Common Self-Publishing Mistakes for Nonfiction

Updated on December 19, 2017
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Heidi Thorne is a self publishing expert, nonfiction book editor, author of 21+ books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.


After working with several nonfiction authors, I've identified the following common self publishing mistakes that need to be avoided.

Writing Too Much

As discussed in How Many Words Should a Book Be?, many authors feel that they must meet some arbitrarily large word count for their books. Whether this is due to their author envy of literary giants or just feeling inadequate, too many words often scream "amateur." As well, run-on manuscripts are also often a sign of an author who has not developed editing skills. (Yes, writers need to be good editors, too).

Not Doing Market Research

The one type of research that authors often fail to do is market research. They have no idea who their competitors are or what they've published. So these uninformed authors publish with the erroneous notion that their books are the ONLY ones of their type on the market. Then market reality hits and they realize they are not alone in the publishing universe.

Authors don't have to be marketing experts to gain this knowledge! Actually, if authors read extensively within their own topic and genre, they can gain a wealth of market intelligence.

Not Knowing the Audience for the Book

I have continually been stunned at some of the responses—or lack thereof—when I question authors about the audience for their books. It can be dead silence or something so generalized (i.e., "women"), making it difficult or impossible to market these works. Know your readers!

Don't Know How a Book Fits with Overall Marketing

Time and time again it's been noted that self published authors don't market their books correctly. I agree, but only to a point. There is no magic bullet solution for marketing books and book marketing is tough!

I think the bigger mistake is that they don't know how their book fits in with their regular marketing strategy and programs. While many nonfiction authors want to use their books as "business cards" to help them gain sales, they can easily upend or suspend their regular marketing efforts and plow all their resources into marketing their books and not their businesses. This results in declining revenues since books are low dollar sales.

Not Building an Author Platform Early... and Often

Other than not integrating their books into their overall marketing and business efforts, authors often don't realize how important it is to build a following—an author platform—even before they launch their books. Then they scramble to make sales after publishing and quickly get discouraged.

Plus, building this platform is a never ending process. Continually recruiting new fans and followers helps sell current titles and those in an author's backlist.

Overstepping Their Expertise or Employment

"I've had a health crisis, so now I'm a health expert." Agreed, there's nothing like personal experience to create an expert reputation. However, authors need to figure out what their experience enables them to claim as expertise. For example, being a health expert usually requires education, training or certifications in addition to field experience. Being the recipient of a health expert's advice does not make YOU a health expert. But it may make you an expert at being a patient!

Similarly, when social media was new, those who were able to quickly adapt to these new connection technologies were branding themselves as "social media experts." Later, these so-called experts became quite an industry joke, especially when almost everyone became social media literate.

For some authors, self publishing, or even traditional publishing, could jeopardize their careers or finances. They may not be eligible to publish certain types of material or anything at all, depending on the terms of their employment, regulations or professional standards. Legal advice should be sought to answer eligibility questions.

No Disclaimers or Legal Input

Many authors don't realize that publishing a book or a blog is a legal event. Copyrights, disclaimers, quote permissions, privacy rights and other media liabilities all come into play. Self published authors often feel that they are somehow exempt from these risks. They are not!

Seeking the guidance of an attorney, especially one familiar with intellectual property and media law, can help prevent lawsuits and loss. Media liability insurance (there is such a thing) may also be recommended depending on the author, the topic and the situation.

Using Other People's Material

Whether they do it because they feel that their material (or expertise) isn't good enough or they have no original ideas of their own, some self published authors' books are loaded with quoted material. In addition to potential copyright infringement claims and lawsuits, it waters down an author's work.

Expecting Too Much Money

New authors can expect too much in terms of money. They believe their books will magically be successful and make their businesses successful. As well, they don't realize that most authors, even those who are traditionally published, usually don't become wealthy from book sales and royalties. Plus, there is always the possibility the book will not take off at all.

As emphasized earlier, self publishing a book is just one part of an overall marketing plan for business.

Thinking Self Publishing is Totally Free

Fact: Self publishing a book or eBook on platforms such as Amazon's Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing can sometimes, quite literally, be free. However, that doesn't mean the act of self publishing is totally free.

Authors often forget to factor in the time they spent writing and publishing the work. That can be a high investment indeed! Also, hiring professionals, such as editors and proofreaders, to assist in the self publishing process can be a significant investment, sometimes running into the hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Incorrectly Pricing the Book or eBook

Because they don't have a clue about the real costs of their self publishing adventures, authors can often underprice or overprice their books. Plus, as discussed earlier, because they haven't done a competitive analysis of books in the marketplace, they also don't have a clue about customers' expectations in terms of book prices.

By underpricing their books, these clueless authors may gain high sales volume with low total profits. Or, by overpricing, they turn off many potential reader buyers. In either scenario, their incomes are negatively impacted.

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 9 months ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Lawrence! Glad you found some useful information, even though you write fiction. Thanks so much for stopping by and keep on writing!

  • profile image

    Lawrence Hebb 9 months ago


    Writing, for me, is a hobby, and it's likely to stay that way for quite a while.

    That said, I'm taking note of the things here, a lot of this applies to writing fiction!

    Great information.


  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 10 months ago from Chicago Area

    Thanks, Larry! Have a great week!

  • Larry Rankin profile image

    Larry Rankin 10 months ago from Oklahoma

    Very informative!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 10 months ago from Chicago Area

    Happy Monday, Flourish! Nonfiction is my thing, too, for both reading and writing. Though I have the utmost respect for those who can craft fiction and poetry, I have to admit those are out of my realm. Thanks for stopping by and your kind words! Have a great week!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 10 months ago from USA

    Nonfiction and the required research that goes with it are precisely my thing. They come so easily to me. I used to read exclusively nonfiction, too, on psychology, health, and related topics. You provide excellent advice about reading in your genre and knowing your audience.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 10 months ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Venkatachari! Audience building is a continuous effort as long as you have your books for sale. Keep working at attracting new customers! Thanks for stopping by and have a great week ahead!

  • Venkatachari M profile image

    Venkatachari M 10 months ago from Hyderabad, India

    This is very useful and important information for self-publishing authors. I have got my own economics book published at KDP and still waiting for any audience. I do not have any followers or audience and worried at it. So, I must build up my audience first.

    Thanks for the tips.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 10 months ago from Chicago Area

    Howdy, billybuc! Sorry nonfiction isn't your thing, but glad this was helpful in your work with a customer. Happy March to you, too! (It was 19 this AM and we're looking at snow later today. Yep, Happy Usual Spring in Chicago.)

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 10 months ago from Olympia, WA

    I've only done one non-fiction and it bored me to tears, so I think I can safely say I won't be doing another. Still, this was helpful as I help a customer at this very moment writer her non-fiction.

    So thank you!

    Happy March!