Top 12 Crippling Mistakes of the Self-Publishing Newbie

This isn't your usual list. These are the things many published authors are afraid to tell you, because there's a distinct segment of the freshly minted self-publishing community that responds with terrible wrath when anyone suggests some self-published authors may be taking shortcuts. Shortcuts that could harm their career later.

If you are self-publishing only for your own gratification, then ignore this article.

If you are self-publishing because you are serious about being a professional author, then please read on.


1. Thinking you can be a bestseller without learning the craft.

Aspiring indie writers often cite their favorite super-successful self-published authors as proof anyone can make it in the business. Guess what? Those super successful indie authors are great writers. If they chose to tread the harder, definitely uphill path of traditional publishing, they would still have a better than average chance of "making it" and later share one of those great "57 rejections before becoming a bestseller" stories that are so popular among the indie authors as well.

What did those super successful indie authors do that was critical to their success? Learned the craft. Capitalized on talent. Learned to tell a great story with words on the page.

They didn't toss forth a first novel, barely more polished than a first draft, slap a self-created cover on it and declare themselves author extraordinaire. And then blame dismal sales and reviews on the readers for not appreciating their work.

Writing is a meritocracy. The reader is the ultimate decider of the quality of your work. Not you. No matter how much you wish it was so. If you want to be an author, you need to accept the terms of the deal.

You write, and love your work. If readers read your work, and if they collectively hate it, you need to reconsider your perspective.

2. Not seeking peer or professional critiques

If the only people who have read your work in progress are friends and family, don't expect any honest critiques. Friends and family may be readers, but first and foremost they are friends and family and they aren't going to tell you your 500 page manuscript is a brick they didn't actually read through to the end, and that would better serve as a doorstop than a work of fiction.

Peers are other writers, preferably published, who can help identify weak points in your manuscript from the perspective of a reader and also a writer. There are several easy to access critique groups online. That's another article.

Professionals are paid editors who may do line or developmental edits on your manuscript to find those same trouble spots. And every first draft has trouble spots. If you ignore all advice because you think your manuscript is perfect as is then be prepared for stinging reviews that talk about poor punctuation, grating grammar, and stilted storytelling.

3. Ignoring peer and professional critiques and publishing a sub-par manuscript.

Know when to shelve a project. You love your first novel. Everyone loves their first novel. It's like delivering a baby. Unfortunately it's usually a very flawed and ugly baby. If peers or pros gently tell you it's flawed, and that it may not be able to be saved, put it away. Work on the next project. You're already one novel closer to publishing something truly worthwhile.

Or you can forge ahead and publish your baby but don't be surprised that the only reviews you receive are friends and family trying to help sooth your ego and boost your career.
As a bonus, most of those reviews will be deleted when the Amazon algorithm sniffs out the relationships based on your Facebook relationships and other social media accounts.

4. Pre-announcing that your self-published book is going to be available in bookstores everywhere. Hint: It's not.

Getting your book onto a shelf in a brick and mortar store is next to impossible for the indie self-published writer. Scathing articles have been written about the number of requests independent and chain bookstores get from newbie authors asking them to carry their books. They won't. If you create a hardcover edition of your book through Amazon or other print on demand sites, that's where your readers will find it: on Amazon.

Definitely don't be the poser who carries a copy of your book into a chain bookstore and then photographs it on the shelf, then posts it on Facebook. Anyone able to see your Facebook photo inherently has access to the internet and can do a simple search on the Barnes and Noble site to find your book doesn't actually exist in their world.

You may be able to get your local independent bookstore to carry your books on consignment; most promote local authors, and you may even be able to schedule a "book signing". Don't tell your long distance friends you'll be seeing them soon for a book signing near them. ( Unless you plan on signing their Amazon copy in their kitchen ).

5. Not understanding the tropes for your particular genre

Can you write a trope filled story that appeals to readers? Of course. Tropes are tropes because they've been done and done again, and each time, done well or done better.
But if you think two astronauts who crash land on an empty but habitable planet whose names turn out at the end to be "Adama and Eva" or some derivate is original, think again.

Or if your young white barely post-pubescent protagonist discovers that she has a magical power that makes her the only person who can save the world from dark forces hell-bent on destroying all of creation, then toss in that she's the princess, and maybe an amulet or something similar that must be discovered on a dangerous multi-volume quest to unleash her power, then toss in a prophecy and a love triangle for good measure!.welcome to Tropeville.

There are plenty of clever videos out there mocking this very problem. This video is a particular favorite from SNL:

Do tropes sell? Yes, they definitely do. When done well in a way that hasn't been done before.

6. Calling yourself an author before ever publishing a single word. Self or otherwise.

You want to be a wordsmith, so it's important to understand and agree on the specific meaning of words.

Author means one who has published their work. Writer is one who writes, and may aspire to become an author. Chances are, if you haven't published, you're probably a writer, not an author. The word "author" used to carry with it much more distinction. Today, you can write a few words on a page, upload to Amazon, and you are technically an "author" (thankfully the same isn't true for the title doctor, nurse, or attorney).

One succinct definition states, "you become an author when your books are published, but if your writing is never published, you remain a writer."

Now you could argue that definitions are meaningless, and you are what you say you are. In which case I'd like to say I'm a billionaire, but that doesn't make it so. I could pretend to be one, which is about the same as an unpublished writer pretending to be an author. There's a term for that too "Poser" ( defined as a person who acts in an affected manner in order to impress others."

