Self-Publishing? Avoid these 21 mistakes. What indie authors wished they hadn’t done and how you can get ahead. (Easy-to-implement tips)

Are you self-publishing a book?

That’s fantastic!

Imagine seeing your book fly off the ‘shelves’ on Amazon, earning money in your sleep and maybe even becoming a bestseller.

Sounds amazing, right?

Me and my co-author have enjoyed seeing that beautiful little orange tag on our book and it never gets old.

You’re probably thinking ‘There’s so much to learn, lots of tech stuff to overcome and nobody to ask’.

I understand this can get you down.

To the point where you don’t see any sales on Amazon, you want to give up, you feel embarrassed. What do you tell your friends when they ask ‘How are your book sales?’ (and they do trust me!)

Don’t worry, we made LOADS of mistakes that when I look back I cringe!

These self-publishing mistakes cost us time, money, effort and lots of stress!

You are going to learn all the mistakes we made (and how to put them right) along with learning what others wished they had done at the very beginning.

Ready to avoid these silly mistakes….?

Let’s dive in:

But first.

What is Self-Pubishing exactly?

Self-publishing is the publication of media by its author without the involvement of an established publisher. The term usually refers to written media, such as books and magazines, either as an ebook or as a physical copy using POD (print on demand) technology.

(Source: Wikipedia)

It basically means, you’re going it alone. You pay for everything; the book covers, the editing, the marketing etc.  Some may find it scary, some are liberated by that thought.

If you avoid as many of these self-publishing mistakes as possible, your path (and success) will be so much smoother!

I asked authors on the Facebook group ‘SPF’ (Self-Publishing Formula):

‘What mistakes do you wished you hadn’t made when it came to self-publishing/What do you wished you learned sooner when self-publishing on Amazon?’

These were the answers (in no particular order)

When a series is doing well, stay with the series.

What do we mean?

We will cover more about ‘shiny object syndrome’ which is where you jump from exciting thing to another instead of staying the course.

(I’m VERY guilty of doing this!)

Instead, focus on your journey. With a series, you are more likely to make money with publishing 3+ books due to the read-through, so it can feel like a long road. But it will be worth it.

Do your research before-hand and make sure that your book series is something that excites you and excites the market. Which brings us nicely on to number 2.

Don’t write what you love. Write to market

Writing to Market simply means that you are writing types of books that are known to sell well. If you are writing romance ebooks, you might write a paranormal romance or a romance mystery, both being top selling genres in ebook romance.


What some people do when they venture into self-publishing on Amazon, is to write books THEY love. Or they write non-fiction (autobiographies) that being completely honest, nobody is interested in because there isn’t a market at that time.

How do I fix this?

Simply go onto Amazon and look at the best-sellers in the genre you are more comfortable with and look at all the similarities with book covers, storylines, descriptions etc.

Of course, you can write ANY story you want, but if you want to sell it, there needs to be a demand for it

Your friends and your family are not necessarily the same as your target readers.

What does this mean?

When authors first started self-publishing on Amazon. A lot of us would ask ALL our friends and family to buy our book. Totally understandable, right?


There are a couple of problems with this.

Firstly, you may get disappointed by how few people actually go and buy your book. It is best to not rely on friends and family as a way to make an income with your self-publishing. Treat it like a business, because it is.

Also, if you do say make 10 sales of your crime fiction debut novel (that’s great!) but what if your auntie normally buys romance set in the second world war on Amazon?

Why is this a problem?

It can affect what we call your also-boughts.

Basically, when somebody buys a crime book from another author, you want amazon to recommend YOUR crime book to that same buyer as they have a shared interest in crime fiction. And when that buyer purchases your crime book, amazon knows to show your book to more crime fiction readers.


If your also-boughts are all over the place, Amazon won’t bother showing your book as it takes up ‘shelf space’ and they would lose out on money.

Example of also boughts:

When I typed in our book ‘The Burying Place’ (crime fiction), people not only bought that book, but went on to buy other crime books. (which is good).

Friends and family (unless they are editors) are not qualified to edit your book.

What do we mean?

