Top 10 List of the Worst Possible Self-Publishing Mistakes

by | Jul 5, 2010

During the recent Book Expo America in New York City, a friend of the Book Designer came across a document they quietly passed along to me.

It seems to have slipped out of the office of one of David Letterman’s writers, and follows a familiar “Letterman-esque” format and style. I can’t say any more about the origin of this document, but see what you make of this:

Top 10 Worst Self-Publishing Mistakes

10. You thought you could re-use that ISBN you paid so much for since the novel you put it on last year isn’t selling anyway.

9. Everybody knows the words to the song, so it’s okay to quote lyrics from it throughout your book, right?

8. The photos looked fine on your screen, and that means they will look fine when they’re printed, it just makes sense.

7. I picked Arial for my book because the name reminded me of my middle school girlfriend.

6. I know they’re charging me $6,000 to publish my book, but I get 10 copies, absolutely free!

5. I thought it would sound more impressive if I wrote my memoir in the third person. All my sports heroes talk that way.

4. I really got the unit price down, but I had to print 10,000 copies. You have any room in your garage?

3. Sure, I included an invoice with all the books I sent to book reviewers. Hey, they don’t care, it’s just a big company paying the bill.

2. It was cheaper to print my novel as an 8-1/2″ x 11″ book because I got so many words on each page.

And the number 1 Worst Possible Self-Publishing Mistake:

1. What do you mean, I need a cover designer? Don’t books come with covers?

(Ed note: I have destroyed the original, so there will be no trace of this ever having existed!)


tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Samantha

    #11: Editor? I don’t need one of those. I got a B+ in high school English class.

  2. Percy Chattey Thriller Books

    So far I am only guilty of #8, using low resolution images for my books. Bt now my web designer has explained the difference between print and web images… My latest book cover “The Black Venus” is so much better using a montage of larger paid for stock images at “300dpi”. My sample print book from Amazon CreateSpace looks top notch! I can imagine it sitting it the book shelf of a famous book store now. You can see my books at – thanks!

  3. Andrea

    It’s so refreshing to read something funny, especially first thing Monday morning! The only item I would have added is, “Thinking your book’s been edited after your mom or dad read it. (Unless, of course they’re professional editors.)”

  4. Gary VanRiper

    I agree P.O.D. is a ridiculous way to go in 99% of circumstances. (I leave !% as wiggle room for some instance I may have overlooked:) And I agree 10,000 copies is massive for a self-publisher’s first run. However, you had better be prepared to print a substantial run to get that price per unit down and be prepared to have some space to store them. If there is another way to get the unit price down and leave enough $$$ for bookstore, distributor, book prep, ISBN, printing, reprints etc and still make some profit yourself – love to hear it.

    • Michael N. Marcus

      Gary: I don’t want to invest in book inventory. I don’t want to operate a warehouse and shipping department. I don’t want accounts receivable. I don’t want to provide a 55% discount. I don’t want tattered books coming back. I don’t care about my books being on shelves in terrestrial bookstores.

      I am quite satisfied with the costs, convenience and profits using POD and having my books sold by Amazon, B&N, Target and dozens of online sellers of p-books and e-books worldwide.

      If someone goes into a B&N store and wants my book, she can have it in a day or two. If she must have it the next day, she can order it from Amazon. If the next day is too far away, she can buy an e-book.

      My net profit is typically 40-60% of cover price on POD paperbacks selling in the $9.99 – $19.95 range. It’s very unlikely that I could beat that with offset printing, high discounts and returnability.

      Michael N. Marcus

      — Just out (but needs a few corrections): “STINKERS!: America’s Worst Self-Published Books,”

  5. Ressa

    Ugh! Sorry, memory problems are a huge part of my ‘health thing’…

    In response to your reply: Yes, of course I have word processing software. In fact I have 4 different programs. And my graphics ‘buddy’ has several of the major programs to do cover art and all those other goodies. I’d just forgotten about him, since I haven’t heard from him for a while. Looks like he’ll be getting a phone call. :D

    I think I’ll maybe hit up ‘our’ Joel, see what he thinks about my mess…

    I’m done now, really I am :D Thanks again!

