Time to own up to my mistakes. Don’t you love learning from other people’s mistakes? Well, read on because I’ve made plenty.
When it comes to self-publishing, it is really easy to get far down the wrong path before you even know that you’re heading the wrong way.
It’s tough to accept that there will inevitably be some “learning experiences” but whenever we do something new, something beyond our comfort zones, we are going to make mistakes.
Some will be more expensive or embarrassing than others.
Here are my top 3 mistakes I made as a self-published author:
1. Hiring out e-book formatting
For my first book, I hired out the e-book formatting to someone I found on Fiverr—a great website to find freelancers but it can be hit or miss.
I upgraded to her service for the .mobi and .ePub file types and waited 10 days for the files.
Everything worked out well, but during those 10 days when I was waiting, I found some teeny tiny changes I wanted to make to my manuscript.
I wanted to add a call to action for readers to leave a review at the end. Simple, right?
What I didn’t realize was that my teeny tiny change meant that I would have to purchase another “gig” on Fiverr. Basically, any time I wanted to update one thing, I was going to have to spend $100 to do so.
Now, maybe it was my experience with this particular freelancer or maybe it is standard practice, but I didn’t know because I had never tried formatting an e-book before.
What I did know was that I wanted to learn the process myself so that I wouldn’t have to pay for every little change I wanted to make to my e-book file.
I also didn’t want to have a manuscript riddled with dead links, or missing references to my subsequent books until I could amass enough changes to make a new revision worth the money.
Lesson learned: format your own e-book.
Which, not surprisingly, leads me to my next mistake…
2. Improperly formatting your own e-book
Having learned an expensive lesson with my first book, I learned a cheaper, but more time-intensive lesson and embarrassing lesson with my second book, serving as a cute reminder that the universe loves keeping things in equilibrium.
I may have saved a few bucks but I paid for it in ego.
I researched how to use Scrivener to format my e-book files to look and feel like my paperback version.
I really wanted e-book users to have as similar an experience to paperback readers, and I knew I could make that happen using the wonders of the technology at my fingertips.
I uploaded my manuscript into Scrivener and followed the online tutorial step-by-step.
Everything looked good on my end. Download file, upload file, wait, preview, make a small change, download, upload, wait, preview, etc.,
I probably downloaded and uploaded 50 versions to my Kindle app, double checked everything using the author tool, KindlePreviewer, and even asked my mom to check the files on her phone, tablets, and Kindle reading devices.
After checking what felt like more than enough times, it was thumbs up.
Time to hit publish.
Bam. I sent out the e-book files to everyone who had pre-ordered the book (300+ people) with instructions on how to get them onto their e-reading devices.
Woo hoo! Pop the bubbly.
Two months later, I get an email from a fellow self-publisher friend who sent me screenshots of my Kindle manuscript on her Kindle Paper white device.
This must be wrong, I thought, this e-book is a mess!
The formatting was, in a word, wonkadoo.
Fonts and text size randomly changed throughout a paragraph, and the spacing was inconsistent.
My e-book was a hot mess.
OMG, I had sent that out to EVERYONE and was currently encouraging people to buy it and it looked like my daughter’s worst tangled hair day.
I was shocked my friend had made it as far as she did reading my e-book before she emailed me the screenshots.
What I didn’t know and what I hadn’t counted on was that the newest Kindle devices are not display options in the KindlePreviewer software. Come on, Kindle, what’s up with that?
That meant that readers with newer Kindle devices (like Kindle Paper white) were not seeing what I was seeing because KindlePreviewer was only showing me the most ancient Kindle device displays. What a surprise, right?
The readers with the latest Kindles were seeing all of the backend formatting that was jumbled when I imported my Word manuscript into Scrivener where I formatted the file.
Everything looked great on my end but it was a hot mess behind the scenes. I felt like I was walking down the street feeling like hot stuff with my dress tucked into my underwear.
I spent hours combing through every chapter to remove all of the improper formatting manually. Again, these were things I couldn’t see—everything still looked fine in Scrivener, but the screenshots showed otherwise.
After assuming there was an error on every line, I reformatted my +100k-word book by hand, waited a bit, crossed my fingers, and asked my friend to upload my latest file onto her Kindle device.
Once she gave me the go ahead, I republished on Kindle Direct Publishing.
In short, it was an embarrassing nightmare, but I learned that if you go to the “Look inside” feature on your Amazon sales page, you’ll see what the readers will see when they look at your e-book.
A few lessons learned here:
1. Test your e-book on every device imaginable—new and old.
2. If you’re formatting an e-book for the first time, you will most likely make mistakes. This will probably take hours of trial-and-error to correct.
3. Think like a reader and click on all of the things they might click on when navigating your Amazon sales page.
4. Profusely thank readers who point out embarrassing mistakes.
3. Not planning a series from the beginning
After spending months researching and pouring long nights and early mornings into my first book, it never occurred to me to publish more than one.
I emptied myself into my first book. I gave it my best stories, effort, and energy.
Publish another book?
That’s like asking a woman who has a one-month-old baby in her arms when she’s going to have another—the answer is “get out of my face.”
However, if you can get over your desire to slap someone across the face when they ask about “your next book,” think about the momentum you’re generating when you publish and market your book.
People read your book, and they want more from you—that’s the best compliment a reader can give a writer.
Because I thought I’d only have one attempt at this book publishing process, I made my first book way too long. My second book was STILL too long for many readers.
Instead, I should’ve waited until I had amassed enough content for a three-book series and then gotten everything lined up and ready to release over time.
By thinking about a series on the front-end, I would’ve been able to plan out my covers so that they coordinated in design.
I would’ve been able to pace my readers so they wouldn’t be exhausted after book #1.
I could’ve given my readers more content every 9-12 months on a schedule, and the momentum from one book would flow directly into another.
Everything would’ve been easier from a marketing perspective.
Lesson learned: If you think there is even a remote possibility of a series, pause and plan out as much as you can in advance. You’ll save money on cover design, marketing, and you’ll be giving your readers exactly what they want—consistency.