ASP 39: Our Top 10 Self-Publishing Screw-Ups, and How to Avoid Them

Quote of the day:

“Success does not consist in never making mistakes, but in never making the same one a second time.”

– George Bernard Shaw

In this episode, Steve, Barrie, and Ron talk about 10 self-publishing mistakes they have made, why they made them, and how you can avoid making them yourself in the future. Learn from their past screw-ups so you can save yourself time, energy, and money.

(We’ll use David Letterman’s Top 10 list style to present our top 10 self-publishing screw-ups!)

The #10 Top Self-Publishing Screw-Up: Write your fingers to a nub on your book and then sell it for $.99. (Steve)

When marketing one particular book, I decided to play around with pricing. I thought a low price might lead to more sales, but as it turns out, permanent low prices attract more negative reviews, and it didn’t generate impressive sales.

Permanently pricing your books too low is a waste of time, but using the $0.99 launch price strategy still works.

The #9 Top Self-Publishing Screw-Up: Choose a cheesy stock photo of a man leaping over rocks for your book cover. (Barrie)

One of my earlier books has a cheesy stock photo for a cover. The sales were OK, but I ended up changing the Kindle version’s book cover to a more professional one. The print version still has the old book cover: Building Confidence: Get Motivated, Overcome Social Fear, Be Assertive, and Empower Your Life For Success

self confidence by barrie cover

Steve also made a similar mistake with one of his earlier books.


The #8 Top Self-Publishing Screw-Up: Have no freaking idea who your customer is when writing your linchpin book. (Steve, Habits books)

It’s difficult to come up with your customer avatar when your target market is not clearly defined. The habits niche has a wide range: productivity, time management, exercise, etc., so it’s not easy to satisfactorily write a book for one audience. My advice: Before you get started, have a clear idea about whom you’re talking to.

Patrick King has successfully focused on one narrow market, and writes to his market effectively.

The #7 Top Self-Publishing Screw-Up: Create a Pretty Link for your lead magnet landing page, but instead it goes to a 401 error page. (Ron)

Pretty Link is a WordPress plugin that shortens long affiliate links. In this particular instance, Ron was overthinking his split tests, and didn’t even realize that his link was a dud for a couple of days.

Lesson: Make sure to double, triple, and even quadruple check things, especially links.

The #6 Top Self-Publishing Screw-Up: Believe you remember everything from your high school English classes, and assume you don’t need an editor. (Steve)

Steve admits that he went through his first 20 books with a blogging mindset (“Ship it!”). Then he realized that if he wanted to really turn self-publishing into a business, he had to take editing his books seriously. If you’re a self-published author, you need to invest in editing and design.

The #5 Top Self-Publishing Screw-Up: Hit the publish button, promote your book for the first week, and then cross your fingers it will sell itself after that. (Barrie)

No matter how well you promote your books during the first week of launch, they will eventually languish if you don’t continue to promote them consistently. There are a number of ways to promote in the long-term, such as sales events, links to books from your blog, links from one book to another, and promoting to your email list (just don’t burn them out with too much promotion and not enough value.

The #4 Top Self-Publishing Screw-Up: Don’t bother formatting your book because readers will never know the difference. (Steve)

If you format your book with Word, the text will look different on some readers. It is important to know your platforms and know what formatting requirements each has. Formatting can be time-consuming, so it’s better to hire someone to do it for you while you concentrate on your writing.

Check out for options.

The #3 Top Self-Publishing Screw-Up: Spend the month avoiding your daily writing habit so you can drink beer and play pool. (Steve)

Life happens, and your writing can get sidetracked—especially by things as attractive as pool and beer! It is important to develop a writing habit so that this doesn’t happen to you. Try to write first thing in the morning to get it out of the way.

The #2 Top Self-Publishing Screw-Up: Get so impatient with the self-publishing process that you leave out a few chapters and hope no one will notice. (Steve)

Sometimes, Steve rushes the process because he becomes impatient to get his books out there. But this does not result in the highest quality product possible. Now, he’s getting better at taking a step back so he can really look at his books to see if they’re good or not.

The people from Writership also talk about the importance of taking a step back: Episode 34.

The #1 Top Self-Publishing Screw-Up: Read all of your 1-star reviews over and over until you feel like a low-life spec of dirt on a flea’s back—and then respond to them defensively (Steve and Barrie)

Steve got his first 2-star review on his birthday, and he responded to it! The best thing to do is try not to look at your reviews at all. Focus on writing your next book instead. Realize that everyone has a negativity bias—we’re wired to look for bad/dangerous things (this is a throwback to our caveman days, when survival depended on our ability to avoid danger). Especially online, people tend to revel in the opportunity to give negative reviews. Make sure you are providing quality and value—that is all you can do—and leave the negativity and comment wars to the trolls.

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