Caveat Venditor—Five Mistakes KILLING Self-Published Authors

Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World, social media authors, Kristen Lamb, WANA, Rise of the Machines

All right, it’s about to be a brand new year and many of you are wanting to finally see your books published. ROCK ON! But, I am the friend who will tell you if there is toilet paper hanging out of your pants. Writing isn’t all glitter and unicorns and I want to warn you of the most common stumbling blocks, because I really DO want you to succeed.

When I began writing I was SO SURE agents would be fighting over my manuscript. Yeah. But after almost fourteen years in the industry, a lot of bloody noses, and even more lessons in humility, I hope that these tips will help you.

Self-publishing is AWESOME, and it’s a better fit for certain personalities and even content (um, social media?), but we must be educated before we publish. In fact, my last book Rise of the Machines (cover above) is much more than a social media book. I dedicate a large portion of the book explaining how the various forms of publishing work, because you need to make the best choice for YOU.

I want that decision to be an EDUCATED decision.

Moving on….

Mistake #1 Publishing Before We Are Ready

The problem with the ease of self-publishing is that it is, well, too easy. When we are new, frankly, most of us are too dumb to know what we don’t know. Just because we made As in English, does not automatically qualify us to write a work spanning 60,000-100,000 words. I cannot count how many writers I’ve met who refuse to read fiction, refuse to read craft books, and who only go to pitch agents when they attend conferences at the expense of attending the craft sessions.

Additionally, too many new writers I meet do not properly understand the antagonist. They don’t grasp three-act structure, and most don’t have any idea what I mean when I mention POV, Jungian archetypes, or the phrase, “scene and sequel.”

I see a lot of new writers who believe their story is the exception, that the rules make for “formulaic” writing. No, rules are there for a reason, and, if the writing is too formulaic, it has more to do with execution than the rules.

****And YES, we can and SHOULD break rules but that is another post. Every musician has to learn to play the instrument before reinventing music as we know it.*****

Three-act structure has been around since Aristotle, and there is a lot of evidence in neuroscience that suggests that three-act structure is actually hard-wired into the human brain. Thus, when we deviate too far from three-act structure, it confuses and frustrates readers.

Stories have clear beginnings, middles and ends. Without a clear story objective, it is impossible to generate dramatic tension, and what is left over is drama’s inbred cousin, melodrama. Yet, many writers start off writing a book without properly understanding the basic skeleton of story.

Heck, I didn’t and I deserved every rejection I got…

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 8.16.37 AM

Writing fiction is therapeutic, but it isn’t therapy. Yes, characters should struggle with inner demons, but that does not a plot make. Struggling with weakness, inner demons, insecurity, addictions are all character arc, not plot arc. There should be a core story problem that we can articulate in ONE sentence. The plot arc should serve to drive the character arc. If the character does not grow and change she will fail, but it is the core story problem that drives this change.

No problem, no crucible.

Yes, we are artists, but we need to understand the fundamentals. I played clarinet for years, and yes it was an art. But this didn’t excuse me from having to learn to read music, the finger positions and proper embouchure (the way to position the mouth to play).

The better we are at the basics, the better we know the rules, the more we become true artists.

I’ve received contest winners whose first pages were filled with newbie errors. Yet, when I sent them my critique filled with pages of corrections, I would then receive a reply telling me that the book had already been self-published.


Sometimes there are reasons we are being rejected and we need to take a hard look and be honest. Self-publishing is suffering a stigma from too many writers publishing before they are ready. If you really want to self-publish, I am here to support you and cheer you all the way. Heck, I did it. Will probably do it again.

But remember, though the stigma IS fading we have to write better than the traditional authors.

Mistake #2 Jumping in Before Understanding the Business Side to the Business

I see a lot of writers rushing into self-publishing without properly preparing to be a small business, yet that is exactly what we are. When we self-publish, we take on new roles and we need to understand them. We need to be willing to fork out money for proper editing, cover design and formatting.

One of the benefits to traditional publishing is they take on all the risk and do the editing, proofing, etc. When we go it alone, we need to prepare for some expenses and do our research.

We can be told a million times to not judge a book by its cover, yet that is exactly what readers do. Additionally, we may need to look into becoming an LLC. We need to set up proper accounting procedures and withhold the correct amount of taxes, unemployment, state taxes and on and on.

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Mistake #3 Believing that, “If We Write it They Will Come”

There are a lot of writers who mistakenly believe that self-publishing is an easier and faster way to fame and success. Yeah, um no. And those magic beans are really just beans. Sorry.

Self-publishing is A LOT of work, especially if we are starting out this way. If you didn’t defect from traditional publishing and can’t slap New York Times Best-Selling in front of your name? Prepare for a ton of work.

