How to Self-Publish: 10 Tips for Avoiding Blunders, Bloopers, and Boo-Boos

POSTED ON Apr 23, 2024

Judith Briles

Written by Judith Briles

Home > Blog > Self-Publishing, Book Production > How to Self-Publish: 10 Tips for Avoiding Blunders, Bloopers, and Boo-Boos

Whether you are a newbie author in the midst of trying to figure out how to self-publish your first book or one that has been on the journey already with one or more books, you likely have a list that starts with “Next time…” or “If I had it to do over, I would…”

It is essentially an author and self-publisher bucket list of things to do “right” versus blunders and boo-boos along the way. Every one of us makes them, even those of us who have published many times.

Those blunders, bloopers, and boo-boos—mistakes—cost you time, energy, and money. Sometimes, just small amounts. Other times, they can cost you thousands—enough to knock you out of the playing field. Your mistakes can range widely. They can include:

  • working with the wrong people
  • starting on the wrong path
  • not planning
  • not being realistic
  • low-balling what your real potential is

Mistakes can even easily suck you into self-publishing predator land. And, they can launch you in the wrong direction, one you hadn’t planned to go down.

Newbie authors can easily become overwhelmed. We old-timers can as well…and truth be told, sometimes we just get tired of all the “new stuff” that keeps gurgling up—all the new, must-haves and must-dos to thrive in publishing. And let’s face it, sometimes, we just jump into something that sounds so good that we don’t want to miss the boat…and alas, we wish we had.

How to Self-Publish: Treat Authorship and Publishing as a Business

Are you in this for “something to do,” or are you serious about being a success? Be clear on what it takes to break even—just how many books do you have to sell to cover your initial expenses? Do you have a plan?

Becoming a successful author rarely happens overnight. It takes time and patience along with the plan. In the end, self-publishig is a business.

Tip: Publishing has a cost to it: the investment includes your time, your energy, and yes, your money. Start by getting educated. Hang out with authors who “are doing it” and identify who the top influencers are in publishing.

I’m not talking about the one-book wonder who is the current buzz or self-proclaimed guru. I’m talking about those who have some roots; have been at the game for years; experienced the roller coaster of ups and downs. In other words, they are seasoned and can talk the walk because they have really walked the talk. Follow their blogs, join their communities, and make comments. Attend high-content conferences.

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Beware of Publishing Pitch Fests

Be careful of what is known as a “pitch fest.” Pitched to newbie authors as education, they are really designed to lure them in (and their credit cards) to buy, buy, buy, and buy some more. What are they buying? Products, services, training—you name it. Pitch fests are big business for the promoters. Authors want a quick fix to whatever ails them…or they are on the hunt for the “wonder cure” for quick marketing success…quick ways to get on TV…quick fill-in-the-blank.

Typically, the person running the conference gets half of the money. Such a deal…for them. The truth is that too many attendees get emotionally hooked in the hype of the moment and buy with the herd when they shouldn’t.

Tip: Always use a credit card when paying for services. When the “hype of the moment” cools down and you are back home and realize you got roped in, that whatever you did is a wrong fit or not the right time for you, contact whoever hooked you and withdraw. Most likely you have a brief window to do this, such as three days. If that doesn’t work, contact the credit card company and merely say that what you had initially bought was misrepresented to you and you want your money back. Companies like American Express and Bank of America move fairly quickly on their customer’s behalf (that’s you) and reverse the charges.

If you do land at a pitch fest, go in with a budget for yourself. I’ve seen some shell out mega-thousands with the deer-glazed look in their eyes. Pitch fests will make you feel like the turkey “done” popper has popped up along with getting fannyitis as you sit through one pitch after another. It’s a hype. Author beware.

Only Sign a Contract with a Publisher to “Publish” your Book if It Includes a Reversion of Rights Clause

What’s that, you ask? Simply this: In the “old days,” traditional publishers included a Reversion of Rights clause in contracts with authors. What it did was enable the author to request that ALL rights revert back to him or her under certain conditions, basically terminating the contract for the book. The most common condition was dwindling to no sales. Today, that clause is as common as finding a T-Rex in your local neighborhood.

Many of the new breed of vanity publishers include a clause about termination…be very cautious here. Avoid any that have a clause that states something along the line: You can terminate your contract with a 30 day notice if it’s mutually agreeable. Mutually agreeable? You’ve got to be kidding. If you want out, you want out. The “mutual” can hold you hostage indefinitely.

Tip: Because of POD, any publisher can keep a book “in print” in perpetuity. Ugh. Make sure you include your own version of a Reversion of Rights…meaning that if your total print sales within the year are less than a specific number, such as 300 copies, that you have the right to terminate the contract. Make sure anything you sign with who you work with has an escape clause. Know what the strings are attached to working with them BEFORE you go forward. You will thank me.

Create a System that Quickly Identifies the LATEST File to Work/Write In

Too often, authors get files mixed up. They rewrite, delete and add to files that should have been archived. The wrong ones are “resent” to editors, designers, reviewers.

