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

  1. All mistakes I’m making! Maybe not the taking ownership bit but no mailing list, not researching categories properly. they will now be corrected. As ever thanks for the insights. I hope I’ll do better with book two that I’ll hope to launch before Easter. But at least now I’ve an idea how to organise the launch a bit better.
    PS I’ll be reviewing Second Chance on my blog shortly. 🙂

    • It’s a steep learning curve and even when we’re presented with advice it’s often hard to understand which pieces are the most important, or as in the case of number 3, what exactly is required to ensure that happens.
      Thank you so much for reviewing Second Chance on your blog. That really is very kind of you. 🙂

  2. I’ve heard that David’s books are very good from another author, and yes, what was coming next for regret three was obvious. But at least you’ve done something about it. Others shrug their shoulders and say ‘so what’ if errors are mentioned. You’ve not specifically mentioned reviews and other forms of publicity and I wondered how you’d approacehed that/or how your approach has changed apart from mailing lists and genre category.

    • I think the worst thing about number 3 was just what a shock it was. I truly thought I’d done a good job, not realising the many ways your brain can trick you into not seeing the obvious. Lesson learned.
      With reviews, I’d asked a handful of book bloggers if they would review my book and I spent the first couple of months pestering people to give reviews but I realised I was doing more damage than good. After reading the above mentioned books, I added a polite reminder for reviews at the end of both my books, which had led to an increase in reviews. The main change is that I’ve held back from promotion and put my efforts into finishing the final book in the trilogy. I may miss out on opportunities in the short term but many people hold back from buying series until they know it’s complete.

  3. I published two years ago and still don’t have a mailing list…Argh! Even after your lovely post about how to set one up with mail chimp. I’ve got to do that! I’ve learned so much in two years and have so much more to process.

    • I can’t remember who said it, but one of the writing gurus said that the best time to start a mailing list is yesterday, the next best time is today. The value of a mailing list, other than being a list of people who want to know more about your work, is that you own it. Your audience you’ve built up on Facebook or Twitter can be taken away, or rendered less effective (see Facebook) by decisions out of your control. You mailing list is yours and you control what you do with it.

  4. Great post. I am still a ways off from publishing my first novel, but I have been doing my homework, reading Write. Publish. Repeat and others so that hopefully when I finally do it I do it “right.” I am sure I will still make mistakes anyway, but I’m okay with that. Congratulations on your books, and thank you for sharing your experience!

    • Thank you. You’re certainly doing the right things. It’s very easy to get carried away with the excitement of it all but if you get the basics right it makes everything else that follows so much easier.
      All the very best of luck to you 🙂

  5. I think the biggest mistake I made was not having a platform when I published my debut; I had a few dozen friends on FB and that was IT. Nothing else! I have been busy rectifying that ever since and count myself lucky to have stumbled across Kristen Lamb’s ‘Rise of the Machines,’ which gives great practical advice and directions on using social media.

    I am going to take your suggestion about having a mailing list to heart as well because I haven’t done that either. Everything else on your list? Oh yeah! LOL!

    Thanks for ‘fessing up; it really does help people like me know we are not alone. I’m chalking book 1 up as a HUGE learning experience, because it has been and still is. Isn’t it amazing how many typos can still appear after 6 people have ‘gone through it with a fine toothcomb’? I went through mine again a couple of weeks ago and found “Mia had her hair tired back in a ponytail” and about 20 other, more minor, glitches! One final note: be careful of what you think you know. Research or double check things. My dad, who was in the British Navy, finally got around to reading the book and said “Loved the book, darling, but you obviously know nothing about boats!”

    • Thank you, Wendy. I’m a little torn on the need for an author platform at launch, at least an extensive one. An author platform can certainly help but too much focus on that can be a distraction from the most important thing an author does, which is to write.
      I think it’s important us writers ‘fess up’ about our mistakes. Too often from the outside it can look like there are all these authors with everything sussed while you’ve just made your latest cock-up. We all make mistakes, it’s what we do afterwards that’s important.
      As for research, absolutely. I write in speculative fiction do I often make things up, but I still have to make sure what I come up with appears plausible and that I’m not breaking any fundamental scientific laws.

      • I think the main thing for me right now is that I’m in a much better position than I was when I published. I’d much rather learn by somebody else’s mistakes and not make them at all but that just doesn’t seem to be the way my mind works. ‘Oops’ or some other 4-letter simile is too often on my lips! One of these day, when I know everything I need to know, I may change my name and become an overnight sensation. 😀

  6. Thanks Dylan, that makes for useful reading – there’s usually more to learn from what goes wrong than what goes right sadly, so it’s good to be able to make use of your experiences.

    • Right there with you, Clive! It’s probably the steepest and quickest learning curve I ever attempted plus, I also started doing audio book narration for Audible and had to learn new software and editing all at the same time. It’s a wonder I have any hair or nails left.

      • Have you posted about your experiences, as audio books is the area I’m hoping to move into next? I’d love to know more about what you’ve leant and any pitfalls to avoid.

      • Hi Dylan! I’ve been planning on doing a blog series on this subject but wasn’t sure how many people would be interested. Now that I know that there is some interest, this will galvanize my resolve to get it done! What aspect do you think I should start with first?

      • Given that (if I’m anything to go by) most people won’t have a clue where to begin, I’d start with what options are available, why you chose to do it yourself, the how (software, hardware required), the lessons learned and the outcome.

      • It adds a bit of excitement to make a few mistakes, especially when you sit there and go ‘oh ****!’ I haven’t gone down the audio book route Wendy, so my hat off to you. Good luck with it.

    • It’s easy to see these mistakes from setting you back but publishing is such a long game that these are just minor bumps along the way. As long as we see them for what they are, learn from them and improve, they’re all valuable experiences.

  7. Neophyte here, just toeing the water. Thanks for being shark bait for the rest of us, it helps to learn from those who’ve been bitten and lived to tell the tale.

  8. I confess, following on into this business of self-publishing a year behind you, I have benefited greatly from your experiences (successes *and* regrets). I haven’t managed to follow all your advice, but I will have only myself to blame if those things trip me up. I guess I’ll find out in a week or so. Meantime, this post is incredibly generous of you, and I’m certain others will be as grateful as I am, for your frank and open sharing.

    • Thank you, Julie. As someone who has followed my journey almost from its beginning, you’ve more than played your part in what’s happened, especially when it came to keeping my motivation going, so thank you too. I’m looking forward to my pre-order of Singled Out wing its way to my Kindle across the ether on publishing day 🙂

      • You in turn have provided a massive dose of motivation for me, plus an example for me, of the open, ethical author I would also seek to be. Having stumbled across you because your blog made me chuckle (in the days when you were still blogging about life in the rural outreaches), I stayed because you were writing, and so was I, and your positivity inspired me. It is my good fortune that we have become ‘blogging buddies’.

        Re that e-book… You’ll notice a few changes since the beta-read. I can point them out to you if you don’t want to hunt them down yourself! 😉 Paperback now also approved for publication so all set for 1st Feb.

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