Not only do we need to write good books, but we need to write prolifically. When we self-publish, we need a much larger platform because we don’t have New York in our corner. This is one of the reasons self-publishing isn’t for everyone. We need to look at how badly we want the dream, and then ask how many hours are we willing to work? What are we willing to sacrifice?

Image from the movie "Office Space"

Image from the movie “Office Space”

Mistake #4 Misusing FREE!

There are a lot of problems with giving books away for FREE! We shouldn’t be giving away our work unless it serves some kind of a strategic advantage. There are ways to effectively harness the power of FREE! but too few writers understand how to do this and they just end up giving away their art for no tangible gain. This goes with my above point of us needing to understand the business side of our business. When we do choose to give away stuff for FREE! it needs to serve longer-term business goals.

Mistake #5 Shopping One Book to DEATH

One of the BIGGEST problems I see with self-published writers is that they publish one book and then they focus every bit of energy on selling THAT book.

They fill up all the writing hashtags with link spam promoting their books. They keep futzing with the cover, the web site, the promotions. They do blog tours until they drop, and they do everything except what is going to help that book sell a ton of copies…write more books.

Here’s the thing. Self-publishing, in many ways, just allows us to accelerate the career path of the author. Even in traditional publishing, it usually takes about three books to gain traction. In traditional publishing, this takes three years because we are dealing with a publisher’s schedule.

In self-publishing, we can make our own schedule, but it still takes THREE BOOKS MINIMUM. I know there are exceptions, but most self-published successes hit at about book three. The ability to offer multiple titles is a huge advantage.

Just make sure they are good books ;).

This is why it is critical to keep writing. Not only will writing more books make you a better writer, but once people discover they love your writing, they have a number of titles to purchase. Being able to offer multiple titles is how we make money at self-publishing. It also helps us maximize the whole FREE! tactic.

Even I am putting my nose to the grindstone to come out with more books in the next six months. I don’t tell you guys to do anything that, I myself, am unwilling to do. I have two books in a series already written, but I’ve made the decision not to give them to a publisher or publish myself until I have a minimum of THREE finished titles.

This is a profession, not a playpen.

Remember Why We Do This

Self-publishing is a wonderful alternative. Just because we self-publish doesn’t mean we cannot publish other ways, too. I’ve been saying this for a LONG time, but it bears repeating. I feel the author of the future will actually be a hybrid author, and I do believe that the ability to self-publish is challenging all of us to come up higher.

We are striving to be better writers, to be better entrepreneurs, to get better at organization and time-management and to write more books and better books. If we can learn from these mistakes and grow, then the future is ours for the taking.

A little humor from the fabulous David Kazzle

What have been some of your challenges with self-publishing? In what areas is it forcing you to grow? Have you had to outsource? What sacrifices have you made? Tell us your story!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook


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  1. Reblogged this on Stanislava Kohut.

  2. Absolutely! This is such a great article! I get people who come to me all the time wanting to write and self publish and I try to tell them these very things and they think I’m being a downer. I don’t think it’s a downer to be honest with people. I love your candor and honest opinions! Self publishing is a lot of work if you want to do it right. Thanx for this! I am now off to read your article about Free books 🙂 Merry Christmas!

  3. Write, (Edit), Publish, Repeat. Nice blog post. I’m going to be doing my first self-published novella series this year and am trying to understand the business. Thanks for the tips!

  4. #1!!! I can’t tell you how many indie books I read that would’ve been great had they revised and edited them.

  5. Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom. I’ve been writing all my life and yet I hesitate to call myself a writer. I have just started blogging as a way for me to refine my writing, Grammer usage and voice. I most say that I’ve been forced to go back and re-learn all the rules of writing I’ve forgotten. After years of free writing I created a bit of a mess but it can be fixed. Again, thank you for sharing this valuable information.

  6. I absolutely agree with the post. I think point number 1 is more crucial than anything. I get a lot of requests for a review from indie writers, either through Amazon or through critique group. What I see most often is just heartbreaking. Poor cover, bad formatting, no editorial input. That totally erases my desire to look past the mistakes. Nobody can focus on a story ( no matter how brilliant, interesting, unexplored and innovative it is ), if the raders don’t understand what is the writer actually trying to say.

    Don’t get me wrong, I have been there too. But I learned from my own flops and I rather focus on writing, rewriting, editing, revising and repeating the whole process with each book. I also realized you won’t get some, until you give some. That means investing in a good looking cover that grabs the reader, running my polished manuscript through beta readers and investing into a professional editor, especially because English is not my first, or even third language.

    Thanks Kristen for the great article, I wish every indie and aspiring writer would take points.

    BTW I love the video. I have seen it already, but every time it makes me laugh. Sadly, there are plenty of those, who think just like that delusional boy/dog(?).