  6. Ressa

    Hi Michael, and thanks for your input! I am not interested only friends, family and e-books, lol. I actually entered a contest, and even though it was a huge and rare opportunity, I was happy to not win. Had I found some of the things I just found, before entering, I wouldn’t have entered. Not that I thought I’d win, but if a publishing deal would’ve been the result, I was not prepared for how little I would have made from my own creation.

    I have a friend who went to graphics design school forever – running joke is that he went for 50 years :D – and he’s willing to help me in any way he can. He also worked for a printing company for several years. Pinning him down is another story, but I will.

    Since my last post, I did start a account. Already excited about getting it all filled in and running! Thanks for that, too!

    I think I’ve come up with a way to cover the up-front expenses to self-pub asap. I just have many, many other things going on all at once. My health isn’t the best either, so I have to work around that. *rolls eyes*

    Okay, this isn’t a ‘chat room’, so I digress… Thank you again for your help, I appreciate it. :D

  7. Ressa

    I started a CreateSpace account a few months back hoping to use it for my first completed MS. Now that I’m trying to really get it done, I’ve gone back to CS, hoping to finish it.

    I was told about this site by a fellow author who said she didn’t have to pay anything, at all to self-pub. I know there are options, and obviously she did not use them, (the ones you must pay for). Would I be considered extremely naive if I went that route? Or do you suggest I pay for one of the packages they offer??

    This is a great site & I really appreciate everyone’s time & help! :D

    • Michael N. Marcus

      Ressa, if your book is aimed only at friends or family, an extremely low budget is OK. (No company will provide “physical” books for free, but you can publish e-books for free, assuming you have word-processing software.)

      OTOH, if you want to sell your books, figure on spending between $1k and $3k for professional design and editing, and maybe publicity.

      There are many companies and people (including our host, Joel) that provide the needed services, or you can get a complete package from CS. For a first book, it will be simpler to buy a package, but you should consider buying some services independently.

      My Get the Most Out of a Self Publishing Company: Make a better deal. Make a better book can help.

  8. Robbi Sommers Bryant

    I’m self publishing through Create Space, Under I have been extremely happy so far with the services. I started the copy edit with them, the cover and interior design. They wrote a beautiful blurb for the back of the book. Gave me synopsis and query help, and I’m going on with their media release, video trailer and more. The price was very reasonable and I get 75 free books.

    • Michael N. Marcus

      Robbi, I’ve used CS for some of my books, and I’m glad that you’re pleased with them.

      However, the 75 books were definitely not free. You paid for them as part of your publishing package.

      Also, what are you going to do with a pile of 75 books? You should have some to send to reviewers and to use as gifts, but you may have 50 more than you need. Those 50 books may have cost you $250.

      Michael N. Marcus
      — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
      — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),”

      • Robbi Sommers Bryant

        Hi, Just a quick note…I’ve already pre-sold over 100 books. Plus my book release party, I’ll need more.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Robbi, CreateSpace is a terrific provider and I often recommend them to authors. They have excellent user forums in addition to the other services they offer, and I’m glad to hear it worked out well for you. Good luck with your book!

  9. Hank Lajoie

    I got a perfect score! Do I get a prize? I mean, I got all ten, except using the ISBN again. I thought that was a capital felony. Now I share how naive I was with others, just as naive. Seriously… good stuff!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hey Hank, we all started off pretty much the same way. Now you know, and we try to educate prospective publishers to avoid these common mistakes. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Lorna

    These are great points. I’m sure some people are scratching their heads asking “why?” to each one. Any chance of a follow up article to explain the list?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Lorna, you mean like why you shouldn’t pick a typeface for your book based on an old girlfriend’s name? That might be fun, actually. Thanks for the idea.

      • Michael N. Marcus

        I had a summertime romance with a hot babe named Verdana, and an awful blind date with Baskerville Old Face.

        BUT SERIOUSLY, FOLKS…At my first job in advertising, I fell in love with Korinna (the typeface–not a woman). I used “her” in headlines, on posters, on packaging, on brochures, on personal notepads, everything. Eventually I got bored with her and moved on to fresher faces.

