I’ve Screwed Up: 5 Strategic Mistakes In Self-Publishing

We’re supposed to learn from our mistakes.

It’s what makes us grow as people or something. Usually I find it better to learn from others’ mistakes. It saves me the embarrassment that comes with the lesson.

But, sometimes making our own mistakes is unavoidable. In those cases we should default to the conventional wisdom. I’ve made my share of mistakes and I’m trying to learn from them. But, there’s no reason you shouldn’t benefit from my errors as well. Today I’ll be focusing on those relating to self-publishing because you don’t have all day. Even then, I’ll keep it to five though I’m sure I’ve made many more.

Before we begin, let’s look at where my mistakes have gotten me just so you have a sense of scale.

I began self-publishing my work three or four years ago. Right out of the gates I was fortunate to gain some positive attention. I was selling thousands of books a month. 25,000 in the first year. At it’s peak I was just waiting for my boss to ask me to work the weekend so I could storm out.

But things have changed. The market has changed a lot and sales aren’t what they were. Not even close. Not even remotely close. Other authors that began publishing at the same time as I did have gone on to tremendous success. Looking back at what they did there are some clear discrepancies in my path. Here are five places where I’m pretty sure I went wrong.

I DIDN’T FOCUS ON A SERIES

My first book was well-received. Post-Apocalyptic Nomadic Warriors sat in the top 1500 on Amazon for a year. It held one of the top 3 spots in comedy for six months straight changing places only with my other titles. Did I write the sequel right away? No. I’m working on it now. Three or four years later. It’s what my readers seem to want most. I should have written it then.

Instead I wrote several other titles that were also intended as series: The Bulletproof Adventures of Damian Stockwell, Dumb White Husband, Pilgrim, Tortugas Rising. Those were my interests and where my passion was at the time. It was what I wanted to do. Not what the market wanted. Readers like a series. Many say they won’t start a book unless they know there are at least two more to follow it.

I should have focused on a series before branching off into other works.

(Here’s what I’m doing to fix this)

I IGNORED MY EMAIL LIST

Many people graciously invited me into the their inbox but I’ve always struggled on how to make an email worth their time. I’m so active on social media that I feel they must get tired of hearing from me. This dilemma always made me shy away from building a decent newsletter list.

But, having a decent mailing list is the surest way to reach readers. Readers that are eager to hear about new work. Now, I’m very focused on it. You may have noticed that for the past few months, signing up for my list gets you a free story. I intend to keep that up and build that list because…

I CHASED WHAT WAS WORKING AND WHAT WORKS CHANGES

I had tremendous success with Twitter. And I had so much fun interacting with everyone. But time goes on and things fall out of favor. Twitter seems a wasteland compared to what it use to be. Usage is way down. Interaction is way down. It’s changed.

Then Facebook changed their algorithm. If someone wanted to see what was on your page all they had to do was like you. Now they have to like you and comment on posts if they want to see you. Or, I can pay for the people that liked my page to see my posts which is cost prohibitive. I get why Facebook did it. But, it’s effectiveness has dropped far below useful.

The advantage of free books were destroyed by their abundance. Bookbub and like sites give you a boost but no sustained lift. (Unless you have a series, I hear.) And the effective ones have grown so big they are restrictions are hard to meet by average sellers.

Things change and they’re out of our control. The only items an author has complete control over are things he or she owns. That’s a mailing list and a website. (And my website’s a mess. I know.)

I SPREAD MYSELF TOO THIN

I wanted to do everything. When I came home to write full time I had so much energy. I was going to illustrate. I was going to write a book a month. I was going to do freelance copywriting. Guess which one took off. The freelance has been a blessing but I hardly have the time to write that I use to.

But, the family stays fed and that’s important, too.

I SLOWED DOWN

But my biggest mistake—I slowed down. I was releasing titles consistently. I was on a roll. Once that streak was broken, it’s been hard to get back up to speed. The lack of new releases combined with a lack of visibility from the reasons above were death to sales. I still had people waiting for my next release. But they never got the news. And the more I’ve slowed down, the less news I have to share.

So those are my five biggest mistakes. I’m sure I’ve made others and would be willing to hear what you think they are.  I want to say I learn from my mistakes. And hopefully you can learn from them without having to make them yourself.

(Here’s what I’m doing to fix this)

anyway, join my newsletter. You’ll get a free Halloween short story.
-ben

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New Release – Gone to the Dogs 

Sasquatch and Fidget have survived a viral epidemic. But, their human didn’t. Now this Great Dane and beagle are trapped inside with no thumbs to let them out. What will they do? How will they survive? Where will they “go”? Find out in Gone to the Dogs.

10 comments

  1. Hey Ben, it was great that you shared this.

    Social media is tough to stay on top of, and at the end of the day I’m not convinced that the effort spent is any where near the benefit received in sales.

    Your email list is Gold though. You should check out Nathan Barry’s site, and his book “Authority” on launching new products and using your email list.

  2. Hey Ben! Thanks for sharing this information with us.

    Any advice for someone who’s so slow already that the only slower option left is “stop?”

  3. I kind of feel like I’m starting over as well, Kate. The advice I’m giving myself is to just write and focus on the things I can control: covers, book descriptions, blogging and building that email list. All while trying not to think about sales or ranking at all.

    But mostly it’s just writing more. That’s the part I enjoy the most anyway.

    My short term effort will be to write more books in the Duck & Cover series.

  4. Hi Ben,

    I’m in the same or almost the same boat. My biggest mistake was not getting the second book out fast enough. I took too long and then my circumstances changed and now I’m lucky if I get to write one paragraph a day.

    Still, I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep moving forward even if it is at a snail’s pace. I too planned a bunch of books, even children’s books–I wrote a first draft of one two years ago. I recognize that for this to be a real career a drastic shift is required from me. I can go at it slow, I guess, and be patient, but I’ve a suspicion that’s not good enough anymore. I need to write more and faster, and keep at it. That is the only way–in a nutshell.

    I have big fat dreams constantly hovering over my head and now and then when things get too tough they disappear, but just for a moment, and then they’re back, haunting me, making me feel guilty. Making me feel like a loser for not writing faster. So I have that to contend with as well. And I’m blessed with the supernatural ability to see reason under the most dire of circumstances, even when my own emotions are in turmoil. It’s like being drunk and then looking into a mirror and seeing sober you. That kinda sucks.

    I don’t know why I wrote that. It just spilled out.

    Anyway, I think you have a kick-ass brand going. You are one of the earliest outliers I followed when I started this schtick, when I actually started taking my writing serious.

    So good luck, mate. You’ll figure it out like you always do, like you just did with this piece, and thanks for sharing with us.

  5. Great post! Curious to hear how are your results right now.

  6. yep. i made all those mistakes too. sales dropped precipitously. regrouping underway.

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