  7. I’m pondering your point on a body of work. Are you suggesting holding back until we have sufficient novels and short stories to attract reader notice? Silent

    • Shelby on December 18, 2014 at 1:23 pm
    • Reply

    I am pre-published and I have tossed out the idea of self-publish, at least for my first novel because of the editing issue. I send it in to a traditional publisher and they will want to make sure that it is good, if I self-publish could be utter crap. But I am way overwhelmed with submitting to a traditional publisher. What do you think of ebook publishers?

  8. Thanks for the reminders. I’m doing the work, taking classes, being prolific. I have nine books out, still waiting to be “discovered”. I’m tweeting, Facebooking, meeting people, blogging and have set myself up as a business. All of these were new for me so I’m growing!

  9. Excellent advise! I wrote my first book four years ago, rushed to publication, and jumped in to pen (Okay not a real pen) another. I moved onto the third, and somewhere in the middle it hit me that my first book was not as it should be. I liked the plot but I was NOW aware that my technique lacked what I had since learned along the way.

    I took the first book down, and one year later, rewritten and with an editor who knows his craft I have republished. I still have much to learn, however, the revised book is something I am proud of; in a broader knowledge of what makes a good book, rather than the yearnings of my ego.

    I love ready your posts. Thank you.

    • lynettemirie on December 18, 2014 at 1:47 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, I love the way you clarify publishing issues that can be totally confusing to newbies like me. I’m still in the revise/edit process on my first MG novel and can see the possibilities for at least 2-3 books that can follow. I’m curious as to the wisest move concerning trying to publish the first book before or after writing one or more books to go with it. Can you help me out with that?

    1. Awesome question. As an unpublished author myself, I’m interested to hear the answer as well. Thanks for bringing it up!

  10. My fifth self-published novel, House Divided, is on pre-release sale at Amazon. When I began to self-publish in 2011, I knew my writing wasn’t good enough for traditional publishing, but I was confident in my story ideas. To get where I am today, I kept writing (!), got feedback from a variety of sources, went to workshops, joined writers’ groups, and kept writing. The two keys to success IMHO are writing and feedback. If the feedback is good–if you’re brave enough to invite criticism from people like Kristen, then your writing will improve. If you believe your 4 and 5-star ratings on Amazon, then you’re deluding yourself and your sales will always disapppoint. Sorry, but them’s are the facts!

  11. Reblogged this on Logan Keys Fiction and commented:
    Excellent self-pub direction!

  12. Reblogged this on The 960 Writers and commented:
    Yes to all of this! Indie Publishing is not about “We can do what we want!”. We still have to follow the rules, we have to learn and know what we’re doing. And I really can’t take a writer seriously who doesn’t read fiction and doesn’t have at least one or two writing advice books on his shelf/e-reader. Writing is a craft and it doesn’t just fall from the heavens. Publishing is also a craft and we have to know how it works.

  13. I agree that a lot of writers self-publish before a manuscript is ready. I’ve read books that had a good story and likeable characters but needed the hand of an editor before they were really ready to be out in the world–typos, poor sentence structure, etc. I’m currently reading “Write. Publish. Repeat.” and the authors touch on a couple points you’ve made here–namely, publishing multiple books and properly using the “free” tactic. Good points here, Kristen!

  14. Reblogged this on Mandy White and commented:
    Spot-on, as always! Thanks for this, Kristen. Reblogging and sharing in my writers’ group!

  15. I’m so far from this but i wondered about the self-published works and you raised excellent points about making sure its good. It takes a lot of work. Good reminder. Thx

  16. Excellent advice. I shared this with my two writing groups. my agent’s FB group, and my publisher’s Forum. Lessons to be learned here at any stage of a career. Many thanks for the clarity of this post.

  17. OM Gosh Kristen, thank you so much for introducing me to David. I lost it watching that video, So You Want to Write a Novel! LOVED it!!
    If I could kill you now and get away with I could! Hilarious!
    Thank you again, for offering such sound advice! Happy holidays girl!

  18. Kristen, excellent article for the author considering self-publishing. I would add another major consideration: marketing. Self-published authors must become experts at every aspect of marketing, and learn to use those tools. There is no major publisher to build the marketing plan for you, to tell you which tools are most effective at selling books, or to handle public relations. Self-published authors must do all those things for themselves. Without a willingness to spend the time, effort, and money necessary to do marketing, even the best self-published book will not sell.

  19. Reblogged this on Poor, but honest and commented:
    Very generous, illuminating post for wannabe self-published authors.

  20. “We need to be willing to fork out money for proper editing, cover design and formatting.” <– This is why I haven't gone into self-publishing. It's a lot of work, and a lot of cost up front, even if I might get a paycheck faster than going the traditional route. Yeah, I'd love to be able to control everything myself, but for now I'm going to try the traditional publishing route (with full expectations to self-publish at least some works once I've gotten a handle on how the whole business works!)