        Now, nearly 40 years later, my book cover artist is Carina and my portrait photographer is Karina. It’s graphic arts destiny.

        However, for the past two years I’ve felt a strong attraction to Rockwell Bold. Rocky has been in all of my books.

        Is my heterofontosexuality fading away?

        I think I’d better listen to “Corinna, Corinna” to straighten me out.

        • Deb Dorchak

          Oh man, that’s the best comment I’ve seen in a long time! Thanks for the chuckle.

          • Michael N. Marcus

            Ok Deb, since you admit to being part of that special group of enlightened human beings who appreciate my sense of humor, I think it’s appropriate to plug my “hysterically funny” book (with Rockwell Bold on the title page, of course).

            “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults)”

            It has over 100 stories spanning 55 years and it’s guaranteed to be at least 80% true.

            I thought I was wrting it “for the guys” but lots of women like it. My wife–who’s in the book–refuses to read it.

            END OF COMMERCIAL.

            Now you can get back to the really important stuff like blind folios, kerning, dingbats, ligatures and virgules.

            BTW, do you prefer dry or wet flongs for fleurons?

            And can a frontispiece substitute for a codpiece?

        • Joel Friedlander

          I think I’ll re-set Michael’s comment in my current favorite typeface, “Dirty Headline.”

          • Deb

            Gotta love shameless self promotion. I’ll definitely have to check out your book now.

            Hmmm…I’m going out on a limb here and going to say a wet flong only because it seems like it would have more staying power over time.

            And sure, if you’re really creative a frontispiece could be a substitute for a codpiece, but that would have to be some heavy duty paper.

  11. rain

    These are great tips….i have been contemplating writting a book for over 15 years…and didnt have the courage, so i have written a blog. The things mentioned are really helpful to my writting. Especially the lyrics from songs. thanks

    • Joel Friedlander

      Rain, I’m glad you found something useful here, and congratulations on starting your blogging journey.

  12. Michael N. Marcus

    But it’s fine to reuse an “ISBN number.”

    Make sure you observe proper upper- and lower case in email addresses and URLs.

    If you have printing on the inside of the front cover, make sure it says “page 1” on it.

    If you three-hole-punch your pages, you won’t have to supply book covers.

    Pick a name for your little publishing company that makes you sound important, like Random Home, Simon & Shoestore, or Hatchet Group.

    Book titles can’t be copyrighted so you can “ride the coattails” of a bestseller. You can call your book “Gulliver’s Travel’s,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Going Rogue” or “Holy Bible” if you like.

    If someone else has grabbed a dot-com web address that you like, use another version. You can be,,, or

    Make your book stand out. Try running the words in vertical columns or printing in Pig Latin.

    Add some class to your book by inserting random pages from Sophocles, Freud, Shakespeare, Dickens, Homer and Hemingway.

    Make your book more fun by eliminating the table of contents and index.

    Editors, dictionaries and spell checkers are for babies. The Bible was written without a spell checker, and millions of copies have been sold.

  13. Sherrice Thomas

    This was a great post. My favorite tip was about the ISBN.

  14. Jessie Mac

    I had to laugh. Thanks for that. Not guilty of any yet but after your post, hopefully not guilty ever.

  15. Michael N. Marcus

    I got a gold star from Mrs. Epstein for a PTA meeting poster I drew in third grade. I can design my own covers and interior and website. If I use a mirror, I can even take my own portrait picture for the back cover and press kit.

    Why should I pay some fancy-pants expert? All men are created eekwill, write?

  16. Deb Dorchak

    Good ones! I’m particularly fond of #10.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Deb, you and me both! I had one client who said to me, totally serious, “Design? All you do is put the page numbers on, right?” LoL

  17. Jason

    Funny! So far I’m safe on all counts. Let’s see if I can keep it that way!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Yeah, have to be able to laugh at yourself, don’t you think?

  18. Vincent Nguyen


    Great list of “Things not to do” if you want to be a successful self-publisher.

    Word of advice to everyone who has made these blunders…..take advice from Joel here.




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