What to Avoid When Self-Publishing Your First Book

Updated on May 20, 2020
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert and advocate. Author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. Former trade newspaper editor.

Learn what to avoid when self-publishing so that you can be proud of your first book.
Learn what to avoid when self-publishing so that you can be proud of your first book. | Source

After critiquing, editing, and reviewing many manuscripts and books of self-published authors, I can say that the following are some of the most common problems I’ve observed. Do any of these apply to your work?

Problems to Avoid When Self-Publishing

  • Not writing for a specific audience
  • Brain purge/trying to put all of your ideas into your first book
  • Never-ending chapters
  • No "About the Author" bio chapter
  • No disclaimers
  • Cliché, swiped, or poor quality images
  • Not using Microsoft Word's table of contents function (nonfiction)
  • Nondescript book titles, chapter titles, and subheadings (nonfiction)
  • Too much quoted content (nonfiction)
  • No warm up or conclusion (nonfiction)

Not Writing for a Specific Audience

I’ve harped on the evils of not knowing and writing for the reader so much, that I feel I’ll get my angel wings pretty soon. (*snickering*)

When I review manuscripts professionally, I ask authors for a profile of their readers. Many are stumped by that inquiry, or they provide a profile that could be “anyone.”

I believe that some authors think they’ll figure their audience out once the book is done. Then they wonder why their books are a tough sell. Aside from the marketing issues this creates, the manuscripts written for a non-specific reader can suffer from being too complex, inappropriate, or even offensive to readers.

Too Long, Part I: Brain Purge

Though many authors are serial self-publishers (raising hand!), for others, their first book is their one glorious writing opus. So some of these one-timers want to get every single idea out of their heads and into a book.

On the nonfiction side in particular, some authors feel that they need to cover absolutely every single aspect of their topic in order to appear as an expert in their field.

In both scenarios, it’s a brain purge resulting in dreadfully long books that would better serve readers as multiple books. And it could better serve the authors, too, by providing future book sales opportunities.

Too Long, Part II: Never-Ending Chapters

Even if the total length of the book is reasonable, some authors just don't know how to break up the chapters in their books. I think this happens for a number of reasons:

  • They're trying to satisfy arbitrary school word count standards. Worried about not pleasing a teacher from long ago, these authors are trying to make the grade by making each chapter about a term paper's length.
  • They're afraid that readers will scoff at a short chapter. This is a words-per-pound problem where authors feel that if they include any shorter chapters, readers will not see the book as having enough weight in terms of content. Just not true!

Book chapter breaks should be where an idea or situation being presented would naturally end. Breaking books up into sections which combine logical, related ideas or story parts can also help avoid bulking up individual chapters.

No "About the Author" Bio Chapter

I’ve been stunned by the high number of manuscripts that have no “About the Author” bio chapter. Granted, some may have plans to add that right before they self publish it. But in my opinion, it’s an integral part of every book. It helps readers better understand the author and what may have caused him or her to write the book. It can help provide context and build fans.

Also, particularly for authors who want to use a nonfiction book to promote themselves as experts, it’s surprising when this bio is missing. The “About” chapter is an opportunity to give readers more information about how to connect and work with them.

In their defense, authors who do not include this type of chapter in the manuscript may intend to put their bio in the back cover copy. That’s understandable and that would be a valid reason for not including it in the manuscript for a print book. But even then, the space on a back cover is very limited. And when publishing an eBook edition, there is no back cover! So it’s better to make sure that is in the manuscript so readers will find it one way or another.

No Disclaimers

I would say that half or less of the manuscripts I review include a disclaimer statement on the copyright notice page. A disclaimer is particularly important for any self published nonfiction work that includes advice and information.

Fiction writers aren’t exempt! Ever been to the movies and you’ll see a statement in the credits that confirms the characters and events are fictional? Yeah, it’s that kind of statement that fiction writers need to consider.

For either fiction or nonfiction, consult an attorney to help develop a disclaimer that is appropriate for your book.

Cliché, Swiped, or Poor Quality Images

Most manuscripts I’m asked to review are primarily text. However, once in a while I receive one that includes stock art or other images, sometimes swiped, from the Internet.

Even if properly licensed and/or the author has secured permission to use them, some of the images are so cliche that including them adds nothing to the manuscript. Example: Someone typing on a computer when talking about a computer. I think most of us could figure that scenario out without the image.

Of more concern are the images that appear to be right-clicked and copied from the Internet. Remember, “public domain” rights do not mean “on the Internet.” It’s probably best to presume that everything you see on the Internet is copyrighted and that you’ll need to purchase a license or secure specific written permission to use it.

Aside from the cliche and licensing issues, most images that I see plopped into a manuscript are so low resolution that printing them will be a mess. While some may work for eBooks, high resolution (usually 300dpi or greater) images are required for proper print quality.

