The most expensive part of self-publishing your book lies in the mistakes that you make. You hire the wrong editor, but before you realize that, you owe them $3000. You sign up with a “publisher” before you discover that, yeah sure, you kept your copyrights, but you inadvertently gave away your sales rights and your distribution rights, and now it will cost you $1000 to free yourself from the contract. Or you hire a cover designer because they’re a good artist, but $500 later you realize that doesn’t mean they have the marketing experience that a proven book cover designer has.
Money isn’t the only element that you waste when you make bad decisions. Of course, there’s the gobs of time and immeasurable brain cells—and let’s add the loss of momentum. It’s hard enough to write, produce, and publish a great book, then to add the element of having to constantly start over, it’s downright demoralizing.
The following Top 11 Self-Publishing Boo-Boo list has been collected from both our personal experiences and authors who have made these mistakes and come to us to fix them.
Top 11 Self-Publishing Boo-Boos are:
Starting with a big print run to get a better price per unit
Self-publishing a book was always an option, but what made self-publishing explode is the advent of print-on-demand (POD). Before POD we had to take our print job to a big offset printer and commit to a minimum print run of 3000-5000 books. That’s what made self-publishing unaffordable. The printing alone was upwards of $12,000 dollars.
So, while it’s true that if you print 3000 books you’ll get a better price per unit, I recommend starting with 100 at a time and work out the tweaks: correct typos, add an endorsement or review, maybe get an award on the front of your book. It also gives you an opportunity to get your head around what your sales numbers look like before you make a 3000 print run commitment.
Being in a hurry
You’ve just been hired as a speaker in three months, so you want to quickly write, produce, and publish your book so you can sell it. There is no way to produce a quality book in this timeline, and such an endeavor will end up doing you much more harm than good. You want your book to represent who you are, and in turn, serve as a lead generator for business, more speaking engagements, and potential partnerships. If your book proves you are sloppy with editing and content, aren’t you saying that is who you are in business? You have to put your best foot forward, and as the reality check always proves, you can’t get fast, cheap and good. You only get to pick two.
Working with online “subsidy” publishing houses
A subsidy publisher is also known as “vanity publishing,” or pay-to-play publishing. Anyone can publish their book with this model because they have no selection criteria. These “publishers” do not purchase your manuscript, but rather, you, the author, pay for the cost of publication. Generally in this model you maintain your copyright, but please make no mistake; the books are owned by the publisher and remain in the publisher’s possession. The publisher distributes the book under its own imprint, and the author receives royalties.
The “hidden” problems of going this route are:
- While you do keep your copyright, you do not keep your sales and distribution rights. They are publishing under their own imprint with their own ISBN, which means you do not own 100% of your rights.
- You pay through the teeth for any small revision. (The standard fee for this model is $250 for a revision, whether it’s a simple typo or an award that you’d like to display on the cover.)
- You are entering a publishing contract that is very difficult to get out of—if you can at all.
- The service providers (editor, cover, layout) are less experienced. In this model, you simply choose a template design for your cover and layout; they are not custom designed with the collaboration of a professional. And rather than an editor, you may only get a proofreader to review your manuscript.
- Another way they make their money is by inflating the cost of printing. They will charge you 2.5 to 3 times the cost of printing compared to, say, Createspace.
This model has no advantages for the author, and the way the model is set up does not allow you to make any money. There is not one thing they can offer you that you cannot do yourself (with guidance) and hang on to 100% of your rights and royalties.
Doing it all alone
The best way to publish a book is true independent publishing. That means you open your own publishing company, own your own custom ISBN, find your own editor, cover designer, layout designer, etc. The con to true independent publishing is that you don’t know your way around the system, therefore it leaves you ripe for making bad and expensive mistakes.
Please consider hiring a book coach.
Book coaches are best used in the case of a first-time author to keep the project on course. The coach’s job is to assure the author gets involved with the right vendors, to cover all the details, and to streamline the system so authors don’t waste money on bad decisions. Many first-time authors fall prey to the first editor they meet, or the $49 cover designer they find on the internet, or the “Kindle Expert” who will set them up to “sell 500 eBooks a week!” etc.
Having a good book coach guide your project will save you thousands of dollars, and significant time and aggravation. For more information on how to choose a Book Coach, read our blog here.
