakes I Have Made

  • April 25, 2018 at 9:07 pm

    Thanks for sharing… some of these mistakes are my greatest lessons learned.

  • February 4, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    Sage advice. However, while I think it’s true that writing across genres is bad for marketing, I have really enjoyed writing four books with such different styles and settings. My sales are dire, but do I really want to spend the precious few hours I get to write becoming a marketing formula? Life is too short. If it was only about sales, I’d sit down and hammer out some generic slasher fiction (maybe even featuring,oooh, I dunno, let’s say a maveric ex-cop with a special forces background) add a dash of sex and have done with it.

  • December 15, 2017 at 12:04 am

    I don’t necessarily agree with classifying all of them as ‘dumb things’, but I guess it’s down to a personal point of view. However, yeah, trying to create your own covers and *chuckle* proofreading yourself is something many self-published authors do. And the end result is surprisingly easy to imagine.

  • September 3, 2017 at 3:42 am

    This was super helpful (+ funny). Thanks!

  • May 7, 2017 at 12:24 pm


    • November 21, 2016 at 10:16 pm

      There are a lot of articles about KDP on our blog, so happy reading, and learning, Elise!

  • August 27, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    This is a great article. Such honesty.

  • August 25, 2016 at 10:42 pm

    This post made me chuckle. You certainly aren’t the only one to do these things! Sometimes it really is a matter of learning from your mistakes.


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