I read a lot about ‘my sister has an A-level in English so she does my editing’.

That’s great, but she isn’t an editor and she is your sister and is likely to be ‘too close’ to you and the story.

You NEED to invest in editing. End of.

These are the benefits of editing:

  • helps you refine what you want to say
  • will save you from your worst writing weaknesses
  • can help you distill your narrative and focus its impact
  • helps you expand or trim your text, as needed
  • tightens plotting and enhances characterization
  • helps you pace your story
  • gives you an expert friend and mentor along the way
  • helps you refine your work to its essential excellence
  • catches and weeds out your writerly foibles (and we all have them)


What are the types of editing:

 Developmental editing

Development editing means the book gets a full, substantial, structural, developmental edit. This will often include everything that’s involved in proofreading and copy-editing, plus a detailed critique of the essential elements of the story (in the case of a novel), which include:

  • Setting
  • Timeline
  • Characterization
  • Plot
  • Story structure
  • Pacing
  • Presentation
  • Marketability

Line Editing

Line editing is a more intensive structural edit that focuses on the finer aspects of language – the flow of ideas, transition elements, tone, and style.

 Copy Editing

Copy, in the publishing world, refers to the text. So, copy editing could just as easily be called text editing. It’s a word-by-word edit that addresses grammar, usage, and consistency issues. Copy editors will check for typos and spelling errors along with correcting grammar, language, and syntax errors.


Proofreading gets its name from the “proofs” typesetters produce before the final print run.


So, as you can see. There is A LOT that goes into editing. And with all due respect, unless your sister, aunt, partner or whoever is in the business, it is unlikely they would be able to deliver all of this.

Where do I find an editor?

Post in Facebook groups for recommendations (check their previous clients)

You can use our editor: Click here to check them out – say I said Hi!

Look on UPWORK

Research all aspects of your genre.

What do we mean?

Basically, make sure what you’re writing about is up to standard for that genre.

For example, we write in a few genres. But when it comes to our crime fiction, we work with a former police detective to make sure all of our terminology etc. is correct, otherwise you will get slated in Amazon Reviews!

If you write in the Young Adult genre, make sure your content is appropriate. Not sure what is appropriate? Research, read, and find out otherwise before you make more than a dozen sales, you will get 1-star reviews! Ouch!

We also have written a book series set in the deep south in the 1950s. We needed to do LOTS of research! I bought books and spoke to people who grew up in that era and made notes on the news at the time, dress sense, weather, food/diet, accent, culture, laws etc.

We also worked with a virtual assistant to research for us. If you have a look at our reviews, this hard work has paid off.

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You can also look on Amazon to find books that will help your research.

Patience is the name of the game.

What do we mean?

When we first released our debut novel ‘Meet Me At 10’, I put so much pressure on myself.

I literally expected to earn a million pounds from that one book. (Girl on a Train was circulating at the time and I thought, that’s made millions, our book is amazing, so we will make millions too, right?)


We were self-publishing and didn’t know properly how to launch or how to build a community.

Yes, we hit best-seller, but it cost way too much money and we hit a loss.

What can I do?

Spend time on creating. It’s as simple as that. Create more books, more content and you will succeed.

Yes, of course, build up your social media, but your readers need something to read after they have read your debut novel. (the read-through) for you to make money.

But to do this, requires patience and focus. But trust me, the more quality books you create, the better you will do.


What do we mean?

If you are self-publishing on Amazon, stop what you are doing and go buy Vellum – now.

It is a game-changer! And I wished we bought it before we published our debut novel. (we would have saved loads of money getting it professionally formatted)

What is Vellum and how much does it cost?

It is a book formatting software that you only pay for once (around £200 approx.) but trust me, it is worth it!

You simply upload your word.doc to Vellum (so simple to use) and then you can pick how you want your book to look. You can add links, pictures of your other books etc.

Trust me, get it!

Stay in your lane – your journey is your journey

What do we mean?

We learned that self-publishing is a long and exciting journey, filled with ups and downs.

You will learn a lot about yourself and of those around you. You will find out who really supports and those that don’t. All of that is totally normal. Some think that you writing and publishing a book is the best thing ever and others think its boring.