Not Using Microsoft Word's Table of Contents Function (Nonfiction)

I’m always surprised at how many authors type in their Table of Contents, and don’t use Microsoft Word’s Table of Contents (TOC) function. The TOC function will automatically pull in the page numbers, chapter titles, and subheadings if Headings in Styles are used. Word is a program that authors need to master!

IMPORTANT: Just remember to put in the TOC after the manuscript is completely edited and proofed since the function is not dynamic. By not dynamic, I mean that if the page numbers change, it will not automatically be changed in the TOC!

Nondescript Book Titles, Chapter Titles, and Subheadings (Nonfiction)

For nonfiction, the title, subtitle, chapter titles and subheadings in the Table of Contents are critical selling tools for the book. They give the potential reader a glimpse of what’s covered in the book, which helps them evaluate whether it’s worth buying and reading. So when these are vague, confusing, or cutesy clever, it’s difficult for the reader to assess the value of the book.

Too Long, Part III: Too Much Quoted Content (Nonfiction)

In an attempt to appear knowledgeable, some nonfiction authors include so much of other people’s stuff that their books are almost not their own. In some cases, I guesstimated that about half of the book was discussion of or direct quoting of other people’s work. Sadly, instead of appearing knowledgeable, they just end up promoting the knowledge and work of others. And they set themselves up for the risk of copyright infringement or a very arduous project of obtaining permissions.

There may be a number of reasons why authors may do this. One, they don’t feel confident in their own thoughts and ideas. Two, they are using this quoted material to prove their point (even though the quoted authors might not agree with them in reality). And, lastly, they don’t feel they have “enough” material of their own and just want to pad their manuscript to appear more valuable.

No Warm Up or Conclusion (Nonfiction)

I’ve seen a number of nonfiction books that just start with Chapter 1. A warm-up introductory chapter (with, we hope, a more intriguing title than “Introduction”) helps the reader put what they are about to read into context.

On the opposite end of the book, some nonfiction books just end. No author bio chapter (as discussed earlier). No afterword or closing thoughts to help give the reader a satisfying conclusion.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment
  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    16 months ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Dolores! Aw, thanks for the kind words. Glad you find my posts helpful. Hope that manuscript gets to see the light of day. :) Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful day!

  • Dolores Monet profile image

    Dolores Monet 

    16 months ago from East Coast, United States

    This article as well as your others are so helpful and informative for self publishers. I have a manuscript sitting around gathering dust and if, on of these days, I get around to self publishing, I know where to turn for advice !

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Donna, glad to be of service! ;) It is difficult to be a caring and critical friend. Thanks, as always, for your kind comments! Hope you're having a great holiday season so far. Cheers!

  • purl3agony profile image

    Donna Herron 

    2 years ago from USA

    Love this list, Heidi! I've had a few friends ask me to look over something they're writing. It's often difficult, or heartbreaking, to criticize the structure or quality of their work. Now I can just send them to this hub. Thanks so much!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Larry, we're all learning by trial and error... all the time! Glad to see you realized what you would have done differently. Some authors never do and just keep doing the same thing and hoping for different results. Thanks for your kind comments and sharing your experience with us! Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Larry Fish profile image

    Larry W Fish 

    2 years ago from Raleigh

    Some very good advice there, Heidi. My four books are fiction but many of these would apply to me as well. When I wrote my first book I was totally out of my element. I spent way to much to get it self-published. I learned as I wrote each book and learned most by trial and error. I wish I had your advice back in the day.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Bill, bless you for being there for your friend! Glad you can relate to what I'm seeing out in the writing pool. Thanks so much for chiming in and enjoy the rest of the weekend!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    2 years ago from Olympia, WA

    An interesting list for sure. I'm reading a friend's initial novel....547 pages...too much history..too long chapters...rambling most of the time without a common thread to hold it together....sigh! Good writing is a hard-earned talent.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Manatita! Glad you found the tips useful. Thanks for stopping by and you have a great weekend, too!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Flourish, that TOC feature is a lifesaver, especially for Kindle eBooks that need active links to the chapters.

    Love the writing diarrhea. :) Wish there was a cure.

    Thanks for adding your thoughts and humor to the conversation! Have a great rest of the weekend!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Sally! Glad you found it useful. And we'll be watching for announcements when you publish your book. Thanks for stopping by and have a terrific weekend!

  • manatita44 profile image


    2 years ago from london

    Some nice and invaluable tips. Good on you. Have a great weekend.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    2 years ago from USA

    Such great advice here! The TOC feature is indeed useful. I’ve read some of those never ending chapters that feel like the author had a bad case of written diarrhea. Usually, however, I don’t hang in there too long.

  • sallybea profile image

    Sally Gulbrandsen 

    2 years ago from Norfolk

    Very useful advice, definitely one to bookmark and come back to at a later date when I need a checklist of things to do and not to do when I publish my own book:) Thank you, Heidi.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, toughnickel.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)