5 Deadly Traps, and How Self-Publishers Can Avoid Them!

Self-publishing your own book is easier than it has ever been before, but that doesn't mean that the process is easy ... or risk-free.

Traditional publishers and publishing houses did/do lots of things for authors ... all of those things still need to get done, and thinking or acting otherwise can lead to non-existent (or slow) sales, poverty, boredom, reduced numbers of groupies, angst, depression, lack of exposure, and shuffling around your house in sweatpants and bunny-slippers for days/weeks at a stretch.
 {Note: traditional publishing can lead to all of these things also, but read on for ideas on how to avoid them}

Please think of this article as a very basic introduction to the facts of life that an indie-author has to learn if they want to avoid becoming angry and crazy and bitter ... there is a wealth of information about each of the traps discussed below, but awareness is the key to avoiding them, and this article should at the least help with that issue.

Trap #1 - Readers, Editors, Proofers
Your book ends up being both personal and familiar to you by the time you are done writing it ... don't try to content-read, edit, and proof your own writing ... it just doesn't work.

You have to bring in outside eyes to read it through (at least) three different kinds of reading.  Content reading is a first look at your writing, to see how the story flows, and get a feel for the characters, the arc, and conflict/resolution.  Editing involves reading the essentially finished story for grammar and spelling and such. Proof-reading is a final look at the finished product, prior to sending it off to be published.  

Each reading of your book is different, and each is vital.  You cannot do these read-throughs of your book on your own, and expect a quality final product.

Trap #2 - Cover Design & Layout
The cover is the first (and sometimes only) thing that people will use to make a judgment about your book ...despite the old saying, people judge books by their covers all the time.

This is also true of the layout and look of your book inside the covers; if the book layout and design is unappealing, people may put yours back and grab another.

It's worth researching covers and inside layouts to find out what is standard and/or eye-grabbing in your genre.  It may be that you're able to produce a nice looking cover and to format the interior, but if you're not sure, seek help.  It's not worth compromising the look (and sales) of your book by producing a crappy looking cover and inside to save a few bucks.

A sub-set of trap #2 is the front-matter and back-matter of your book.  Do some research online.  Go to a bookstore and see how books that you like manage these things.  Ask other indie-authors what they include, and how they prefer to do it.  This is an easy to avoid trap, but you have to put in the time.

Trap #3 - Printing and Binding and Distribution
This is one of the biggies, for a variety of reasons.  In days of yore, many self-publishers paid thousands of dollars to have a few hundred copies of their books printed, only to spend the next 40 years with boxes of poorly printed books sitting in their garage (having sold 30 copies to some friends and family ... and then nobody else), with no way for bookstores beyond shouting distance to know about the existence of your book

The problems with that model were/are:
  • Print On Demand (POD) technology has come so far that it's both quick and economically feasible to print one copy of my book.  This means that I don't have to warehouse hundreds or thousands of copies of my book, waiting/hoping for sales to catch up with my out-of pocket printing costs.
  • Being able to see exactly what your finished product will look like means never having to open a box of books from your underemployed (for a reason) printer and gawking (and/or crying) at a weird font or odd layout or crappy cover colors.
  • Some of the POD publishers (I'm thinking most especially of Amazon's CreateSpace) can connect my book with booksellers anywhere on the planet ... this was not the case with a cottage industry printer who shipped my finished product straight to me, and was done.
There are lots of different companies out there involved in printing/binding/distribution, and your job is to do some googling, some reading, some outreach to other indie-authors, and find the one that has the right mix for you.

Trap #4 - Marketing and Promotion
This is the biggest trap of all for most authors, especially those of us who self-publish.  The best book in the world will never sell (except by accident) without a detailed and ongoing marketing and promotion plan.

"If you build it, they will come." - not true.

This may have worked for Kevin Costner in "Field of Dreams", but in a market literally flooded with self-published books, it doesn't stand up to a reality check.

Your first job as an author is to write the best book that you can (avoiding trap #1 is a big help).  After that is done, you need to produce a book that looks and feels great, to you and your readers, and could theoretically get into the hands of every person who might be interested in reading it (an awareness of trap #2 and #3 helps make this work).  The final piece in making sure that your book finds an audience is to help your audience find your book.

This will involve a mixture of local and regional and worldwide outreach and activity.

At the local level, you should bring copies of your book to all booksellers that connect with your target audience within an hour or two. Make sure that they know that you're willing to come in for signings or talks.

At the regional level, you should send a press release to every newspaper, radio station, and magazine that caters to your book's intended audience.  Read and research the best ways to produce this press release for your market.

Your global information and outreach efforts will center on your author blog or website; explore the blogs and websites of authors that you admire, and try to provide the same information and level of service (in much the same vein, you should also take advantage of the Amazon Author's Page program, if possible).  In addition, you should connect with readers (and other writers) online, though such social networks as Facebook, Twitter, GooglePlus, GoodReads, and YouTube.  Another possible means of exposure for your writing worth considering can be the blogs or websites of other writers.

Thoughtful pricing of your books, and taking careful advantage of opportunities to give ebook copies away on targeted days or in contests are good ways to get your books into the hands of people who can read and enjoy and positively review them.

When in doubt, read and research more about marketing and promotion ... remember, it's not what writers do, so there's nothing wrong with not knowing anything in the beginning.  The corollary to that is that you need to keep your research and efforts in marketing and promotion under control because doing too much can be it's own kind of trap, and drive you nuts.

Trap #5 - Tiger Traps
The fifth, and final, trap I'll be discussing in this article is far and away the most dangerous ... actual tiger traps!

Where the other traps can leave a you frustrated and impoverished, tiger traps can leave self-published authors unlucky enough to fall into them bleeding at the bottom of a filthy hole in the ground (with the real possibility that an actual tiger may fall on top of you at some point, and either crush you or attack in a frenzy of pain and fear).

Fortunately, as with the other traps discussed above, tiger traps can be avoided by following a few simple rules:
  1. Avoid traveling the backcountry in places likely to be filled with tigers (or tiger hunters).
  2. Failing that, continuously hurl heavy objects (think watermelons or cinder-blocks) in front of you to expose tiger traps before you fall into them.
  3. If that proves difficult, study the picture above, and look for rectangular patches of ground-cover with growth patterns different from the surrounding ground, indicative of tiger traps ... avoid these.
  4. As a backup to the above measures, consider wearing gigantic snowshoe-like baskets on your feet to prevent your falling into traps you cannot otherwise avoid.

These measures should help you avoid the most common pitfalls of self-publishing, as well as dying in a tiger-trap.

Good Luck!



1 comment:

Ceejae Devine said...


You really got me thinking...like should I change directions and go into business manufacturing gigantic snowshoe-like baskets? No. No. It’s tempting, but I’m going to get this WIP done. Your suggestions are greatly appreciated.

--Ceejae Devine