But guess what?

It’s your path, it’s your journey.

Remember what we said, focus and patience.

Don’t pay attention to the negativity and nay-sayers who don’t have the self-discipline to self-publish. Yes, there is still a stigma to self-publishing, but you just keep doing you, you hear?

Not only thinking about the story, but the whole place of it in the world, the entire product, from the cover to how and where your fans live.

What do we mean?

Immerse yourself in your genre. If you write crime fiction, where do your fans hang out? Which other authors do they follow on social media? Start following them too. What are the front covers like in the top 50 bestselling books in your genre? Read the top 10 books in the genre you want to write in and see what kind of characters they include etc. (WARNING: Do not copy, just try to see the themes that emerge and mould your storyline to that – this is also writing to market).

Marketing- Seriously put the work in marketing – even if it’s 30min every day of the week.

What do we mean?

If you are self-publishing on Amazon. Simply adding your book to amazon isn’t enough. Yes, you may sell a few copies, but um… that’s it.

You need to up your marketing game.

A lot of authors put this off until they have a book to sell then they start posting:

I have a new book out, buy it now!’

Your potential readers will think: No, why should I? Your post screams SPAM!


Set up a Twitter profile, Instagram page, Facebook page (you will need a page for advertising), YouTube and even a blog.

All this sounds overwhelming at first, I get that.

Spend a few weeks mastering one platform and commenting on other people’s posts and focus on building a community.

For instance:

If you are writing crime fiction, start following James Patterson and a few of his followers and start commenting on their posts.

Down the line, mention you are writing a crime fiction book and why people will benefit from reading it (it’s a unique storyline, well researched, great plot twist) rather than people SHOULD buy it.

Tell you followers about the PROCESS of you writing your book, ask their opinion on book covers, character names etc. Make them a part of the process and they will be more inclined to buy your book at the end rather than waiting until the end and THEN spamming people to buy it.

And please, please, please make sure you start building an email list. Do this please. (did I say please enough?)

Email marketing is still one of the most effective (and free) marketing strategies out there. It may seem alien to begin with but you can build up a great community.

How do I do this?

Give away a short story or book for free in return for a readers’ email address.

This way, you are providing value to that person.

In the back of the free book, you can have your social media platforms and the first couple of chapters of your book that’s on amazon ready for the reader to buy. Do it. You Must!

It might take ten books to make a dent.

What do we mean?

Again, this taps into the having focus and patience. I honestly thought we would release ‘Meet Me At 10’ and I would be printing money. But….nope!

We are making money now, but we have released a lot more books since.

Click image

This has taken self-belief, focus, patience and a plan to understand that we are heading for a minimum of 10 books before we can even think of relaxing.

But even at this stage, we are making money when we sleep, that’s still a lovely feeling. How many of your friends and family can say that?

            Avoid shiny object syndrome – If you want to publish multiple works, finish them all first, or get them in the final stages before you publish the first one.

I hear a lot about writers who are self-publishing but have a dozen book ideas that never get finished because they are working on all of them.

I could so easily fall into this trap.

I’m lucky, I have a creative brain where I have no problem getting ideas for books.


I have to focus on the path that Claire and myself are on otherwise you don’t actually finish anything.

Remember: Done is better than none.

Literally plan one book, finish it, plan the next, finish it and so on.

You will thank me later…


What do we mean?

Grammarly is a proofreading software. There is a free version and a paid version.

The absolutely minimum you should do with your book is run it through Grammarly. It’s easy and effective but this should NOT REPLACE A PROFESSIONAL PROOFREADER!

That it’s okay to write crap in your first draft that the really good writing comes from editing.

What do we mean?

A first draft is just that. It’s your first go and getting your story out of your head.


It can halt your creativity.

Remember: Done is better than none.

Some authors procrastinate and say they are ‘editing’ rather than writing. They then overthink their work and stop.

Get the first draft down, then edit, then send it to an editor.

Brush up your graphics skills

What do we mean?

