Self-Publishing Mistakes, Screw-ups and Disasters

by Joel Friedlander on June 4, 2012 · 25 comments

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Over time, from talking to a lot of authors, I came to realize something really important about publishing your own books: a lot of people are afraid.

No, wait, I mean it. There are several kinds of fear you run into over and over again when asking authors about their publishing plans, and whether they will take the leap into self-publishing.

It might be

  • fear of doing it wrong, or
  • fear of looking like an idiot, or
  • fear of the negative opinions of others, like book reviewers, or
  • fear of appearing illegitimate to other, traditionally-published authors, or
  • fear that money, time and effort will be wasted, or
  • fear of being ripped off, scammed, or otherwise taken advantage of.

You get the picture, and I could go on.

These are all legitimate concerns, and in our best moments we understand that these fears can actually help us to produce a better book. They make us vigilante about mistakes, and about doing our homework as best we can before we hand our precious manuscripts over to someone else we hardly know.

But sometimes these fears get the better of us, don’t they? Then, we get stuck.

We’re afraid to move forward, while all the time realizing we can’t possibly move backward. So there we stay, stuck.

This is particularly unfortunate when it comes to authors. Writers have something to contribute to our larger society, a piece, however small, to add to the cultural mosaic.

When you get stuck, you don’t contribute your piece.

Self-publishing isn’t brain surgery or rocket science. Any intelligent, attentive writer can do it, and they can do it well if they prepare themselves with education and training. With attention to good practices and an understanding of the dynamics of how books are produced, marketed and sold, a writer has nothing to fear from the process.

And it’s pretty forgiving. You can overcome almost any calamity, if you know how.

In the second video in the free series of training videos from the Self-Publishing Roadmap, I take these fears on head-first. I also run through some common mistakes that new self-publishers make, and how you can avoid them. It will be posted early this week.

Understanding our own hesitations, fears, worries and concerns is really important to making progress, getting those books out.

That’s why I think your mindset is one of the most important assets you can possess when you get involved in self-publishing.

When that second video is ready to go, I’ll let you know here on the blog. Or you can sign up for the Self-Publishing Roadmap Early Notification List to make sure you don’t miss it.

Do you have those fears? How do you deal with them, or have you found a way to keep going, despite the nagging worries?

Photo by Alex E. Proimos

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    { 23 comments… read them below or add one }

    Andy June 4, 2012 at 4:16 am

    I’m not yet an author, but I understand all the fears you listed because I’m an indie software developer. Different type of self-publishing to be sure, but similar issues.

    I think the mindset you mention is the issue. Self-publishing a book requires a certain amount of entrepreneurship, which means embracing failures and learning from them, not shying away because something negative “might happen”. Not everyone is comfortable with that, which is why I think some authors are drawn to agents and publishers – they feel more secure.

    We [in North America anyways] live in a culture of fear – fear of terrorism, fear of litigation, fear of failure, fear of death, fear of what others think, Fear Factor, etc.. If you let fear control you, you’re living on some else’s terms. So the way I deal with it in my work is essentially to ignore the “coulda, shoulda, woulda”, ignore the naysayers [we have a lot of those in Canada!], focus on my goal, and get stuff done.

    Sounds easy, right?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 4, 2012 at 10:48 am

    No, it’s not easy, and for some people this can represent a lifelong struggle, but you are right on the money, Andy. I see the same things, and I think part of the problem is that we’ve stigmatized failure even though everyone knows you can’t do hardly anything—and nothing complex or time-consuming—that will never fail. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    Reply

    Katie McAleece June 4, 2012 at 5:14 am

    My fear is certainly ‘looking like an idiot’.. Haha, it’s basically just fear of the unknown. There’s only one way to get past that- just do it.

    Just subscribed to your video series. Excited about learning more from you! Thank you.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 4, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Hi Katie,

    I think you never completely escape the fears or second-thoughts. Sometimes I stop before hitting the “Publish” button on a blog post and start to wonder whether it’s good enough, or what people will think. And this is after 800+ articles, so I guess it’s just part of the human condition. But I also notice those moments are also the ones that somehow are combined with a lot of excitement, so maybe we have to have the one to get the other. Thanks for commenting, and I hope you enjoy the videos.

    Reply

    Lianne Simon June 4, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Fear can paralyze or it can be an excellent stimulus. I did a short stint as a disk jockey, playing progressive rock albums. Operating the controls, figuring out what came next, and dealing with emergencies were all pretty scary to me, but they helped me channel my bigger fears… until I heard my tape-recorded voice on my car radio and realized that there might actually be people listening to my program.

    Reply

    Alison Wong June 4, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    My fears before I self-published were:
    1. Family members thinking I was being forthright because writing as a British ethnic-Chinese, I wanted to express what it is like to face immigrant Chinese family values vs. love.
    2. No one wanting to read about the theme of my book. But then, if John Locke can write about Westerns and find his readers/ market, then I know there is a market for my book, which I had in mind when I wrote.
    I think overcoming one’s fears and writing for an audience you know will like your book is important. Still, as you noted, the list of fears goes on…

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 5, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Alison, it seems to me that publishing a memoir of any kind gives rise to the biggest resistance from within. There are so many taboos, so many things that are “not supposed to be spoken” that it can be a herioic effort to just tell the truth. Good luck with your book.

    Reply

    Belinda Pollard June 5, 2012 at 3:53 am

    LOVE that photo with the blog post, Joel. Gave me quite a smile. How many times a day/week do I feel like that??? ;-)

    You are so right. We need to have the courage to be imperfect, because that’s when great things start to happen.

    I’m always encouraging others to overcome their fears, and I’m even quite good at that ;-) , but then it turns out I need my own pep-talker to drag me out from hiding under the bed regarding my own projects.

