Updated: Aug 9, 2021
Before I dive in, I just want to clarify that my goal in writing this isn’t to roast self-published authors. I see some of the same mistakes with those seeking traditional publishing as well.
I also learned these tips the hard way by making these mistakes (and many, many more) myself when writing my own manuscript. A lot of these mistakes simply come from lack of experience.
Many self-published authors had minimal writing experience before jumping into their manuscript and were so excited to have a book that they didn’t consider certain factors.
So if you plan to use kindle direct publishing on amazon or another platform, I encourage you to read about best practices first. Also, as I side note, some people just want to publish something for the sake of their legacy, or they want to be able to call themselves an author, and don’t care about the numbers.
That’s perfectly fine. But the advice given in this article assumes that you not only want to self-publish but to be successful at it and attract readers.
THE NOVEL LACKS STRUCTURE
This is something I mention over and over again in my articles. I can’t hammer home this point enough: learn the craft of writing.
A lot of novels published on KDP, for example, lack structure. Now structure doesn’t have to be this exact formula, where x event has to happen on page 12.
Think about structure like the frame of a house. Without a frame, foundation, and beams to support the building, it will topple on itself.
A lot of self-published novels feel meandering, without a focus, theme, or character arcs. They read like vignettes, or a series of loosely connected events. Without structure the story lacks punch, and worse, it can’t be coherent.
When you’re writing or revising your soon-to-be-self-published novel, think about how many acts you want your story to have, what the theme or takeaway from the story should be, and how your main character will change from their experiences.
THEY DON'T GET AN EDITOR
Some self-published books read like first drafts. There are plot holes and conveniences, lack of compelling character motivation, and bland cliched characters and plots.
They needed revision.
Beyond that, many books are rife with typos, poor grammar, and flat prose. It is 100% ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY NECESSARY TO HAVE YOUR BOOK PROFESSIONALLY EDITED. And I’m not just saying that because I’m an editor.
Traditionally published books typically go through one or two rounds of developmental editing, copy-editing and proofreading before they’re released. People who are skeptical of self-publishing have that attitude because many self-published books aren’t of the same quality.
Before biting the bullet and hitting “publish” I recommend you go through at least one round of developmental editing and copy-editing before publishing your book.
If you can’t afford it, then it would be better to save up for it over the course of a few months or a year than to publish your book without it. Editing is an investment, but an essential one to have a published book that sill be taken seriously.
THEY AREN'T PREPARED TO PROMOTE
This is a big one. Both traditionally published authors and those who opt-in Kindle Direct Publishing do not consider how much effort they have to put in to promote their work.
If you plan on publishing a book, I recommend you start building your platform as early as possible. Start a Youtube channel, a blog, a podcast, anything to get your name out there.
Become an active participant in writers groups and fiction readers groups on Facebook and other forums around the internet. Invest in promotional materials. You could have the best novel ever written, but if you don’t get your name out there no one will read it.
You have to find inventive ways to publicize yourself and/or hire a professional to do it for you.
THE UNDERESTIMATE THE COST (TIME & MONEY)
If you want to be successful at this, you need to have the mindset that self-publishing is an investment. You have to spend money to make money and grow your readership. If you have to wait a year or two in order to do things right, that’s a sacrifice you should make.
To self-publish a quality book or novel, I’d recommend going through at least one round each of developmental editing, copy-editing and proofreading. You’ll need to hire someone to make your book cover, someone to typeset and format your book properly and preferably someone to write your jacket copy. That’s a good chunk of change. This is the process that traditionally published books go through, and it’s the process you should go through if you don’t want your book to look DIY.
IT DOESN'T LOOK PROFESSIONAL
This goes back to #2. A book cover that you made yourself on Photoshop or Canva (unless you’re a professional), an obvious lack of editing, formatting and typesetting errors, all of these things will guarantee readers will put down your book or skip it altogether. You can’t cut any corners in order to have a professional product. Think about it this way, publishing a book with the quality of one produced by a Big 5 publishing house will make you stand head and shoulders above the pack. Otherwise your book will be lost in a sea of mediocre, amateurish titles like the one below.