The self-publishing industry trumpets the benefits of becoming an indie publisher. You receive much higher royalty rates, have complete creative control over the entire process, and experience a quicker publishing timeline, to name a few. If you’ve even toyed with the idea of becoming self-published author, you know this. And those who promote self-publishing also claim it’s easy.
The self-publishing process is harder than you’d think—or were told. This become apparent quickly when you embark upon this path to becoming an author. Self-publishing holds its minefield of common mistakes that can backfire on you and your book. Make these common self-publishing mistakes, and your book will fail.
Given that nonfiction authors want to be seen as experts and influencers, and their books help them achieve that status, you want to avoid the minefield of self-publishing mistakes at all costs. You can do so with an awareness of the five of the most common mistakes made by self-published nonfiction authors. Dodge them as you embark on your journey to authorship, and you’ll develop a long—and safe—writing career.
Mistake #1: Not Researching the Genre
Perhaps the biggest rookie mistake a self-published author can make is not doing due diligence to learn about a genre before writing a book. This self-publishing mistake will start you off on the wrong foot immediately. Like subgenres in fiction, nonfiction genres, such as memoir, how-to, and narrative nonfiction, follow certain rules and have specific standards. Straying off the beaten path may not make your book impressively unique but possibly misplaced in its category.
Moreover, fully understanding the landscape of your genre helps you figure out what kind of hole your book fills in your niche. What information is lacking from your genre? Where can your unique expertise come into play? What are your comparative titles, and how can you set your book apart from them while still adhering to the conventions of the genre? Knowing these answers gets you that much closer to nailing down the “why” that will help you to write a book that will sell.
The Fix: Research the nonfiction genre of your choice before you write to learn the ins and outs. Only by understanding the terrain like the back of your hand can you know how to navigate it successfully.
Mistake #2: Failing to Identify the Target Audience
Identifying your target audience is one of the critical steps in the process of writing a nonfiction book, and many authors stumble when they reach it. It’s common to hear new writers say, “My book is for everyone!” (or similar variations, such as: “The target audience for my cookbook is anyone who likes to eat!”).
Unfortunately, identifying a broad market may be the best way to ensure your book ends up not appealing to anyone. Better to narrow your target demographic to a specific population subset, such as “millennial vegetarians” (rather than all vegetarians). Aiming for anything but the broadest possible audience might seem counterintuitive. But remember that your potential customers—the people who will reach into their pockets and pay for a book—will be readers who have a keen interest in your topic.
The Fix: Identify your target audience early in the writing process—and make the audience narrow, not wide. Having a target audience in mind as you write will help you match the content of your book to the exact needs of your readers.
Mistake #3: Publishing without Editing
As tempting as it might be to pop open the champagne once you’ve reached the last word of your manuscript, you’re far from done. So don’t make this self-publishing mistake. A book that’s self-published without a proper edit is like an adult who shows up at work naked — warts and all! The symptoms of an unedited book are plain to the eye and displeasing to the reader. And failure to get professional editing—potentially several types and rounds—for your manuscript can leave your published book dotted with factual and structural errors.
There’s no shortcut to editing, so make sure that you understand how you’re going to approach this stage when you get to it. Embracing editing could make the difference between a book perceived as written by an amateur author and a professional one—and you want your book to fall in the latter category.
The fix: Whether it takes the form of a professional edit or a self-edit, make sure that you take the time to revise your book carefully before you self-publish it. Hire a professional editor who has both the insight to spot the flaws in your draft and the experience to help you fix them. That said, if you have a limited budget, even a thorough self-edit will be worth your time. In addition to a line edit, read through your manuscript and ask yourself the hard “big picture” questions that a developmental editor would ask of your book:
- Is the structure of the book sound?
- Is the book readable?
- Is the tone, voice, and point of view of the book appropriate?
- Are ideas presented coherently and logically?
Mistake #4: Using a Vanity Publisher
Too often an unsuspecting nonfiction author will fall prey to a disreputable industry: the vanity press. Vanity presses are so-called publishers that convince writers to pay them to publish their books. Like illegitimate writing contests, these companies extract money from the author through many methods. For instance, they may require the author to buy copies of the book or have a minimum sales guarantee in the contract. Or they may discreetly require “extra” fees for marketing and publicity services in much the same way that a discount airline makes you fork up money for a checked bag. Additionally, they may charge for editing, design, and ebook conversion.
True, a vanity press will eventually publish a book, but the quality of the finished product likely will be appallingly lacking. The editing job will probably be sub-par, the book cover design poor or “cookie-cutter,” and the marketing efforts paltry. Vanity presses do not produce successful mass-market books.
Long story short: a vanity press is a shortcut, and a bad as well as expensive one at that. Don’t make this self-publishing mistake.
The fix: Avoid vanity presses. Self-publish the book yourself. Or, if you’d prefer to work with a real publisher, go about it properly; submit a book proposal to get your book published traditionally.
Mistake #5: Not Building an Author Platform (Early)
It’s easy to pish-posh author platforms and maintain that it’s only the quality of the book that matters. The truth is that having a platform is a considerable advantage—even a must”—in the nonfiction world. These days, traditional book publishers rarely consider publishing anyone who doesn’t have a strong author platform. If you’re self-publishing, it gives you a similar edge: it means that you have a built-in audience, which translates into ready sales.
When it comes to platform, it’s best to start building yours early. Not doing so is a self-publishing mistake that will become clear on launch.
If you’re starting from zero, it will take patience and time to develop a dedicated following. But don’t give up, especially since there are so many ways to connect with audiences now. The effort that you put in at this time will pay dividends down the road when you release your self-published your book.
The Fix: Start thinking about your author platform early. If you don’t already have one, create a social media account on Twitter or Facebook, and use it. Set up an author website and establish a mailing list, so that you can start retaining leads.
You don’t need to use a special device to find the landmines ahead on your journey to becoming a self-published author. Just avoid the common self-publishing mistakes mentioned above, and you will travel safely to your destination: a successfully self-published book
Have you made any other self-publishing mistakes? Tell me in a comment below. Everyone says self-publishing is easy, but your best efforts to self-publish a nonfiction book will fail if you don’t avoid these five common mistakes. And if you found this post useful, please share!
About the Author
Emmanuel Nataf is the founder and CEO of Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. Emmanuel dedicates most of his time to building Reedsy’s product and is interested in how technology can transform cultural industries.
Picture courtesy of Ion Chiosea | 123RF.com