  21. “Yet, when I sent them my critique filled with pages of corrections, I would then receive a reply telling me that the book had already been self-published.” — I saw this happen all the time on peer-critique sites, and I had to wonder, ‘If they’ve already self-published, why are they asking for feedback on improving it?’ The answer, of course, was that they didn’t actually want feedback, they just wanted to circumvent the No Spam rules of the site. ‘Tell me what you think?’ is used as a thin disguise for ‘Buy my book!!!!” I am disinclined to purchase a book by an author who believes that their work is ready for publication despite requiring several pages of corrections per chapter (although perhaps that’s just unfair bias on my part).

      • lynettemirie on December 18, 2014 at 5:26 pm
      • Reply

      That’s not “unfair bias,” that’s a fair reaction to underhanded manipulation.

  22. Reblogged this on Leona's Blog of Shadows and commented:
    This is vital advice for indie authors, and I mean it needs to be printed out and tacked on the fridge door. Marketing self published books required dedication and hard work, getting engaged in the community, being active in social media (and that does not mean spamming the amazon links to your book!) and writing MORE books. Amanda Hocking sold 1.5 million on Amazon as a self published author but she already published a dozen books and built a solid reader base over the years. She had been blogging everyday for 2 years before she started selling serious numbers. It takes a lot of dedication to blog everyday and interact with people in social media. It requires sacrifice and takes months, if not years, to build an audience who will buy, read and promote your books if they are good.

    Investing in a professional editor is also very important, it’s a business investment since self publishing is pretty much a small business venture as Kristen writes here.

  23. As another point, I don’t even show my chapters to my beta readers before I proofread and polish them to my best. If they really insist and I end up giving in to my impatience and send it anyway, I regret it later when they point out the grammar mistakes logical errors. Showing your text to anyone, even friends and family in raw draft state is like wearing your white shirt without inspecting it and walking all over downtown with nasty coffee and ketchup stains on your chest. It’s rather embarrassing. Always inspect it it meticulously before showing it around.

  24. “I cannot count how many writers I’ve met who refuse to read fiction, refuse to read craft books… ”

    This is something I find hard to get my head around – how does someone who never reads fiction expect to be write it! I’m almost 60, and have probably read up to 7000 fiction books in my lifetime. I feel I could write by instinct, but have the commonsense to read every book on the craft I can. All that knowledge is not enough as one still has to write a decent story. In the end, the reader decides.

    Thanks for the advice, appreciated. 🙂

  25. Reblogged this on Honorcpt (LE Perez) and commented:
    Honest and frank discussion about truly being a self published author

  26. Thank you for this. A frank dose of reality for the self published author. Refreshing!

  27. Great stuff, Kristen. Especially #5. I know some folks who are story-savvy, willing to put the time and effort and money into things, but who still don’t understand that their best marketing strategy at the beginning (and later, but especially at the beginning) is writing more books.

    And here’s a link to my post linking to yours (for double entries in your “hat”):

  28. Reblogged this on .

  29. Great advice. I’m considering the possibility of self publishing in 2015, but I’m going to make darned sure I’m good and ready before I make that leap.

  30. Great article. Thank you for taking the time to write it. The biggest thing I have realized in self-publishing is becoming a business is so important! If you don’t learn the basics of business it can mean a heap of hurt later on! Glad I was informed before that happened and got my LLC before my first book was published.

  31. My biggest problem is that I love to read (dare I say it?) more than I love to write. But when I read it’s like a drug; I go into a stupor and I can’t do anything else until I’ve finished the book. So, unfortunately, I have to ban myself from reading when I’m trying to write (and when there are kids to take care of, housework to do, etc.), so I’m left with holiday binge-reading sessions when there is another sane adult around to insert an IV drip occasionally… 😉 )

  32. Reblogged this on Women Who Think Too Much by Jeanne Marie.

  33. Great post! It’s nice to be reminded how everyone has to go through the hard work of writing and publishing! Self-publishing is an interesting topic, and there seems to be a lot of vague information floating around about it, so thank you for this realistic and helpful post!

  34. Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.

  35. Reblogged this on Kawanee's Korner and commented:
    Some more good advice!

  36. Awesome post… And the motivation not to obsess about the first book that’s floating around out there in the world to the detriment of the one floating around on paper that needs finishing properly so it can go join the fun 🙂

  37. Another very informative post, thank you, Kristen. I’ve just downloaded Rise of the Machines onto my Kindle and look forward to reading it.