Tip: Create a “folder” within your working book folder. What you label it is up to you: OLD Files, NON-Working Files, DO NOT USE Files…whatever works for you…after finishing with an old file—MOVE IT to this folder and add the date to it. This eliminates confusion and the possibility of reworking on discards plus the sending of wrong files to a designer or editor. Only keep your CURRENT WORKING file easily available to you.

Don’t Get Just ONE ISBN

In the U.S., Bowker is your only legit source. Go to In countries outside of the United States, look up the correct source via a quick Google search.

You can purchase one ISBN for $125 or 10 ISBNs for $295. As soon as you pay online, you will receive yours within minutes via email. Throughout the year, Bowker offers “specials” offering deals on them. You will need an individual ISBN for each version of your book that you will produce: softcover or paperback, hardcover, eBook, or audiobook.

Tip: Get at least 10, even consider 100! When you start thinking of all the variations of a book: hardback, paper, ebook, audio…then there are new editions or spin-offs of the first book into other books…you can gobble up 10 ISBNs quickly. As a self-publishing author, buy and own your ISBNs—don’t use anyone else’s. Think of an ISBN as your book’s social security number—you want it always to be connected to your name.

Register Your ISBN So Retailers Can Find Your Book

Too many authors think that just having the ISBN is all they need. Nope, you need to take another step. Yes, you buy them through R.R. Bowker and most likely the website. That’s the first step. Now, you need to go back in and get specific—report to R.R. Bowker the exact title that you are assigning to each ISBN you use.

This opens your title(s) up to free listings in Books in Print, Bowker’s Complete Video Directory, The Software Encyclopedia, Words on Tape, etc.

Tip: Having an ISBN for each title is a good thing; the best thing is to get it fully registered with the R.R. Bowker “gods” so that you are ensured that your titles are in the Books in Print database.

Does Your Back Cover Have the Blues?

Your back cover is the “real estate” where your pitch as to why the buyer needs your book should be pitch-perfect. Is it?

Start with a snappy, sassy, salty headline. A grabber—one that gets the eyeballs to stop and think “Tell me more!” “OMG, this is for me.” “Yes!”

Next, write a snappy description of your book and put it at the TOP of the back cover—it’s your lead after the headline.

Readers shopping for books follow an age-old browsing routine. They check out the title, then flip the book over and look at the top of the back cover for a description of what’s inside. Self-publishers seem bent on frustrating these potential buyers. They often leave this description off the book altogether, write it in convoluted prose, or bury it at the bottom of the back cover.

Stop. Your copy needs to pull the reader in.

  • If it’s nonfiction, concise short sentences on key points within; how the book will ease their pain or provide a solution.
  • For fiction, study how book reviewers literally “rope” in a reader with just one sentence—get a copy of the Sunday New York Times Book Review section—it’s excellent as a guide—then a paragraph or two that is snappy, sassy, salty.

Welcome to marketing.

Tip: Write a crisp, enticing summary of your book, and don’t make readers break a sweat hunting for it. Use bullet points; make sure the cover designer uses design and graphic techniques that will highlight a key phrase or endorsement.

Your Book Isn’t for Everyone…

One of the most common mistakes authors and writers let roll out of their mouths when asked “who” the book is for…respond, “Everyone needs my book.”

No, they don’t. Get real, who is your book really for?

  • Men?
  • Women?
  • Kids (what age)?
  • Singles?
  • Marrieds?
  • Partners?
  • Who knows?
  • Workers?
  • Retirees?
  • Travelers?
  • Cooks?
  • Post College?
  • High School Grads?
  • Lovers of Horror?
  • WHO?

It’s a long, long list out there.

Tip: The more you niche yourself, the bigger your market becomes. When you know WHO your market reader is, writing is easier and so is the marketing when the book is completed.

Always Get a Word Document of Your Final Book PDF

After you have your book laid out by a designer, request that a file in addition to the final PDF of the book be created. The final book is always different from the edited manuscript you turned in for layout. Always—the post layout “cold eye” read before printing finds additional changes. You want a “clean” new Word document in your master book file to make any additions or deletions for future print runs or revisions.

Tip: There are so many changes in a manuscript AFTER it is sent to a designer that it’s hard to keep up with them. Ask what the costs are for a final conversion back to a Word document post PDF. That way—any future editions are easy to work within and you have the “latest” to work on.

Ask for Reviews

Be upfront and ask for book reviews…and be prepared to ask again and again. Amazon wants them…and you need them.

Tip: Gather names and emails everywhere you are. When you give a book away, do a follow-up with the link to your Amazon page. And ask. When they are posted…copy and save to your computer. The Amazon gremlins are known to gobble and delete every once in a while.

The more you get, the more presence and power your book will have on Amazon and to future buyers who are searching for our topic and expertise.

Self-publishing blunders, bloopers, and boo-boos…they happen. Are they preventable when figuring out how to self-publish a book? Usually.

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Judith Briles

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Judith Briles

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