The Dumbest Things I’ve Done As A Self Published Author

Boy, I have made a lot of dumb mistakes, but I prefer to call them, experience.

There was no rule book to follow, so when I began self-publishing, way back when, there was no choice other than to use trial and error. Lots of trials, and even more errors later, perhaps my experience can help you avoid a few very common pitfalls.

For authors new to self-publishing, there is still no rulebook, but at least now there is a mountain of advice available online from established authors, technical blogs, Facebook groups and writing forums.

Before publishing a book or ebook, I would always advise a new author to do a lot of research first. But to create a quick shortcut here is a list of the worst mistakes I have made over the years, and hopefully, they will be ones new authors will avoid making.

1. Oh look, I made my own book covers.

I have kept copies on file of some of the cringe-worthy covers I created when I first started publishing ebooks because they are a reminder of how dreadfully awful they were. One look at them would drive readers away in droves, which probably happened back then. It took a couple of years for me to realise my mistake before I finally understood that paying for a professional designer was money well spent.

Strangely enough, it was soon after I shelled out some money on my book covers that my book sales increased. Odd, huh?

There is another angle to this, though. I know a few authors, who because they publish a lot of titles, have invested in learning how to use Photoshop so they can design and produce their own covers. As covers often need updating or refreshing, spending some time and money on learning how to produce top quality book covers can be a wise investment in the long-term.

2. Oh dear, I thought I could proofread.

Hey, I’m an English teacher, so, of course, I know how to proofread.

How wrong I was. It only took a few bad reviews, and a lot of embarrassment, for me to realise the errors of my ways.

There is absolutely no way that a writer can accurately proofread their on writing, no matter their ability or qualification. Sure, you can find errors, typos and make notes for revision, but a writer’s brain is an odd beast. It can so easily ignore the obvious.

Never publish a book until it has been proofread by as many sets of eyes as you can get. The rush to publish is a sales killer, so wait, wait and wait until the manuscript is error and typo free.

3. Oh, it’s easy. Book marketing is only about using social media.

After publishing my first ebook, I popped it onto Facebook and Twitter and thought that book sales would roll in. They didn’t, so I increased the regularity of posting my brilliant new ebook on Facebook and Twitter. In desperation, I started blasting out my brilliant new ebook every hour!

Twitter was very new back then, and a nice guy I was following gave me some sage advice. “Blasting your book won’t work, Derek. Unless your aim is to be unfollowed by 1,000s.”

He was right, but luckily, I was only unfollowed by 100s, because my Twitter account was very small.

It took me a while to understand that social media is about interacting, engaging, informing, entertaining and making friends and contacts, and not about screaming, “buy my book, or else!”

Book marketing is a broad term, but generally, it is about blogging, commenting, interacting, informing, participating, deciding, metadata, reading, learning and yes, paying for some advertising. I found out that book marketing involves spending — both time and money.

4. Oh, I think I’ll pop my ebook back on KDP Select for a while.

Amazon exclusive or open publish? This choice was not even a consideration when I first started, but when Amazon introduced KDP Select and demanded ebook exclusivity, it created a dilemma. For quite a few years, I was trying to get the best of both worlds by having some titles in KDP Select, and some not, and then switching them around every few months or so.

It wasn’t until Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited that I sat down and had a long think, and did some research. What I learned was that by continuously moving my ebooks in and out of retailers, it meant that my titles never had time to gain traction. For example, each time I removed a title from iBooks to move it back into KDP Select, all my sales data was lost on iBooks. So the next time I returned the title, it started from scratch.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both Amazon exclusive and open publishing, but chopping and changing is not a good idea.

Make up your mind as to which is the best solution for you in the long-term, and then stay exclusive to Amazon, or remain open published.

The only exception to this is with a new title, which can often gain traction on Amazon in its first few months by being exclusive and available on Kindle Unlimited. But after one or two KDP Select terms, it can then be open published to try to find new readers.

5. Oh, how I love writing in different genres.

I have a big admission here. This is my most serious mistake, and I am still making it, and paying for it.

Readers like to know what to expect when they buy a book and have very decided genre preferences. Successful self-published authors, and particularly romance authors, really, really, understand this.

I can give the example of a very famous author who wrote some books about a wizard called Harry. After all her success and money, she had the insatiable urge to write in a different genre. Alas, the detective novels didn’t go so well, and Harry has made an unsurprising return.

Readers love what they love to read. Think Ian Rankin and Rebus. Today, series ebooks do very well and offer many marketing advantages.

Sure, writing in different genres is challenging and fun, but it is not necessarily a great recipe for financial success. My best selling books, which you should notice here that I have not classified as bestselling in one word, are a four book series of science fiction farce. I should write a fifth, I know, but I haven’t.


I only picked five of my dumbest mistakes, because if I had listed all of them, this article would have extended to book length. However, by avoiding these big five mistakes, I hope you will make headway much faster than I did.

Discover much more about Derek’s writing and books, or follow his articles on his popular publishing advice blog.