    1. Awww, thanks Hon. I really hope it blesses you.

  38. Reblogged this on Critique My Novel's blog for writers.

  39. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog….. An Author Promotions Enterprise! and commented:
    More great advice from Kristen 😀

  40. Thank you so much for this post, Kristen! This is probably one of the most insightful pieces on self-publishing that I’ve read. I think those mistakes are very important to keep in mind and very easy to make (especially for inexperienced writers, but also for those who have been around for a while). I love how you draw on your own experiences whenever you talk about things like this. (I don’t comment often, but I do read your blog posts regularly.)

    1. THANK YOU ((HUGS))

  41. Great post. Helpful tips to keep in mind. But what does one do in case of a non-fiction where you cannot make a serial set of books?

    1. You can just similar themes.

  42. Reblogged this on reachoutrichabadola and commented:
    To keep in mind……..

    • winonabennettcross on December 19, 2014 at 9:24 am
    • Reply

    I am thrilled to have found this site!

  43. So many truths in your post, Kristen. I also agree with many of the comments that #! is so important. I love reading indie books but lately I been reading books with good writing, well edited, but the plot is so weak it leaves me wondering why the story was written. A thriller should have a strong plot with good reasoning. Not some silly reasoning that only the writers feels.

    Thanks for your honesty. Hope many writers read this post to help them become great writers.

  44. Um, yeah. I pretty much did ALL of this when I first published my novel. I was too antsy to get it out there. I’ve since removed my book (despite all the errors, it did get some moderate to great praise, which was cool), to continue fixing it, and learning more about the business side of writing, which is something they NEVER taught me in college (where I got a BFA in Creative Writing, and a crap ton of debt).

  45. As an author who is published via small publishers and also self-published – you hit the nail right on the head with this blog. I edited a novel for a client and when she received the edits back, her next email to me was “The book was published 2 weeks ago. Are you sure these changes are necessary? My betas readers loved it and found nothing wrong.” Within her tale, which was quite good, she had at least 50-60 “she thought to herself” or “he thought to himself” lines. Not to mention lines like “He is was alone.” “Your going to need this.,” and “There hats fell to the floor.” I was paid for my editing but I don’t believe it ever saw the final cut. She received several reviews and the one thing that stood out to me was “Good story but the book needed to be edited.” seemed to the be theme. Don’t skimp on book cover and editing.

  46. Wise advice here. Good discussion, too
    Write your fist book (once realizing “making it” is an uphill battle). Then put that book in drawer and then write your real “first book.”
    Many talented writers don’t sell, because they do not realize they are a small business and careful marketing is critical – nothing will happen without those 2 being understood. (Talk with some sales reps who do well – or read some books on selling and marketing. The concepts are the same pretty much with any industry. Know your who your audience/market is and figure out how to appeal to them – fill some need they have. You can do this. Don’t forget libraries – they are into digital, too. Even with traditional publishing, a writer should have some knowledge of sales concepts)
    I love this line – great advice! “once people discover they love your writing, they have a number of titles to purchase.” Writers need to be like the shark: always moving forward taking in nourishment – and having new product to toss down the pipe – in order to stay alive in a very big ocean

    • Jemima Pett on December 19, 2014 at 11:48 am
    • Reply

    Thanks for this post (and to TSRA for reblogging it). I’m so glad I had four books written before I even started to think about publishing them. I’m also glad I’ve been self-employed before. It definitely helps! But, every now and then, reading posts like yours gives me a chance to rethink the strategy, check where I am, and gather the strength to push on!

  47. Perhaps the primary advantages of self publishing involve the shorter elapsed time from writing to print, and the control of expenditures. In this manner agents and query submissions are avoided.
    ideally, if one has the time, conventional publishing would be ideal; distribution and promotions part of the package. Finally, consider the volume of written works produced worldwide annually which is unfathomable. Best bet: be a celebrity, the doors will sling wide open.

  48. Reblogged this on notewords.

  49. So then, what’s your strategy with those three books? If you self-publish them, would you publish them all within a close time proximity so prospective readers have the three choices right from the get-go? Or would you publish them a year apart like the traditional publisher does?

    1. Would depend on how fast a writer one is. I’d do three months apart probably and keep writing.

      1. Thank you for answering Kristen! And for always guiding us wanna-be’s. Happy holidays.

  50. I wish now that I had not published Book 1 until 2 and 3 were ready. However, its very hard to wait and not publish when you are a newbie with a finished manuscript in your hands! Add to that I am a slow writer…

    Having said all that, the time since then has been a huge learning curve which I have enjoyed immensely! And it may have been even harder still trying to build an author platform with no published work to showcase. But it would have been nice to hit the ground running.

    My main aim now is to write, write, write. Major promotion will not take place until I have an arsenal of books worth promoting.

