Roni Krakover

7 Mistakes I made publishing my first book: the don’ts of self-publishing

Every person has a certain ability to learn from other people’s advice; I would say on average people can learn 40% from advice and 60% from their own mistakes. Because I unfortunately learn 90% from my own mistakes and only 10% from useful advice, I guess it was inevitable that I screwed up my first book.

Where is my first book? At the moment, nowhere to be found – when you read the list below you will understand why. I published it about a year and a half ago, put a lot of work into it, but screwed it up with rookie mistakes. I did publish another book since, with much less mistakes. A completely different genre – you can find it here if you like.

If you are someone who can learn from others’ advice, you are sure to benefit from my list. If you are like me and learn only from failure, you should stop reading blogs and simply get into action.

Mistake #1 – I didn’t take an editor

English is not my first language, yet for some reason I thought that if I proofread the book 3 times it would be okay. Big mistake. Even experienced, native English authors take editors.

Never publish a book without a good editor.

This is not supposed to be a big expense – contact me if you need help finding a low cost professional editor.

Mistake #2 – I didn’t take a second reader

A second reader is just what you think it is – another person that reads your finished manuscript (before you send it to an editor). Normally you would pick someone with experience in the topic you are writing about, so he or she can point out your blind spots: does the order of chapters make sense? Is there any information missing? Are you explicitly offering your readers to engage in illegal activity? (I had some mildly illegal suggestions in my latest book but decided to keep them. Book will probably be banned one day.)

How do you find a second reader?

  • Become part of an author community where authors read each other’s books and comment
  • Ask someone you trust for a favor
  • Approach industry leaders and offer to have their name on the book as co-authors (they will have to read and comment about the book they are about to publish…)

If you can’t get a second reader and can only get an editor you should be fine, however – getting a second reader can be super helpful.

Mistake #3 – I let a friend who writes thrillers edit a chapter, even though my book was not a thriller.

After my book was “ready” (a.k.a. I thought it was ready because I proofread it three times), I asked a friend who published books to edit my book for me (see mistake #1 – take a professional editor!). He said he would, but then got busy. (Expect this to happen– editing a book is f’ing hard work and takes a lot of time. Leave it to a paid professional.) However, I was in a rush to publish my book – wanted to get it out there – so I asked him to edit the first chapter.

Why does that even make sense? When people browse Amazon looking for books, they can peek into the first few pages.  I thought that if I could just get the first chapter to be well edited and attract readers, I could get away with the rest of the book being “un-edited” – obviously because the plot was so good! (huh?)

So my friend edited the first chapter, and made it match his writing style. The result was “choppy” and mysterious, to the point of being unclear– creating suspense the way many thrillers do. But my book was not a thriller. It was a novel. The first chapter didn’t fit the rest of the book at all.

Note: a professional editor knows how to keep your style while working on your manuscript.

Mistake #4 – I used a pen name

While using a pen name may work for some, it has serious drawbacks: creating an “identity” takes a lot of time and energy. If you’re going to use your pen name for all publications, it makes sense to put your energy into creating a new identity; but if you want to publish stuff under your real name as well, splitting your energy between your pen name and your real name will be exhausting. It is hard enough to publish interesting content on one blog, publishing interesting content on more than one website, if you are not doing this full time, is nearly impossible.

Mistake #5 – I didn’t un-publish the book right after bad reviews started rolling in

Right after publishing the book, I spent a couple of weekends on marketing. My marketing effort resulted in very nice reach – 13,000 readers downloaded the free version of my book.

However, since I did not take an editor (mistake #1), negative reviews started pouring in, complaining about typos and bad grammar, and pointing out the lack of professional editing. The few brave people who got over the typos and grammar to actually read the book thought the story was really good. But they were few.

Seeing all those negative reviews, I hired an editor and released a fixed version of the manuscript a couple of months after the initial publishing. Unfortunately some of the 13,000 people who downloaded the book on the initial free promotion took some time until they actually read it. So even though the new version was up, they were commenting on the old version, damaging the reputation further.

Mistake #6 – My book had an agenda, and it wasn’t subtle enough

I wanted to use the platform of my book to point out some human rights issues I thought were largely ignored, so I let the characters in my book discuss them in their dialogs. Looking back, I think it was a little forced and didn’t contribute much to the plot. I should’ve let the book setting (the environment etc.) do the job and trust my readers to be smart enough to absorb the issues without being spoon-fed through dialogs.

When you write a book, you always want to bring some of your values to the table; try to do it through the characters’ actions rather than through dialogs.

Mistake #7 – I expected to get help from the author community without contributing

This is true for all communities. Give and you shall receive.

