Every now and then, we all have those unfortunate “What was I thinking?” moments. Mine usually come when looking at photographs of myself from the ’80s when I rocked a hairstyle called “the flower.”
Unlike a bad hairstyle that eventually grows out, a poorly produced book can haunt you for the rest of your author life. Today we’re going to talk about common mistakes indie publishers make, so you never have a “What was I thinking?” moment again … well, at least in terms of your books.
1. Serve a half-baked story.
As an indie, you don’t have an agent who tells it like it is or an editorial team poring over your manuscript hunting for problems and mistakes. These responsibilities lie with you. Don’t let the excitement of publication blind you to potential quality issues. Being independent doesn’t mean you to have to go it alone. Create your own editorial team to provide feedback throughout the writing and editing process. This group might include a writing partner, critique group, beta readers, and/or a developmental editor  who can help you identify and fix story problems long before your book reaches readers.
2. Skip proofing.
There’s no better way to irritate readers and embarrass yourself than to publish a book full of typos. This is often the result when we try to edit our own work. Our brains are wired to know what we meant to say, so they automatically correct typos and fix errors, allowing us to gloss right over them. Hiring a professional proofreader should be a standard best practice before going to press. Proofreaders not only offer a fresh set of eyes for catching errors but also are masterful at tightening clunky sentences and putting the final polish on your prose. Skipping this step might save you money, but it can end up costing you far more in reputation.
3. Skimp on the cover.
Your story doesn’t start on page one; it starts on the cover. Your book’s title, cover image, copy, colors, and typography work together to offer the reader an unspoken promise about the experience they’ll have if they read your book. What do you want that promise to be?
Creating a cover that connects with readers  is the best way to get someone to take a chance on your book. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:
- A color scheme that doesn’t match the tone and genre of your book
- Zany fonts that look amateurish
- Pixelated images not suited for print
- A personal photo with bad lighting
- A cover image that doesn’t relate to the story
- A popular stock image that readers may have seen elsewhere
- Poorly written cover copy
- A book cover that doesn’t work as a thumbnail (the size online book buyers will see)
- An author photo that clearly has other people cropped out
4. Publish without a proof.
Before going to press, it’s crucial to inspect the end product for quality assurance. Whether digital or print, ordering a proof allows you to see the finished product and catch any problems you might not have noticed when preparing your files.
When inspecting your proof, be on the lookout for these issues:
- Is the cover image pixelated?
- If your cover image has a full bleed, does the image reach all edges?
- Do the printed colors match your expectations?
- Are there any spots, lines, or others marks that shouldn’t be there?
- Are all the cover elements in the correct location?
- Are the spine elements positioned correctly and easy to read?
- Is the cover copy free of errors?
- Have the interior pages printed correctly?
- Are all page numbers present and in the correct order?
- Are the margins and gutter free of words?
- Is any text missing?
5. Ignore the reader.
As an independent publisher, there are no gatekeepers standing between you and your readers. Therefore, it’s up to you to know who your reader is so you can invest your time and money on marketing tactics that will provide the greatest return on investment.
To gain a better understanding of who you’re trying to reach (demographics), why they buy books (psychographics), and where to find them (geographics), consider the following characteristics:
- Education level
6. Publish with no plan.
As an indie publisher, you are your own marketing and publicity team. Publishing without a launch plan often leads to lackluster results. To raise awareness, generate pre-sales, and earn reviews, your launch activities need to begin before your book is published and continue well beyond to build on the momentum. As you develop your launch plan, consider all the ways you can reach your target audience before, during, and after your book launch.
Here are a handful of ideas to get you started:
- Build an author website to showcase your work, sell books, and serve as the home base for all your other online content.
- Select a few key social media accounts that are popular with your target audience and become active on those.
- Send advanced reader copies (ARCs) to book bloggers and reviewers in your space to collect blurbs and reviews that you can use in your book, on your website, and in your promotional materials.
- Build a newsletter list and engage your subscribers with interesting content and regular updates.
- Cross-pollinate with other authors in your genre to expose your audience to their work and their audience to yours.
- Find unique speaking opportunities  to interact with your target audience on a personal basis.
7. Be disconnected.
We live in an interconnected era. As a result, readers have grown accustomed to connecting with authors off the page. Even if you don’t use social media to maintain personal relationships, it can be a valuable resource for developing relationships with readers. Depending on your book’s subject matter and genre, some social media sites might offer more valuable exposure than others. To prevent fatigue, identify a few key social media sites where your target readers hang out and join them. Not sure which sites are the most relevant to your audience? Do a competitive analysis of other authors in your space and pay attention to the social media platforms where they’re most active.
Here are several of the most popular social media platforms in use today:
Have you ever had publisher’s remorse? If so, what would you have done differently? If not, what are some of your best practices to avoid those embarrassing “What was I thinking?” moments?