  51. Ms. Lamb? Once again you have hit the nail that is my head squarely!
    I am a Jamaican writer whose first novel (self-published through a US-based Indie publisher), a YA romance, was released on July 31, 2014. A sequel is to follow and, as such, I made a vow to complete same by November. I followed up with the Kindle version in September. After much back-breaking promotional effort via social media, tours, radio and TV interviews I have sold 50 paperback copies and only 8 eBooks. Needless to say, I have become quite discouraged and disheartened and disenchanted. My writing train lost steam and I suddenly felt like it made no sense to finish the sequel. I thought: “what’s the sense in spending money to put out Book 2 when nobody is buying Book 1!” For the first time in my life, I met Writers’ Block and lost all desire to do the thing I love more than anything else in this world.
    Now that I have read this post, I have to say that section about “one book to death” has resonated with me. I am now seeing things in a new light and will now be pressing on with the final installment which most of the readers have told me they cannot wait to get their hands on. I owe them that much, at least. But now I am also motivated by your words and my fervour has been refueled thanks to you.
    Keep on blessing us with your wisdom. One Love!

    1. Aw, thank you. Keep writing. You gain the benefit of compounded sales and new readers want to see you have more than ONE book to offer. So they love your writing but you only have one book? That can be a deal-breaker.

  52. Reblogged this on Mandisa M. Parnell – Jamaican Writer on the Rise and commented:
    Very good advice!

  53. Fantastic advice. My first two books were the products of someone who was definitely a newbie at self-publishing and didn’t do any research. I scrapped the originals and came republished them this summer, after hiring a new editor and cover designer.

    I would also add that, indie or traditional, beta readers are essential to improving a story (you probably knew that, but I’m saying it anyway). There are plenty of traditionally published books with weak story lines and plot points that don’t add up, weak character development, etc. It helps to have friends who enjoy the genre you write in and are willing to be brutally honest.

  54. I think you’re spot on. I’m definitely new to the game, and I believe my biggest related issue is #2. It’s not that I don’t understand the technical aspects of running a business. That part I realized in advance and expected. I have a bit of experience on that side. The aspect of it that truly has had me spinning my wheels is THIS particular business. There is a large difference between selling physical wares, that people can decide in a glance if they like, and something as complex as a book. Some of the basics are the same, but I still haven’t gotten the knack for the ‘spreading awareness’ side of things. I think once I finish up the rest of this series I’ll have more to show off.

  55. Kristen, your blogs are always inspiring and upbeat. I also meet aspiring writers who don’t read other people’s fiction. They also don’t think they need to edit. Will re-blog on Susan Pope Books and Medway Mermaids.
    Susan Pope

  56. Reblogged this on Susan Pope Books.

  57. An interesting article to read. You highlighted a few things I have never thought of though, as a reader, I have noticed those writers who do take the time to have their work edited.

  58. Reblogged this on Tea Talks… home of Helen Treharne, author : I write, I review, I rant and commented:
    Reblogging as a) I’m a self published author and this sounds like a good sanctity check, b) I’m a communications professional in my day job, and this sounds interesting, and c) any post which references Office Space automatically gets a tick in my book.

    • Lisa Vogel on December 20, 2014 at 4:40 pm
    • Reply

    I am new to the idea of self-publishing, yet I’m too much of a realist to expect much from the traditional publishing world. I’ve heard before that nothing like novel #2 will do the job of selling novel #1, and nothing like novel #3 will do the job of selling novel #2 and novel #1. But I’m a slow writer. I’ve just now finishing up on novel #1 after a little over five years of writing. . . and it’s been a wonderful five years. I loved every minute of it. I’ve already got the idea for novel #2, and I’m thinking that now that I’ve had some novel writing experience, I will likely be able to write #2 faster. Like maybe in four years. And, if all goes well, I’ll have another idea for novel #3. Maybe I’ll speed up more and get that one done in three years. That would take me to, uhm, I’m not good with math. Let’s just say that if I want to self-publish all three, and I want to space them six months apart, then I should publish #1 in the year of. . . halfway to forever. So, what do you think? Novel #1 isn’t time sensitive. It’s got very little technology and very few cultural references in it. Should I wait until halfway to self-publish it #1?

  59. Reblogged this on Lead Writer.

  60. Spot on. The first person to school me was Kim Harrison and she was classy about it. I did decide to self publish and no I’m not a millionaire. 🙂 Reading is my first passion and writing is my second. Three of my books are out, edited and with professional covers in my series. I encourage any author out there to research, research, research. It’s going to seem overwhelming! It will be alright. Also, you need other creators in your life and they can be hard to find. Sometimes it’s frustrating. The best decision I ever made was to attend the WTWA course at West Texas A&M in Canyon, Texas. Look it up. I felt lost in the beginning and bungled and bumbled around hilariously until I got pointed in the right direction! Enrollment begins every January. And no, I’m not spamming – they saved my sanity!

