4 Mistakes to Avoid When Self-Publishing (and a Bonus for Querying)
Updated: Jan 29
On my journey to becoming an indie author, I'm consuming a lot of videos, blog articles, and general information about self-publishing. Sometimes it's like drinking from a fire hose. And even though I'm learning a LOT, I've still made a few missteps.
Here are 5 oopsies I've made during the indie publishing process. Learn from my mistakes and avoid making them yourself!
5 mistakes to avoid during the publishing process:
Not setting a budget
Sending the manuscript to an editor before beta readers
Commissioning the cover art before the manuscript is finalized
Going AWOL from your author platform
Querying before the professional edits
1. Not setting a budget
When I set out to hire an editor, a cover artist, etc., I had a geeeeneral idea of how much it would cost, but I didn't actually calculate it before I started hiring. I didn't even write it all down in one place as I went. I had to scrounge up my old bank statements when I got my Book Launch Planner and found the Budget page.
What this means is that I wasn't fully aware of how much money I was spending. Each expense came individually, with months in between. I didn't look at them all together.
If I could do it over, I'd set up a budget ahead of time and keep my eye on how each commission/hire worked into the big picture of my money.
What to learn: At the beginning, set at least a general budget so you know what price ranges you're looking for.
2. Sending the manuscript to an editor before beta readers
I had one beta reader look over my story before I sent it to my developmental editor. Yes, count 'em, one. And she hadn't even finished it yet!
My developmental editor, Jessica Snyder, helped me revise the manuscript into something way better, and I love her for it. But dear lord, ONE beta reader beforehand? Poor Jessica.
On one hand, she provided so much amazing feedback, and it ended up changing the manuscript enough that I'm glad I didn't waste weeks or months fiddling with the old version. On the other hand, having multiple beta readers would have pointed out some of those issues, and my editor could've provided feedback on less obvious problems.
If I could do it over, I'd recruit multiple betas/CPs, have them read and recommend improvements, and THEN send the manuscript on to the developmental editor.
What to learn: Get feedback from beta readers and critique partners before hiring a professional editor.
3. Commissioning the cover art before the manuscript is finalized
If you're offering print versions of your book, your cover art has to match the dimensions of how tall, wide, and thick the book will be.
This seems obvious, but let me emphasize: you have to know your exact page count to know how thick your book will be.
Ergo, if you're still editing the manuscript and the page count may change, you should wait on commissioning that cover art. I commissioned my cover art when my manuscript was MOSTLY done, so I made an educated estimate on the width. So there's a chance it'll be the wrong size when all's written and done.
If I could do it over, I'd finish my edits first so that I could know the dimensions for SURE.
What to learn: Finalize the manuscript before hiring someone to do the cover art.
4. Going AWOL from your author platform
Free tip: Have an author platform on social media. Maintain it. Value it.
I started my author platform (Insta, FB, and YouTube) in summer 2019, but in winter, I suffered a depressive episode, and I didn't post anything or interact with anyone for several months. When I finally got back to business, I had to effectively start over because I'd been gone so long.
I've recovered from that break and expanded my platform(s), but I lost some of the engagement that I'd had beforehand.
If I could do it over, when I needed to take a break, I'd still post at least once a week on Instagram.
What to learn: Maintain a regular presence on your online platforms as much as possible.
5. Querying before the professional edits
I've decided to self-publish my debut novel, but earlier in the process, I queried agents and editors to traditionally publish.
I'd had a beta reader and made changes based on her feedback. However, I hadn't hired my professional editor yet. So when agents responded asking for an excerpt or the full manuscript, they were effectively receiving only the second or third draft.
If I could do it over, I'd have more than one beta reader plus my professional editor(s) go over my story before I sent out requests for representation.
What to learn: Finish your beta reads and edits before querying agents.
Learn from my mistakes, okay? Don't pick yourself the same bouquet of whoopsie-daisies.
How to avoid my mistakes when preparing to publish:
Set a budget.
Send the manuscript to beta readers before editors.
Finalize the manuscript before commissioning the cover art.
Stay consistent on your author platform.
Do professional edits before querying.
Now go forth and self-publish!
I believe in you!
For more writerly things, you can follow me on Facebook ("Author Ivy L. James"), Instagram (@authorivyljames), Twitter (@AuthorIvyLJames), and YouTube ("Author Ivy L. James")! I post about writing, writing romance specifically, adulting, my corgi Pippa Finn, and other fun things.
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