As indie authors, we need to do a lot of the marketing ourselves. Some people love it, some people hate it. I personally love it as I’m a creative!

This means, that we have to put ourselves out there and tell the world how our book can benefit them.

This can be done by written word (twitter, Facebook posts of course) but sometime more effective, can be through striking graphics of our book covers:

These can done via BookBrush or Canva.

PS- I can do these for you, contact me for an affordable quote. (

People like to be able to see your book covers especially life-like pictures on kindles, with a cuppa etc. as your readers can easily picture having your book on their kindle while drinking a cup of tea.

Control the spending

What do we mean?

My goodness. I wished I had a time-machine and somebody stopped me spending a ridiculous amount on Facebook advertising when we only had one book out.

Yep, it’s safe to say I didn’t initially make a profit.

We spent a fortune sending out paperback copies of Meet Me At 10 to reviewers who ever bothered to review.

The list goes on….

Where you need to invest is:

  • Book Covers
  • Editing
  • Proofreading

Bad front covers

What do we mean?

A lot of authors have made the mistake of creating their own front covers only to realise…. They never sell any books. Why?

Because yes, people DO judge a book by it’s cover and if yours doesn’t look like the rest in the genre, readers are likely to skip past your book.

Harsh but true.

DO NOT MAKE YOUR OWN FRONT COVER unless you actually are a graphic designer.

Yes, there are great places like canva, but I’m talking where authors say ‘I took a picture on my phone and uploaded that…’


Where can I get front covers done?

We use this graphic designer: Click here

Or you can use: STUART BACHE.

No character development

What do we mean?

You write a book and you character stays pretty much the same throughout and your readers will notice in their reviews.

What you need to do is create a character arc.

What is a character arc?

character arc is the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of a story. If a story has a character arc, the character begins as one sort of person and gradually transforms into a different sort of person in response to changing developments in the story.

(Source: Wikipedia)

For example, if your main character is an introvert with no confidence, an intriguing ‘arc’ would be where they gradually get into situations that test their character resulting in them becoming confident.

I have a free download of how you can make your characters come alive.

Writing for EVERYONE!

What do we mean?

When I first started using things like facebook advertising for our debut novel ‘Meet Me At 10’, when I was asked to put in my target audience I thought ‘Yeah, I want EVERYBODY to read this book, it’s amazing!’

Yep, and now you can see why I spent a lot on Facebook adverting, right? Facebook has no problem showing your ad to everybody and you will get charge a lot with very few results.

The truth it, your book shouldn’t be written for everybody because you will end up pleasing nobody.

Through research and testing, we found out that our audience/readers are mainly women between the ages of 40-55 years old. Yes, we do have some male readers, but when I run ads, that is the age range who engage with the ad the most.

So… we target that market with our books. Feed the demand!

Comparing yourself to other self-published authors.

I’m still guilty of doing this.

But I’m mindful of doing it now. When we had only 2-3 books out, I was comparing out earnings to somebody who was self-publishing on Amazon with 8-9 books out. Crazy, right?

But we are all on a different journey, starting from different points, with different budgets etc.

As long as you see it as a marathon not a sprint and not to get caught up with shiny object syndrome and instead, work on one project at a time, you will succeed!

Self-publishing Authors who are smashing it:

Mark Dawson

Simon McCleave

Adam Croft

Craig Martelle

Rachel Abbott

LJ Ross

Resources for self-publishing that may help you improve further:

Mark Dawsons Ads For Authors Course

Publisher Rocket

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I wished I had got Publisher Rocket at the very beginning!

Books I recommend for Self-Publishing.

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My FREE giveaway!

Click here to get your FREE Crime Writer Cheat Sheet (Know EXACTLY what your crime readers want!)

Click here to get your FREE Self-Publishing Writing Guide

So there we have it!

Those are the mistakes Self-Published authors want you to avoid.

You are now on your way to success!

Which was the most valuable lesson to you and why?

See you in the next one,


Published by vickyjones1980

Ex-Royal Navy, writer, Songwriter and Bucket Lister. Can't wait for 2016, lots of creative projects! Leave your email address on my website for my newsletters and tips etc.

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