    Ready, say it with me: Feel the fear and do it anyway!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 5, 2012 at 11:11 am

    I hear you loud and clear, Belinda. I think for many people publishing takes courage. Not the absence of fear, but the willingness to act despite your fear.

    Reply

    alanc230 June 5, 2012 at 7:55 am

    Fear is paralyzing. I keep trying to overcome it, but I don’t always succeed. However, I will continue to try.

    Reply

    Barbara Techel June 5, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Oh, yes, I have these fears– and even after three children’s books published and now my first adult nonfiction coming out in 2013, I still have these fears.
    What drives me past the fear is the PASSION to want to get my stories out there. Passion for what I want to share and passion to make a difference. I think that passion is vital.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 9, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    That’s beautiful, Barbara, thanks.

    Reply

    Maggie Best June 8, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    I have just finished reading A Self Publisher’s Companion and your Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. I have completed 2 of the 3 books in my fantasy series, and my biggest fear up until now was, that all the unknowns of publishing would prevent me from moving foward. There is so much information out there, and so many people just waiting to ‘help’ you, that taking that next step is daunting. But reading your books and watching your videos has definitely strengthened my resolve not to ‘get stuck’, but to finally see my books in print or as ebooks, bringing enjoyment to many, many people, as I always hoped they would. Thanks Joel. You are an inspiration!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 9, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Good going, Maggie, I’m sure you’re going to do fine since you are taking the steps to educate yourself about publishing, and that’s setting yourself up to succeed.

    Reply

    WENDY SARKISSIAN June 9, 2012 at 5:37 am

    Joel: Reading your blog has set bells ringing in my head. I have had several professional books published by ‘proper publishers’. And now I want to publish my memoir in a way that generates an income for me. I do not want to be ‘taken care of’. I am happy to do it myself. But it feels so daunting. So this is a different fear. I think I’ve been through the other ones — as this ms. was critiqued and edited. How to put together all of the necessary ‘services’ — and how to do it from the Antipodes? Is it too hard to consider this enterprise from Australia?

    I am feeling the fear and ready to do it anyway. HOw to start, though?

    Reply

    Belinda Pollard June 9, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Hi Wendy
    I’m sure Joel will also have a response for you, but as a fellow Aussie let me tell you: there are no geographical boundaries to this.

    Joel’s got heaps more resources on this site that you can read for free. He would no doubt also recommend with confidence Joanna Penn’s blog at http://www.thecreativepenn.com (she was living in Brisbane when she began self-publishing). I recently wrote a summary article myself about the new self-publishing at http://www.smallbluedog.com/self-publishing/the-new-world-of-self-publishing which collects some of the major info in an abbreviated form.

    Keep trawling the intelligent blogs on the subject and you’ll get a really good understanding of what’s possible. Best wishes with your dreams.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 9, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    Belinda, I hope you’ll submit your article for our Carnival of the Indies. There’s a link in the sidebar to the Carnival page.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 9, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    Hi Wendy,

    I actually made a video about this subject that is an accompaniment to this article, and you can find it here:

    Self-Publishing Mistakes, Screw-ups and Disasters

    Reply

    Matthew D. Ryan June 11, 2012 at 8:23 am

    Fear of looking like an idiot and fear of being thought a charlatan–those are the two biggest fears for me. I know I write well and I’m improving constantly, but I’m strictly self-published (excepting a few short stories) so I’m constantly struggling with doubts. However, I recently got a five star review which was very encouraging. :)

    Reply

    M.H. Vesseur March 14, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    When filled with fear one should always remember the French actor Gerard Depardieu who said something very powerful in French, that would sound somewhat like “Always put the pedal to the metal”. Don’t hold back but throw yourself in. Write like the wind. Write like Stephen King who, living in a trailer, typed “Carrie” on his typewriter positioned on his knees, sitting in a tiny room with the washing machine. That’s a soldier’s attitude.

    Reply

    Jeff March 14, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Many of those are also wrapped up in a fear of failure. A fear of self publishing and finding out that no one will buy/read your book. A fear of feeling like you aren’t good enough. For people who have been fishing for a publisher, and decide to go at it themselves, a fear of truly having a book that is not ready for distribution can be debilitating.

    Even those who haven’t received a long stream of rejection letters can still feel the burden of wanting to be accepted by people. The acceptance of readers who like your work. All of this is a major component in creative types. We do what we do because we feel like nothing else will make us happy, but along with that comes a need for validation. Publishers accepting a book is a huge validation for a person. It means that a company believes in your work so much that they are willing to risk money on it. For self publishing, finding your audience and having what you consider success can also be a form of validation. After all, having a group of people who enjoy your work means that you produced work worthy of being enjoyed.

    In the end, I think we, the people who create art and literature, naturally have these feelings in some form. Allowing them to control us is what keeps us from reaching our goals and often is the cause of quitting. Fear isn’t bad, allowing fear to determine our actions can be life altering though.

    Reply

    Brian Willis April 18, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    I suppose I could just say: “Me,too!” and not even write. But as a rookie writer at my age (73) and staking a sizable augmentation to my meagre pension on it, too. Well, I’m just about frozen stiff each time I attempt to tackle the publishing aspect!!

    I’ve almost completed my final draft – busy proofreading and adjusting, but to go further is going to be a real … victory (?). But continue I must; there’s no money in chickening out now.

    By the way, I’ve been getting a bit of “site not available” when trying to get to the home pages of the video’s; and I was wondering why. Any clues or ideas?

    Many thanks for your blog – looks like a real oasis in the wilderness!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander April 18, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Brian, the videos were part of the launch of the Roadmap training program, and registration was only open for a 1-week period, after which the videos were taken offline.

    Sounds like you’re making good progress on your book, so good luck with it.

    Reply

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