Regrets? I’ve had a few… My 5 biggest self-publishing mistakes


It’s been one year since I pressed the publish button and Second Chance took its first steps out into the big, wide world. Looking back, I realise just how lucky I’ve been to have escaped relatively unscathed from some of the mistakes I made. I’m not unusual in this, most self-published authors blunder at some point along the way, and I’m not talking about trying things that don’t work, but simple, elementary mistakes.

So, rather than keep these lessons to myself, I though I’d expose what I view as my biggest mistakes so hopefully you won’t do the same.

Regret 1 – Not reading up about self-publishing

Made up my mind to publish and after a few days had launched an ebook. I read voraciously, but not the right material. I read about how to format an ebook, good sites to purchase book covers, how to create a paperback book – the mechanics of self-publishing but not about self-publishing as a business. It was only a few weeks after launch that I picked up a couple of ebooks that changed my thinking completely.

The first was Write, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant, the second Let’s Get Visible (and later, Let’s Get Digital) by David Gaughran. These books take you a step-by-step through the pre-launch, launch and post launch phase of self-publishing, giving good, simple advice all the way through without promising the world. If I’d read these books beforehand, I might not have made the subsequent mistakes I did.

Regret 2 – Not researching my categories and keywords

When I made the snap decision to publish I’d been blogging for 6 months, mostly about other aspects of my life. I’d made little attempt to generate interest in my book because I wasn’t even sure if I’d publish, and if so, how? So, when I published I bombarded my friends on Facebook (I’ve never had an author page), many of whom were curious to see what I’d written.

Because of the generosity of friends (or morbid curiosity) Second Chance spent its first few days in the high 4000’s in the charts. It was a great result for such little planning, but sadly nobody knew because I hadn’t set up my categories correctly. I’d selected a category (science fiction – dystopian) but had no idea how popular that category was. After the initial rush, my book disappeared from view.

It was only afterwards I found out about how to research sub-categories to see how competitive they are, allowing me to choose one that enhanced my chances of visibility. I set my book up differently and since then Second Chance has only spent a couple of weeks out total of the Science Fiction – Cyberpunk charts. However, if I’d had this set up from the beginning, it may even have got to no.1.

However, this turned out to be a bit of luck because…

Regret 3 – Not taking ownership of my text

I’d spent 15 months writing Second Chance, producing seven drafts in total. I knew the importance of getting the book right. I’d heard of issues with self-publishers not proofreading their work and knew I didn’t want to be one of ‘them’, so I asked a friend to give the book a ‘quick once over’ as a favour. He came back with some corrections, which I made, and I then published. The more experienced writers will know what’s coming next.

A few days later I was contacted by friends letting me know my book had a few issues with typos. They offered to note them down and a couple of days later sent through a list of 58 errors. I was mortified. The book had been checked through. How could this have happened?

The issue was that I hadn’t taken ownership of my text. Not only that, I hadn’t the first clue on just how much work was required and how many passes needed to get a pristine copy. Over the coming months I arranged a second thorough edit which identified another 200+ changes. Not all were typos, but it shows you how much more work was required.

I was lucky. I only received one review, on, knocking me down because of those typos. It is the review I regret the most, not because I have an issue with it or the reviewer, but because if I had taken full ownership of my text it would never have happened. What I don’t know is how many readers I lost because of those early errors.

I learnt my lesson. When publishing Absent Souls, the book was proofread by myself, then by my wife, sent to a copyeditor for his first pass,  sent to a proofreader, sent to a second proofreader, proofread by myself again, sent to my copyeditor for a second pass, then finally proofread twice more by myself. This isn’t to say it’s perfect, but I’ve yet to hear of any errors (and if I do, they will be corrected and the book immediately updated).

Regret 4 – Not setting up a mailing list

Many of my regular followers will know I have a mailing list. I’d been meaning to do it for some time but never got around to it. What made me change my mind? My damp squib of a launch for Absent Souls.

Mailing lists are great because the people who join up are interested in your work. Nobody is forced to join. These lovely people want to be kept informed about book launches. Studies have shown that promotions through “sign-up” mailing lists have a hit rate of 30-40%. This compares to 1-2% on a random mailing or 0.0001% via tweeting.

Because I hadn’t set up a mailing list, only a few people bought Absent Souls at launch (although I’m grateful to everyone who did). Since then, the sales of Absent Souls have grown, but I’m still approached by people asking when my next book’s out. These are people who are interested in my work but had no idea Absent Souls had already been published, exactly the type of people who would sign up to a mailing list. I’d lost the chance of having a bigger push, and therefore bigger visibility, at launch.

Now, with a growing mailing list, coupled with a special launch offer exclusive to those on my mailing list, I’m hoping my next launch will be a little different.

Regret 5 – Not starting on the next book straight away

After writing Second Chance I spent a couple of months basking in the warmth of having completed a novel. What I should have been doing was writing the next book. In fact, I should have started even earlier when I’d put my first draft to one side for a few weeks. That would have been the ideal time to start planning book 2 ready to start writing as soon as Second Chance was published.

One of the big lessons I received from Write, Publish, Repeat is that very few authors have great sales from their first book. The majority of authors who make a living from writing do so through moderate sales, with these sales multiplied across many books. They also publish new books on a regular basis to maintain visibility. Even though Absent Souls came out 10 months after Second Chance, I believe I could have knocked 2 months off that timescale if I’d been a little more organised. This would have given me more months of sales, but also meant I would be much further down the path of writing book 3.

You’ll notice there is one thing I don’t regret: publishing my book. Despite the hard work, the mistakes I’ve made and the fact I’ve not hit the bestsellers lists, I don’t for a minute regret doing this. It’s been one hell of a year and I can’t wait to see what happens during the next one.

So those are my biggest regrets. What are yours? Do these ring a bell or are there other things that you would go back and change if you had the chance? I’d love to hear from you.

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