Author communities can be helpful in marketing your book; you can offer fellow authors your book for free and ask them for comments and reviews. However, in order for other authors to spend their time helping you, it is best if you start by helping them. Join an author community and help others by being their second reader, as well as by commenting and reviewing – everything you want them to do for you eventually.

Bonus mistake

This one wasn’t on the original list, but now as I am about to publish the post, I want to add something more. Don’t rush when publishing a book. You often get one shot only. Expect the process to last longer than you think, and be as patient as you can…

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29 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Would love to read both. Amazing… Good luck!

  • Nicely done! Something we should all be aware of in our efforts: SLOW DOWN! Strive to produce the best possible product you can, but know that it will take time!

  • Thanks. I’m writing my first book and reading everything I can while I write. There may not be an answer to this question, about how long does it take to do it right. I know each book is different. I researched for a few years and started within about 4 months ago. Is taking awhile, with all the other work that needs to be done. I was hoping to have it ready by June 2016. Is that realistic?

    • Hi Sonni,

      It can be – are you aiming for a specific number of words (about 300-330 words in a page)? If you are, take that number and divide it by the work days you have left to see how much you have to write per day on average.

      Example- if you wanted to write a 300 page book, you are looking at about 100,000 words.
      If you write 4 days a week and want to finish your first draft within 24 weeks, you have 4X24=96 days left to write, which means 1041 words per day on average.

      Good luck and keep me posted !

  • My big mistake is mentioned on the bonus mistake, lol… yes, I was in a rush to publish it, then I found something was missing, so I had to make a 2nd Edition. The 1st Edition was a thriller. The 2nd one…. well well well.

    • I guess it’s inevitable to make that mistake sometimes 🙂

  • These are great mistakes to know about.

    Last September I decided I wanted to write a book. Just came out of nowhere really. Then I heard about NaNoWriMo and said, well, let’s do this then. Let’s act on what I say I want to do. So I wrote a book. A 70,000 word book in November 2014. I thought it was the greatest thing. Until it sat, waiting on a number of various “second readers” (I have about 6 so far and two lined up for the next edited version). I started going through some of their comments and rereading my story and realized, it needs a lot of work. I originally thought I would have it ready to publish by the end of this month. Looks like not until the end of the year maybe.

    I am still not sure about paying for an editor. I really just want to publish for myself. But I will take your suggestions in and seriously consider finding some money for that. Might as well do something right if I’m going to do it at all.

    Again, thank you for your comments. They are very helpful.

    • Hi Gloria,

      Thanks for your comment 🙂
      Taking an editor may be more affordable than you think. PM me through the contact page if you need a recommendation for a good, affordable editor:

  • Well, I’ve made all these mistakes. Post without an editor, and finally came to the conclusion that I can not do it alone, so I’m starting to pay to a publisher and a reviewer to avoid disappointment. I like your post. Very useful. I am Portuguese and write with a pen name.

  • Thank you so much for this! I have been stressing that I’m not getting my indy book out yet. However, I’m so paranoid about editing that I’m willing to be patient and make a good book GREAT! Thank you for being my second boost on this. I will be saving this for later reference when frustration builds again.

  • I am about to write my first piece and your advice could not have come at a better time. Thank you!

  • Regina Rushing says:

    Thanks for spilling your ‘dirty laundry’ for us-keep spilling. I am certainly willing to learn from your mistakes

    I’m on my first novel too and I’m doing my best to write skillfully instead of just getting published. Its like having a baby stuck in the birth canal-arghh!

    But im determined to look back on my first novel with as little regret as possible. I want every book to count.

    Its hard to see other newbie friend writers publishing left and right. But I dont just want to be new. I want to be good!

    Im reading a lot of books on the craft of writing and reading authors I love. This first book will be the hardest. After this…its downhill

  • Well, I am guilty of one of those for sure. I had someone who was going to edit my little children’s book and then her husband died and so thinking I could just do it myself w a little help from my husband, who is also a writer I put it out there and then saw the typos. Dang it. I had to pull it back in and correct them and then still found another one after putting it back out there. The book itself is a winner according to the great reviews I have been getting on Amazon but I still need to take it down and correct that last little typo.

    • Don’t worry about one typo… I’ve seen sporadic typos in big publishing houses releases too!

  • Thanks for this post. It may help few of the aspiring authors. I’m wondering if you only published the kindle version of your second book?

    • Hi Vishal, yes I only published a kindle version of my second book.

  • Good advice. I think these are things we have all thought about and considered doing.

  • Great post. As writers, we get so close to our work we can’t see the edits and revisions needed. There are so many books available because of self-publishing, it is sometimes hard to sort through and find the stellar ones.

  • We arre a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community.
    Your site provided us with valuable info to work on. You’ve done an impressive job and our whole community will be thankful to you.

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