Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Self-publishing? Don't do this. And this. And this...

Readers start early. 
They know a good book when they see one.

Let’s call him Joe. 

Joe writes a novel about a father-son fishing trip gone horribly awry when his son Josh disappears at dusk. Dad gets impossibly lost searching the back country for Josh. Wouldn’t you know, Josh resurfaces a week later, having taken refuge in another fisherman’s cabin that had been stocked with a few cans of beans and tuna. Why he stays a whole week is a mystery. On top of that, no one can find Dad.

And Joe can’t find an agent. He emails his book to a slew of agents, unsolicited, before giving up and going straight to the publishers. The publishers reply to Joe’s “Cabin Fever” query with a standard ‘thank you but no thank you.’

Joe believes in his mystery-thriller and decides to publish on his own.

Here’s where the real drama begins.

Jillian Keenan is doing a great job getting the word out 
about her new memoir, "Sex With Shakespeare." 
She knows how to connect with people. 
Even her editor showed up to support her at her 
recent reading at Half King in NYC. 

Joe, kudos to you for believing in your work and investing your hard-earned money in self-publishing your book. Please. Don’t make the following mistakes. Mistakes like the ones I’m about to list will almost certainly guarantee that no one other than your mother will read your book or take it seriously.

  • Don’t copyedit and proofread the book yourself. Even professional editors and writers know they must hire professionals to scour their book not once but several times before committing it to print. I’ve received numerous review copies of self-published books with hard-to-ignore typos. Once, I got a phone call from an author asking me to toss the book into the trash and wait for a new printed version because there was a typo on the back cover.
  • Don’t format the book yourself. You need a professional graphic designer who specializes in book production to create a readable format. 
  • Don’t design the cover yourself just because you own a copy of Publisher. Covers sell print books and ebooks. Invest in a professional graphic designer with cover design experience. 
  • Don’t do anything until you have a solid marketing plan you’ve run by some savvy authors and marketers. If you make a book you want to sell it, right? 
  • Don’t query book reviewers with incomplete sentences, misspelled words or a recommendation from your pastor.
  • Don’t create a website that fails to have an “about this book” page. In fact, the book should be front and center. If you’re going to nab a reader, you won’t do it on the merits of your bio. It’s going to be because they are interested in the book. And don’t create a website that has not been copyedited. And don’t launch an unsightly or clunky website. Hire a professional or use Squarespace or some other program that makes ugly close to impossible.
  • Don’t use a photograph of yourself taken at your bachelor party, Joe. That’s just wrong. 
  • Don’t expect your local independent bookstore to carry your book. Shelf space is a gift, not a given. Chances are, and this is sad, no bookstore will carry your book. Even authors with traditional publishers can’t get their books in bookstores for more than a couple of weeks, at best. Thousands of books are published every month. “Cabin Fever” has a short shelf life, no matter what. That’s why you need a marketing plan with a reliance on alternative methods of sale including Internet sales.
  • Don’t fail to express gratitude every time someone reaches out a helping hand. That includes book store proprietors, librarians and your ever-loving mother. Kudos to Mom. There’s almost no such thing as an entitled author, just unschooled wannabes who don’t understand how the game works.

If you don't have a winning personality or you tend 
to bully librarians and bookstore proprietors, 
consider playing with kittens.

In conclusion, self-publishing holds a valuable place in the making of books. But at this time, these books can still look and feel self-published. If so, “Cabin Fever” is doomed. If you want your book to have a fighting chance, it must look professional, handsome and hard-to-resist.

Self-published authors can be at a disadvantage unless they come from a publishing background because they don’t understand what it takes to put out a quality work. Agents and editors provide a much-needed reality check on all things publishing, from editing to marketing to behavior in bookstores. If you don’t have an agent at your side helping you find your way, you owe it to your work and your investment to find out what a professional author needs to do to get the book noticed and sold.

Joe, if you want people to find “Cabin Fever,” please do everything in your power to make sure the book doesn’t wind up in a landfill, a mess of typos. And Joe, you are your book’s key emissary. Be tactical, yes, but be gracious as you go. Otherwise, forget it.


  1. Such a helpful list, Rae! I also receive self-published books on my niche topic (senior sex) for possible review on my blog, Often these books need an editor and proofreader so badly that I just can't recommend them, even if the content is good.

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