If you're goal is to dabble in words, then dabbling in their definitions would seem to be appropriate as well, right?

7. Brag before you've earned bragging rights

Want to alienate intelligent friends, peers and potential readers? Call yourself an author, hold yourself out on a pedestal as if you've earned the same accolades as Stephen King or Tolkien (see below), and see how those who can potentially be your biggest cheerleaders respond. No one likes to be conned – whether by accident or design. The line between author and poser isn't a fine one, it's a wide one. Like the gulf that spans the Grand Canyon. Don't try to make that leap. You'll end up at the bottom.

8. Comparing yourself to the masters on social media.

Just because you pounded out a 500 page fantasy novel, first in your planned dozen book series, doesn't mean it's a good idea to tell people "If you liked the Lord of the Rings, you'll love this!"

You're not Tolkien. Trust me. Nobody is. Tweeting blurbs in that vein or posting such deceptive quotes on Facebook isn't going to make you look like a pro. It's the equivalent of writing a story about a scary clown and comparing yourself to Stephen King. If you are the next Stephen King, you definitely won't need to sell your books by comparing yourself to another author. Readers will rush to tell other readers about their newest favorite discovery: you.

Using famous authors' names as a marketing ploy to trick readers into buying and attempting to read your work is just going to piss them off.

Now if you are that miracle author and you do get unsolicited reviews from people you don't know at all, who compare your work to great literature, then by all means run with it.

The keyword here is "unsolicited". If you get a review from your high school bestie that says "This is the greatest book I ever read! Reminds me of Harry Potter!" you probably want to wait for some unbiased reviews to see where you really stack up.

If all you get is crickets, that's a response to take notice of as well.

9. Publishing your very first attempt at writing a novel.

Let's switch media. Imagine you want to be a painter. You want to rival Michael Angelo and imagine you will someday paint something rivaling the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. You feel you have the raw talent inside you. Do you go out and try to sell you first crayon scribblings on a piece of craft paper? No.

So why would you ever imagine your very first attempt at writing a novel would be your best work? You're just learning the craft. A great novel isn't as simple as filling the empty page. Often it's the very things you learn to leave out that make a story more compelling.

You can always go back and pull out that trunk novel, give it a rewrite when you've become a better writer, and you and your audience will be better for the effort.

10. Publishing anything with a cover you designed yourself in Photoshop.

No. Just no.

Are you an aspiring author? Or are you an aspiring graphic artist? Do you feel you are equally proficient in both fields? I truly hope you are, else your ego is going to be suffering inundating blows from dismal ( i.e. nonexistent ) sales and withering reviews.

Speaking of reviews...

11. Contracting or Soliciting Fake Reviews.

Amazon has all kinds of algorithms to figure out if you're requesting—or even worse—hiring out fake reviews from secret review collectives or your mutual admiration society of aspiring authors. Those phony five-star reviews may stick for a while, but they will be obvious to any savvy reader, like the ones you really want to read your work and offer a positive review.

Publish a massive YA fantasy tome and have a two dozen reviews show up the day it's released? Only one of them is a "verified purchaser"? May as well paint a scam bullseye on you and your book, and rest assured, some aggravated reader is going to object strenuously to your shenanigans and post a creatively hilarious and accurate review of your work that will put all the fake reviews to shame.

And once that review gets a bunch of "helpful" clicks because it's an accurate depiction of what's obvious in your "Look Inside" preview? It will be the top review under your masterpiece.

12. Heaping fake accolades upon yourself and your book.

Right up there with buying fake reviews, but just as disingenuous. If you paid to enter an "international competition" that promises prizes and awards, and all you get is the opportunity to post a graphic that declares in bold letters "International Book Contest Best Fiction Novel" and then in teeny-weeny print underneath it says "nominee"--and that's only because you nominated yourself in one of the hundred or so categories by paying the entrance fee--you're not fooling a single professional writer or educated reader in your potential audience.

Equally as cheesy is declaring yourself a finalist in pay-to-enter contests where the goal is really just the chance to post the accolade graphic. And where everyone gets a finalist graphic.

That sums up some of the most egregious career harming errors a newbie self-published author can make. Hopefully none (and definitely not all) apply to you or your new book.
If you are reading this and it makes you angry, chances are these are things you've done or are considering doing. Don't. Really. It's not worth it if you are truly passionate about writing, and becoming a respected professional author.

If you are a self-published author reading this with a knowing smirk, and recognize that these are the tropes of the self-publishing industry that everyone knows, but are afraid to talk about because the angry writers in paragraph one will go out of their way to demonize you for stating the obvious, you're welcome.

  • Posted by Alexander Perry
  • April 16, 2017 10:32 AM PDT
Top 12 Mistakes of the New Self-Published Author. Some may think these are shortcuts, but they will undermine your career and cast doubt on your professionalism every single time.


  • Admin likes this
  • William Pepe
    William Pepe What is a "trope?"
    May 5, 2017 - Report
  • Alexander Perry
    Alexander Perry Hi William. A "trope" is an overused plot device. For example, in YA boy meets girl and falls immediately in love. In YA fantasy, it's often main character discovers magical power he/she didn't know they had, but must use it to fulfill prophecy...  more
    May 8, 2017 - Report
  • William Pepe
    William Pepe Thank you for the definition.
    May 8, 2017 - Report


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