An authorAs a new author, there’s nothing quite as exciting as the prospect of publishing your first work. It’s like Christmas, Easter and International Talk Like A Pirate Day have all come at once.

20 years ago, you realistically needed the help of a publishing house to get this feeling. But with self-publishing now a more viable option than ever, it’s a feeling that can be enjoyed by anyone with the required motivation to tackle the publishing process themselves.

That very same thrill and excitement of publishing your first book, however, can come with a dark side. The combination of a lack of experience and just wanting it done can become a recipe for mistakes – mistakes that can lead to a disastrous first book experience. And that’s one of the least delicious recipes available.

The good thing is that this particular path has been trodden by many self-published authors before. People have fallen on the sword for you, so that you can learn from their mistakes and be the best self-published author you can be.

So, for self-publishing first timers, what are some common slip-ups that are best avoided?

1. You Use Adjectives Such as ‘Aspiring’ or ‘Debut’

You’re just about to publish your first book. High fives all round. So how would you describe yourself? An aspiring author? A debut author?

You are an author. Say it with me. An author. You aren’t aspiring. You aren’t a debutant. You are simply a person who writes books. An author.

What does ‘aspiring’, ‘debut’, and any other overused adjective to describe a new author tell today’s savvy shopper? It tells them that you are inexperienced, untested, and probably not worth taking a risk on.

Would you put your hard-earned money on a racehorse that was described as either aspiring or a debutant? Oh, you don’t gamble? Wise choice.


2. You Designed Your Own Cover

You decide to save a couple of pennies, and use your middling Photoshop skills to design your very own book cover. While the resourcefulness and intent is admirable, the results may not be.

As we’ve covered before, the fact is that it doesn’t really matter how good your eye for aesthetics might be, as there is so much more to the art of book cover design than ‘that looks pretty good’.

You need to research the target market to understand your demographic, you need to combine the right type of font with the right type of imagery, you need to condense your novel down into a simple yet striking cover that will stop people dead in their tracks.

Cover designers not only have to train for years to obtain this skillset, they then constantly evolve with on-the-job experience. Your cover is your book’s first impression – make it count with a professional design.


3. You Don’t Involve Yourself on Social Media

When starting out in self-publishing, the worst thing that you can be is aloof. Sure, Stephen King probably doesn’t bother replying to much fan mail these days. But you’re not Stephen King. Yet.

That sort of sounded like I was implying that you should kill Stephen King and steal his identity. Unintended.

As an author who is yet to truly make their mark, you need to be accessible. Having self-published, I’m going to take a wild stab that you’ve not hired a professional marketing team. That’d make you the marketing team.

Social media is a marketing free kick. It costs as little (or as zero) as you’d like, so you need to get on board.

Once on board, you need to involve yourself. Talk to your fan base. Answer their questions. Give back to the people who are supporting you. If you treat your followers right, they’ll turn into your marketing team, selling your books to family and friends for you.


4. You Rushed the Publishing Process

Like the kid at Easter who ate too much chocolate in the first five minutes of the egg hunt, you went a little too hard too early. So excited were you by the prospect of putting your book to print, that you may have tossed aside some constructive criticism, or worse, never searched for it at all.

Word to the wise: your first draft is never, and I mean never, your last draft. Show me someone who has written the perfect book first shot, and I’ll show you a liar.

As eager as you might be to get your book to print, treating the publishing process as a race is a sure-fire way to kill the sales of your book. The editing process is vital to success, and it cannot be rushed. You need to finish the first draft, put it aside for a couple of weeks, edit it, find beta readers, find an editor, put it aside again, edit it again, find more beta readers, read it yourself, the cycle goes on and endlessly on.

Most traditional publishing houses will take a year to get a book to the point where it’s ready to publish. Without the red tape and distractions that they face, you might be able to squeeze this process down to six months. That six months might seem like the longest of your life, but trust me when I say it’s worth it.

Like anything in life, first time publishing comes with a steep learning curve. There are certain things that you’ll only ever learn through experience, but by taking on board this sort of advice, you’ll give yourself a better shot of self-publishing stardom.

For those who are looking for a quick and easy route, there isn’t one. But what the long and winding road of self-publishing lacks in rapidity, it more than makes for with the sense of fulfilment when it’s finished.

If you feel you might lack the required patience, and are looking for an easier way, I can’t stress this enough: don’t kill Stephen King and assume his identity.


  1. You neglected to include a professional proofreader at the end of the process after the editor. Even the best editors miss things. Adding that level of checking can vastly improve the professionalism of the product.

  2. Thanks for this clever and witty essay “4 Common Mistakes….”

    As writers rush to publish (because they can) they often neglect to educate themselves on industry standards, the business of publishing, marketing and the different types of editing required developing a quality final book. One way, to become and stay current on writing and publishing, is to join a respected writers association. I know because ten years ago I joined Redwood Writers, became a volunteer and remain an active in topics and attending our monthly club and speaker events.

    I plan to share this post and Web site with Redwood Writers, the largest branch of the California Writers Club. We are over three hundred writers strong. Our branch led the statewide club in curating, editing and self-publishing an annual anthology. The experience of submitting short works of fiction, memoir and poetry continues to educate our new club members in the process of preparing a written work for publication. As I continue my active service as Author Support Group Facilitator, I look for reliable resources for our members.

    Thanks again for your blog post, Deborah T-F

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