Posted in Self-Publishing, Writing

10 Common Mistakes of Self-Published Writers

oopsOkay, we’ve all made mistakes. And I doubt that there’s a writer among us who has yet to experience a misstep in his or her writing career. Throughout my (long) writing and publishing history, I’ve made my share of doozies (To read about one of them see The dumbest publishing decision I ever made), but to broaden my observations even further, I’ve observed a long litany of mistakes among my fellow authors as well. Here are the ten I believe to be the most common.

  1. Publishing a first (or even second) draft. As a new writer, you might think that your writing is just fine the way you put it onto the page or computer screen. It isn’t. Believing in the infallibility of a first draft is the hallmark of an inexperienced writer. The more experienced you get, the better your writing gets. And the better your writing gets, the more you realize that the first draft (or even second) is not the draft you want ANYONE to read – not even your beta readers. Have a bit of respect for their time.
  2. Failing to take the time for writing practice – without publishing a single word of it. Just like figure skaters, pianists and dancers to name only a few, writers need lots of practice before any of their words should see the light of day. It’s a question of quality.
  3. Believing that basic building blocks of writing – grammar, spelling and syntax come immediately to mind – aren’t important. I’ve actually heard neophyte authors on online forums arrogantly suggest that readers don’t care about these things if the story is a good one. I beg to differ. Many care a lot and you should too. It is impossible to convey the right message/story if you and your readers are not using the language in the same way. Remember the book Eats Shoots and Leaves? If you don’t, you need to read it. Immediately.
  4. Failing to carefully copy-edit. Or even better, failing to hire a professional copy-editor to do it for you. New writers don’t seem to know the difference between a substantive edit (which gets you from draft one to two to three etc.) and a final copy-edit. Every book out there – even ones that are professionally copy-edited – can harbor typos and other errors that are missed at this stage in the publishing process. That doesn’t make it okay for you to publish a book that hasn’t been edited in this fine fashion.
  5. Designing your own book cover (without even a modicum of design experience or talent). If you do have graphic design experience, then I think you should go ahead and design your cover. In fact, you are probably the best one to do it since you know the book intimately. However, without this kind of background, you need to step away to avoid a book cover that makes it onto sites like Lousy Book Covers or in articles like Kindle Cover Disasters: the world’s worst ebook artwork . Readers do garner a lot of information about a book from its cover. Primarily they decide if they want to read it. Or not.
  6. Failing to do a final format check after conversion of a Word file to PDF for publication. I’ll admit it – I’m guilty of this one. Before I realized that PDF’s would read some of the background formatting that I could no longer see in the Word document, I blithely thought that once I had done a final review of the Word document, that was enough. Not so much. That PDF needs a careful final review before hitting the ‘publish’ button.mistakes
  7. Disregarding the importance of writing and carefully editing the book’s online description. Mother of God! How many times have I read online book descriptions with typos?! Sentence structure problems?! Grammatical errors?! Of course not to mention those ones that fail to provide even a modicum of persuasive copy.
  8. Continually tweeting “Buy my book, buy my book.” This is beyond annoying to those of us who would otherwise like to follow your contributions to Twitter. Once in a while it’s fine to promote your book, but don’t do it in every tweet. And don’t do it every single, blasted time you contribute to a LinkedIn Author discussion. This is beyond irritating. (For more on this rant of mine read When book promotion gets annoying.)
  9. Failing to understand that you need to connect to readers online – not a whole lot of other writers who are equally trying to sell their books. Unless your book is directed to writers (uh…hem…some of mine are) you’re barking up the wrong tree.
  10. Apologizing for being self-published. Can we all just stop it? If you write well and provide readers with a quality product that respects them, you don’t need to apologize for how it got into their hands. Readers who love your books don’t care.

I think that creating quality material in whatever genre, and providing it to readers with respect are the two most important parts of being a writer – regardless of who publishes your work.


Reading, writing & publishing. Doing things differently.

11 thoughts on “10 Common Mistakes of Self-Published Writers

  1. I find that the biggest mistake of them all is writing a nonfiction book that nobody wants to read, caring only that you want to get it out there without reaching whether or not anybody wants to read it.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Randi. Do you think it’s really a mistake? I suppose it depends on what you need to accomplish by doing it. There have been many books throughout history that were published and found very little audience. If a book can reach even one “right” person — especially when it’s non-fiction — then, it can’t truly be a mistake.

    2. I’d disagree. My dad sat down, post-retirement, to write a book about his life in aviation. The first thing he did was to start going through his Vietnam logbooks, at which point he finally admitted that maybe he had some PTSD issues he should work through first. 18 months of therapy and collaboration later, I started editing (substantive, copy and proofreading) the manuscript he’d produced. We went through 4 major full-book edits together, then gave it to someone else to go through to catch any mistakes I’d stopped seeing, then finally sent it off to China for printing.

      At the end of the day, the process of writing the book (that – potentially – no one else would ever want to read) was the most valuable thing he could’ve done. Exorcising his demons, putting his stories down on the page – that alone was worth all of our 2 years of effort.

      1. Thanks for stopping by. I’m a bit unclear about what you actually disagree with. Writing can certainly be cathartic, although not everyone believes that writing has to result in publishing. So happy for your dad that the process was so beneficial. Writing can have many benefits for us personally as well as for those with whom we share it. I hope that he is healing well.

  2. Nice advice! I like #8 the best. Constantly tweeting (or Facebooking or any kind of social media-ing) will lose you followers so fast, it’s not even funny. Populate your social media with many things, writing, prompts, real life stuff, advice, anything you’d want to follow/retweet/reblog/share with others if you were following someone.

    1. Thanks, Kellie. Your advice about how to use social media platforms is spot on! I hope all of us can take heed and post the kinds of things we’d all like to read as you suggest.

  3. Sorry for non-clarity. I was responding to Randi’s statement: “I find that the biggest mistake of them all is writing a nonfiction book that nobody wants to read, caring only that you want to get it out there without reaching whether or not anybody wants to read it.”

    To me, that reads as “don’t inflict your vanity project onto the world and then complain when no one buys it”. There are topics and there are topics. Certainly, if you want to pound out a final-Harry-Potter-sized tome on the practices of gerbil-keeping in Elizabethan England, you may not be a person in the best position to gauge the likelihood – or percentage – of the population who might want to read it.

    If the complaint is only about people who electronically “publish” interminably insipid (or horrific) dreck – online-only screeds on almost any topic imaginable – then I understand the frustration.

    If it’s “I do slush reading for The Something and I’m forced to read this stuff and it’s killing my soul”, then I understand the frustration.

    But to suggest that “the biggest mistake of them all is writing a nonfiction book that nobody wants to read” … well, it irritated me.
    (a) writing it and publishing it – online, or hard copy, self- or traditional – are two different things.
    (b) by what standard do you determine that “nobody wants to read” it?

    1. …and then I note that I was prompted to log in again, & it’s moved my Comment from being a “Reply to yours” to “confusing placement of text in a non-linear context”.

      1. Sorry about that! I’m not sure where that comment came from — and a few of my own replies seem to have vanished! Must be a WordPress thing.

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