Spending a lot of time marketing to bookstores
Ironically, bookstores are not a great place for authors to sell books. Generally, they want a 40% discount—55-65% if you go through a distributor—and if your book doesn’t sell after 90 days they will either ship it back to you—at your expense—or you can pick them up. The exception is your local independent bookstore. We love our local independent bookstores. They are our community partners and we want to support them. But the rule of thumb is “tolerate bookstores, don’t pursue them.”
Spending money on a trade show booth to sell your book
Next to no one will buy a book randomly by stopping by your booth at a trade show. This is not a good marketing practice. Even if your book is directly related to the theme of the show, this is not a good way to sell books.
The one exception is if you are a speaker at the event. Even if you have two minutes to speak in front of the audience, it will be worthwhile. Otherwise, please don’t put this at the top of your marketing plan.
Spending money on a PR agency
A couple years ago, a survey by IBPA (Independent Book Publisher’s Association) was taken with 500 authors over the course of 5 years. One of the questions to the authors was, “What was your biggest waste of money?” The #1 answer was “Hiring a PR agency.” If you are a big name with a big following, this might be a good option for you, but if you don’t yet have a following of 10,000 Twitter followers and you aren’t filling up stadiums with your motivational speaking, hiring a PR agent is a ghastly waste of money. PR agents can’t get you the coverage you want if you don’t have a name that TV shows, radio shows, etc. have heard of. They generally run about $3000 a month and have a minimum of 6 months. It’s not a good way to spend your money.
Buying advertising in newspapers, trade magazines, and Facebook ads.
That IBPA survey also confirmed that the second biggest waste of money—for selling a book—was advertising.
Consider: A friend of mine told the story about how he had a radio interview and got over 100 book sales from that interview, so he thought, Hey, why don’t I buy an ad on this radio station—they’re obviously my target audience. So he spent $100 for a 30-second commercial x 10 ads. He got bubcus.
Why? It was the same audience, the same station, the same time. Because PR is someone speaking on your behalf, it’s more authentic. People tend to trust that more.
Advertising doesn’t come off as authentic and organic. That’s why networking and word-of-mouth are the most important pieces of your marketing plan. People want to do business with people they know, like, and trust.
Facebook ads are fantastic. Their tools allow us to find our target demographic down to eye color. But just like buying an ad on a radio station, statistically, people don’t buy a book straight from a Facebook ad.
Facebook ads are perfect for email capture campaigns; to offer something for free in exchange for getting their email, but not for directly selling a book.
Formatting the interior layout in a Word doc
Please don’t believe that formatting your layout via Word looks so darn good it could pass for a professional job. That’s fine for a school paper, but not for your book. A professional can help navigate you through your choices in various elements to consider, including spacial issues, as well as how to proof it. For more information on formatting do’s and don’ts, here is a blog.
Having a template cover design
Your #1 promotional tool is your cover design. Please don’t take a short cut with an online $5 template cover. A cover is comprised of color, graphics, font, and of course, the title. All of these elements have a purpose in reflecting the journey the reader is going to take. That takes the skillset of a professional cover designer.
And the biggest self-publishing boo-boo of all …
Not investing in a professional editor
Editing is the most painful and expensive process in self-publishing, therefore it’s where most of the shortcuts are taken. Authors think that their neighbor who is an English teacher will suffice. I would agree with that if it’s a family book, otherwise no, the English teacher next door would simply be a good start.
Choosing your editor will be the biggest decision you make in your publishing journey. Even if you’re a good writer, yes, you’ll want an editor. You’ve got to trust them and feel comfortable with them. This is a journey you will take together. Please interview two or three editors who have specific development experience with your genre. Also ask for a sample edit—that is their cost of doing business and they should provide that at no charge.
Taking a shortcut with your editing is the single most common mistake authors make when they self-publish a book. It is expensive and painful, therefore tempting to circumnavigate, but if you want a professional book, you must have a professional editor.
For more information on the types of editing click here.
For the sake of simplicity, we’ve listing the above in bullet points with a small paragraph, although most could easily take up an entire chapter. We don’t want these to be a secret, so please learn from them—and pass them on to your author friends!
Polly Letofsky is a book coach, and owner of My Word Publishing. She has helped shepherd over 200 books, 35 of which were best sellers. Her mission with My Word Publishing is to help save authors from very bad, very expensive mistakes. For more information, please peruse www.MyWordPublishing.com