  61. Reblogged this on E J Frost and commented:
    Before you go indie think once, think twice, think three times and be sure you’re ready . . .

  62. Reblogged this on E J Frost.

    Excellent tips. I wish I’d read this a year ago!

  63. Reblogged this on YOURS IN STORYTELLING… and commented:
    All right all of you writer-types – how many of these mistakes have YOU made???

  64. Thanks for this article, Kristen. It came just at the right time!

  65. I’ve read the advice you give in Mistake #5 many times before, but your delivery of it has hit home. Thank you so much! Now I really will put that next book together instead of just thinking about it.

  66. Reblogged this on Louise Findlay Books and commented:
    A great post about self-publishing too soon. When should you actually take the leap?

  67. Thank you for another great post on the process of being a successful self-published author. My biggest challenge is consistency in marketing when I’d rather be writing. Like a few others commenting here, I write slowly (typically 2-3 years between books), so I did hold back e-pubbing Book 1 until Book 2 was nearly done and launched them within 4 months of each other. But Book 3 will take another year. Maybe I can improve my overall productivity, but truly, as an OTA writer (older than average), I still want that story to shimmer perfectly. The flaws you itemize here I see over and over again in writers I meet. Your website is always on my handouts — and today, I learned something new: reblogging! All the best to you for another fine year.

  68. Reblogged this on Wendy Anne Darling and commented:
    I am reblogging this for a number of different reasons, not least because I need to be able to find it… and find it quickly!

    I bought, and have read, ‘Rise of the Machines.’ It is probably the best few bucks I have ever spent. There is only one thing that could have made my experience with the book better – buying and reading it LONG before I wrote and published my debut! 😉

    Oh, I was SO eager to get my baby out there for all to see, but books take time, patience, and knowledge to construct. I still believe the concept is great, but one day I will take it down, put it back into the crucible, and not let it out until it has metamorphosed into the shining star that it is supposed to be.

    But good things come to us when we need them, don’t they, and Kristen’s advice is no exception as far as I’m concerned. The truth is that I needed to fail the first time. Yes folks; there’s the truth. I needed to remember, with exquisite pain, that you can’t just write your heart out, do a bit of editing, and toss your work out for all to see. OK, well, you CAN, but it probably won’t work out the way you want it to.

    If we expect people to buy our book, read it and give it a good review, we need to offer them as well-crafted a book as we are able to produce. It this means slowing down, studying, researching, completely rewriting, and rewriting again, so be it.

    Thanks so much, Kristen Lamb! The next one will be different.

  69. Only three books? Sigh. I just published my seventh and I’m still struggling like crazy for just a few sales. And, no, I don’t think I published too soon (at some point you’ve got to publish or give up). I do believe that to a certain degree, the business side takes more talent than the writing side does, though.

  70. Thank you! This is a great post. I’ve written and edited book 2, and was thinking of self publishing it in February. After reading your post, I’m going to hold off until I write book 3.

  71. Love this. I’m considering going hybrid and here I am doing my research. Most grateful for your insight.

    Absolutely I believe luck is involved in good sales. It’s like hitting a dartboard. However, one’s “luck” increases if one makes the target as big and close as possible. Why on earth would anyone choose to make the target any smaller than they had to?

    Right now, my biggest sticking points is effective marketing. You might have put out the most brilliant book in the world (oh yeah. that’s me!), but if nobody knows about it, nobody will buy.

    • Lynsey Newton on December 22, 2014 at 4:30 am
    • Reply

    Great post, I agree with you 100% and am definitely bookmarking this page!!!

  72. I think one of the most important points you make is to keep publishing: not just books, but also short stories or magazine/newspaper articles. I’ve heard of the magic three books scenario, actually I heard it was five books that turns the corner. The key is that the more we write the better we get as polishing the craft of writing. Self-pubbed authors must be willing to hire editors and book cover designers so their work can be as professional as possible.

  73. Reblogged this on cicampbellblog and commented:
    Some really important advice here for self-publishing authors, whether newbies or not. If we want our work taken seriously, we cannot afford to make these mistakes.

  74. Such important advice to take note of. Thank you Kristen.

  75. Reblogged this on A Shot and a Half Pint and commented:
    Great advice for self-publishing authors!

  76. Reblogged this on So, I Read This Book Today and commented:
    An Awesome post on what you need to know BEFORE you publish…

  77. Can I repeat that “This is a profession, not a playpen” line? Please? Pretty please?

    Excellent article. I particularly agree with the idea that hybrids are the wave of the future.

