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When Self-Publishing Goes Wrong

In past articles on this blog, I’ve made some positive points about self-publishing one’s book. And if you do an Internet search on the topic, you will mostly pull up success stories of self-published authors and positive articles. And most certainly for both authors and readers, the self-publishing boom, which will accelerate this Christmas season with the giving of many a Kindle Fire and Nook tablet, is going to see even more authors and want-to-be authors putting their ebooks up for a “quick buck.” I’ve even contributed to the madness by publishing a book on how to make an ebook using free software.

But as we head into this e-boom, I decided to list when self-publishing goes wrong for those who are ready to jump into the self-publishing waters. Not only to warn the potential authors of the pitfalls they need to watch out for, but also to boost increased quality in the product that the self-published author puts out. Following are the ways that self-published authors can go wrong.

  1. When self-published authors treat self-publishing as a get-rich-quick scheme. There is no lack of people who look for opportunities to take advantage of others, and that includes the reading public. The more the ebook becomes popular and print-on-demand publishing becomes cheaper, the more who want to make a fast buck will show up at the door. These are people who don’t care about the quality of what they put out, whether formatting, content, grammar, or typos. And some authors fall into this mindset without maybe intending to. If the desire is just to get something out there so you can sell a bunch of copies, then it will be easy to skimp on the quality. And that will backfire on anyone seriously seeking to develop a writing career, because readers may get taken once, but they will shy away from you and any book with your name on it if they feel taken advantage of. You’ll never build the sustained sales that will produce a living over several titles.
  2. When self-published authors don’t treat their writing and publishing as a serious business. Too many authors think they can just crank out that next bestseller and slap it on Amazon, and not do the research and work necessary to produce something that will actually be enticing. Authors with this attitude tend to have covers that look like their kid drew them, or formatting that is unprofessional, or littered with typos because no one but the author looked over it in one pass from the rough draft. Then there are marketing strategies, tracking sales and bookkeeping for tax purposes, reevaluating your books prices, watching the market and keeping up with trends, and when revisions need to be done. If you don’t treat it as a serious business, your readers are not likely to treat you as a serious author to follow because it will show up in your books and your pocketbook will suffer as well.
  3. When self-published authors don’t work to learn and write the best stories they can. Naturally not every story you write is going to be hot and be the talk around the proverbial water cooler at the office. You’re not going to be perfect in every story. That said, too many writers don’t see that writing should improve over time, that their skills should be growing with each story they tell. Readers will have more tolerance for lulls in the story if they know you’re a new author than they would if this was your twentieth book. The fact is that what sells books is a great story, all else being equal. If a great story is not there, then it doesn’t matter how much of the other tasks you do well. You can have a typo-free book, formatted perfectly, no comma out of place, but if the story is boring, it will do nothing to advance your career or your sales. And the only way to fix that is to continue to learn, continue to practice. If you fail to do that, your self-published career will be short lived as you grow tired of a trickle of sales despite having ten books up. Content is king.
  4. When self-published authors think it will only take one or two books, and they’ll be bestselling authors. Such an outlook will lead to quick disappointment. Sure, there are the outlier authors who put up a book and it takes off like a Saturn rocket off the launch pad. But those are the exceptions, not the rule. What most authors can expect is not to see significant sales until they have several novels up, according to long-time author Dean Wesley Smith. Each book represents an income stream, and to make it, you need several of these working for you. If one hits it big, great. If not, the more you have up, the easier you are to find, the more you’ll tend to sell of each title, the more practice your writing will have so you’ll tell better stories, and the more there is for a fan to browse and buy when they do find you. Plan to take a few years to write those books and get them up. If you don’t, you’ll get discouraged after a year or two and decide that your two books are big flops because hardly anyone is buying them. It simply doesn’t work that way. Plan for the long haul.
  5. When authors think being an author is easy and doesn’t require any real work. Such authors don’t realize how much effort goes into learning the craft. They think anyone can sit down and scribble some words on a page and call it a book. One thing self-publishing does do is mask how much work it actually takes. When anyone can “publish” a book, what you’ll end up is the equivalent to people sitting down to the piano who have never played before and expecting to churn out the next classic masterpiece for the world to heap its praise upon. Professional authors don’t consider that a writer has reached professional level of quality in most cases until they’ve written at least a million words. Take the time to write and learn, and don’t expect masterpieces on the first stories you put out. But you will want to learn the basics, and then onto how to describe scenery, how to build engaging characters, how to write believable and engaging dialog, and a whole host of other nuances that professional writers spend their time honing with each story they write. But poor quality stories will get published if an author thinks they can write without learning the craft, and expects readers to laud their tale as awesome. Too many writers stick their head in the sand and act like their first book should only get five-star reviews, and cry foul when anyone is critical. Pull your head out of hiding and face reality. Becoming a skilled author takes a lot of work.

There are probably other points that could be listed. But the goal of self-publishing shouldn’t be to look for the easy way out. If you want to be successful, it will still require lots and lots of work. The court of public opinion can be more cutting and hurtful than any editor’s rejection slip. Low sales will make you feel no one likes what you’ve written. It is easy to get discouraged. But if you take the above into consideration and plan for them, if you put in the work and don’t take shortcuts, you can put out quality product that will garner respect for you instead of jeers or obscurity.

These are some of the ways a self-published author can go wrong. What other ways can a self-published author end up in the gutter of public rejection?