The Book Mechanic
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The Book Mechanic

The 5 Biggest Mistakes Indie Authors Make When Publishing Their Books

…and what to do instead

1. Thinking an editor is a formatter

Editing a book is a completely different skill than doing the internal formatting for a book. Too often, I’ll see people on UpWork looking to hire an editor-cum-formatter, not realizing that one is well-versed in editorial practices and then other in graphic design.

2. Not understanding the different types of editing

If you’ve visited my Services page, you’ll notice terms like “proofreading,” “line editing,” and “developmental editing.” Unbeknownst to many authors looking to self-publish, there are different types of editing, which each focus on different aspects of the text.

  • Line Editing — in-depth editing at the line and paragraph level that focuses on language, style, redundancies, clarity, etc.
  • Developmental Editing — high-level editing concerned with plot, characterization, marketability, flow, overall tone and style

3. Only having a DOC/DOCX and PDF of your book.

If you want to do any type of media, blogger, or library outreach, you’ll likely need an EPUB of your book. In fact, I highly recommend that you have five versions of your book:

  1. a MOBI
  2. an EPUB
  3. a PDF (generally for use in the printed book)
  4. and a “source file” of your book from whatever formatting software you or your professional use (including InDesign and Vellum).

4. Misunderstanding how KDP-assigned ISBNs and Distribution work

In an effort to save money on their ISBNs, many self-published authors use the free KDP or IngramSpark-assigned ISBN. This can seem like a good idea, particularly if you’re just looking to sell on Amazon. But using a free ISBN can hurt your book in a few ways:

1. Distribution delay

It will take months for your book to show up on bookstores websites, if they do at all. Amazon’s extended distribution options is very slow to update metadata. What that means is that, if you’re looking for your book to be available at Barnes & Noble the very second it’s your publication date, you’re out of luck. It usually takes about three months to show up on sites like B&, Bookshop, and IndieBound, if they show up at all.

2. Misleading “extended” distribution

KDP extended distribution won’t guarantee brick-and-mortar book placement. While your books will eventually show up on B&, there is no guarantee the Powers-That-Be will stock it in stores, nor that it will appear on any other book retailer site (aside from B&N and Amazon).

3. Library Issues

Furthermore, this distribution makes it hard for libraries to order your book. If you’re trying to do events, most libraries won’t be able to order your books for a few months. While KDP extended distribution and the free ISBN do eventually get your book into the Ingram catalog, the delay means that if you’re trying to do pre-press PR, it will seem like your book doesn’t exist, from the perspective of librarians. That’s because they won’t be able to find it in their distributor catalogs and therefore won’t be able to order a library copy.

4. Missed marketing opportunity

You will miss out on an opportunity to fully claim your book. When you create a KDP ebook, you have the chance to add an imprint name. There, you can use your DBA name or your author LLC. However, for paperbacks that use a free ISBN, there is no such option. Instead, a book will show up just as “independently published.”

5. Allows people to profile your book as “poor quality”

Even if you don’t want the additional marketing ability of a custom imprint metadatum, you’ll be sacrificing some legitimacy if your book is independently published. Unfortunately, the publishing industry can be very elitist. Bookstores and libraries may not want to stock a book that says “independently published,” even if they’re technically able to. Part of this apparent bias is actually due to the fact that if you are unwilling or unable to pay for a $100 ISBN, then chances are you’re also unwilling or unable to pay for professional editing, formatting, and cover design. That may not be true, but for bookstores, libraries, and media outlets who receive thousands of requests a month (if not more), it’s an easy way to weed through the bunch.

5. Designing a book cover with free stock photos

While there are authors who are savvy-enough at design to create successful covers themselves, I highly recommend hiring a designer if you have no graphic design or illustration experience. You can also use a premade cover design from a professional for a lower cost.



Down-and-dirty growth strategies for commercial writers and creators, with a blue collar work ethic, and a no-nonsense voice.

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L. Austen Johnson 📚✒️

Writer. Designer. Avid stargazer and dog-petter. 🌌 Author of BURNING THE BACON (poetry), TRUE LOAF (short story), & ROMANCING THE HOLIDAYS Series.