    1. SURE!

  78. Great advice which I will read again and again to be sure.

  79. Reblogged this on lorie adair and commented:
    Practical advice for those of us promoting our first books.

  80. Really enjoyed this post Kristen. I self-published before ebooks and the internet and made many of the mistakes you listed here. But I’ve decided to get back on the horse and am nearing completion on my second book. I know, I know, I have to keep writing, but I just wanted to say how I appreciated your candor in this post. We may love our craft but it’s business that makes it profitable. Best we all learn that early

  81. I love this post Kristen.
    And I wanted to wish you and your family Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! All the Best to you!!

  82. Reblogged this on Robert Malloy .

  83. I’ve been putting off starting my second book waiting to hear from agents, writing more queries, etc. I love your advice about having 3 books. Makes so much sense.

  84. Reblogged this on Brave New Deadline and commented:
    One of the best posts yet on what an indie writer must be aware of. No. 2 is me all over. I’m taking a break from writing to address it (and No. 3, 4 and 5!) if you’re an indie, this is for you

  85. I am SO No. 2 , which means I am also No. 3, 4, 5 — my 2015 amounts to learning marketing. Thanks for the blog. It hit home.

  86. Great advice, thanks ?

  87. Cracking post and so true. There is a lot to think about further than just publishing your book. I especially liked THING 1. So many authors do publish their books before they’re ready. I’m so glad e-publishing wasn’t an option until mine were or I’ll be I’d have been one of them.



  88. Reblogged this on My Passion's Pen and commented:
    Too powerful not to share.

  89. Happy Holidays Kristen! Thank you for confirming what I suspected, that along with being a self published author most likely comes the added responsibility of becoming an LLC. I see the work that my partner puts into fer LLC weekly and it can be hellas lot of work. And that in addition to the hours writing. Again some sobering as well as wonderful insight shared from your experience. Thanks so much.


  90. It’s hard. I made my own little booklet called a zine. It’s like self publishing for peasants.
    The thing is I give it away for free but I have a strategic plan for it.

  91. Thank you/I recently bought your book, “Rise of the Machine” and immediately began putting your advice to work; I was one of those “Water Cooler writers” you describe; I had a blog that was set up exclusively to be a writer’s blog, or more specifically, a poetry blog—needless to say, it was a stagnant blog for two years; but I took your advice and let my personal interests in: fantasy lit and movies, genealogy—and sure enough, stats are picking up on my blog, after two years of nothing. The amazing thing is I’ve only gotten through half of the book. I’m excited to see what my blog is going to look like when I finish the book—thanks again for an important and useful book.

  92. Really enjoyed your tips. I’m new to writing and am currently doing some rewriting of my novel. This time last year I had no idea that i could have done what i have so far. You are right….the writing must be the best it can be not just for the readers who expect to pay for a quality product but for the legacy each writers leaves as their footprint in the world of the written word. Thank you.

  93. As a newbie, I appreciate your advice regarding the self-publishing option.

  94. I really needed this advice. Thank you!

  95. Very well analyzed Kristen! Thank you!


  96. Excellent article! I have spent months trying to get three aspiring writers to understand the points you made so eloquently, so sent them the link to your article. Perhaps they will understand what you said — they didn’t seem to “get it” when I tried to explain the three act structure — perhaps I made it too complicated by showing them a diagram of Christopher Vogler’s ideal plot.

    Thank you for taking the time to write and share.

  97. Hi Kristen, loved this. I am recently coming back to writing. I’ve half written a few novels and I’ve just started a new project. I will probably go back to the first projects at some point….. However, the story and other points you mention in your blog are just so critical, as is an understanding of the difference between themes, concepts, plots and dramatic arc. Because most people don’t think the rules apply to them and they so do…. One of the most amazing books I’ve read recently is “How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever” by Nathan Bransford, I’m certainly going to be picking up your digital book too. I really got it and laughed a lot at this book. I recommend anyone trying to write, to read and read a lot. I find when I’m writing, I read with a different eye… But first and foremost READ!.

  98. Reblogged this on k. n. salustro and commented:
    Excellent advice for self-publishers!

  99. I’m pretty sure there’s only one book in me. Two at the outside – in very different genres. What does your perspective suggest for the one-book writer? Give up all hope of acquiring a reasonable number of readers?

    1. Stumbled across this over a year later, and I’m still wondering 🙂

  100. The most helpful post I’ve seen for new writers who jump into publishing before they really learn to write well. I give this advice when I speak to groups and on my blogs. So many people I know have retired and want to write and publish quickly because they don’t feel they have that much time left. I like that you suggest taking classes and learning to write well. I am going to mention this post and link to it on my Writers Circle around the Table blog.

  101. I saw the naked truth about myself- the self-published author, and the the humor from David Kazzel, it was just a killer :-). It made me chuckle a few times. I am printing the article to read and highlight. And i will get back with a real reply.

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