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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Top Ten Mistakes Self-Publishers Make, Part I

I read a lot of books and I do book reviews. I have reviewed numerous self-published works. In the past, self-published books had a bad reputation among traditional publishers because of their poor quality. That stigma has decreased somewhat because some traditionally published writers and speakers have jumped on the self-publishing band wagon. Successes of books such as the Shack are stellar examples.

Still, I have found the quality of most self-published work is still below par. If I were to break it down into a ratio, I’d say I see about one out of 10 well done self-published books.

Here are the five of the top ten mistakes self-publishers make. Some of this refers to the actual printed copy. Some pertains to pre-printing misconceptions. I’ll post the last 5 in the next issue.

10. Self-Focused Personal Experience Stories & Memoirs.
Often those who write personal experience stories base them on some horrific or depressing circumstances the author has been through. It can be anything from going through an abusive marriage to suffering from a rare disease. Sure, you’ve been through some stuff, but you should never use a book to vent about how much you’ve been wronged or how difficult your life is. People have enough misery without being subjected to yours.

Neither will people have an interest in your memoir unless you have lead an unusually interesting life. The only exception to both of these types of stories is if you are a celebrity. Then people may actually be interested.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t write about these things, but there is a right and wrong way to do it. To make a personal experience work you may need to re-target your book to encourage readers who have been through similar circumstances. Find ways to help them. You might want to interview others who have similar stories and find tidbits of hope they have to offer. My traditionally published book, Mothers& Daughters: Mending a Strained Relationship discusses my strained relationship with my mom. I gathered together lots of stories and advice from those in good and bad mother-daughter relationships rather than just fixating on my negative experience and offered it as a book of encouragement.

9. Saying God Gave You a Message to Promote
It was a standing joke at some of the writer’s conferences I attended that when an author wannabe pursued an editor saying they had a book that God had told them to write, it was a sure sign that God hadn’t inspired it. Folks who believe that often have a condescending attitude of “I am right and everybody else is wrong.”  A sure way to lose an audience it to hit them over with something you think is the truth.Humility goes a long way.

8.  Not Researching the Competition Before Publishing
So, you’ve got a great idea. Have you actually checked to see if your topic is already on the market?  There’s nothing new under the sun. Chances are someone has already written something on that topic. Find out what books exist and who your competition is. How is your book different?  How will you make yours stand out? What target audience will you need to reach? Is this the same target audience the competition is reaching? How will you get them to buy your book rather than theirs?

7. Bad Cover Art
People really do judge a book by its cover.  Design and font are what will draw your reader to the online listing and the bookstore shelf. A poorly designed cover shouts “amateur.” I’ve seen well-intentioned authors choose designers who offer cut rate services thinking they made a great deal. The covers often have poorly rendered drawings, a washed out look, poor negative space usage and a bad choice of fonts. Before you choose a cover artist, consult with people who have design expertise or art expertise to get their opinion. I can say this as I am a graphic design major. Your design should also include a good spine design since most book stores display book spines out. The spine matters!

6. Outrageous Prices
Our coffee shop ministry gathering chose to study a book by a pastor who self-published his book. The book was well written, but the price was outrageous, a paperback at $27.00 a pop. When we inquired if he could reduce the price, he answered back that he didn’t set the price, his publisher did. It nearly kept us from ordering the book. We eventually did order it. However, when we ordered our next book for our next study, one member said, wow, we can get three books from this author for the price of the last one.  Before you sign with a publishing company, find out what their retail price will be. Your price needs to be competitive. Will you have a say in pricing? Print on Demand books may cost less in the long run to publish, but they often have a higher retail price. Be aware of this when you choose which style of publishing you will go with.


Teena Stewart is a multi-published author. Recent works include The Treasure Seeker: Finding Love and Value in the Arms of Your Loving Heavenly Father and Mothers and Daughters: Mending a Strained Relationship.


  1. These are some excellent points Teena. My 'pet peeve' of the ones listed is the poor cover art. I don't how many times I've cringed when I see an amateur cover. Like you said, a book IS judged by its cover, whether you like to think so or not - especially in today's glutted market.

  2. Thanks for these pointers Teena.

  3. Great article Teena. An eye-opener indeed.