Newbie Mistakes
Newbie Mistakes

Are you a Newbie or a Noob?

Newbie is the slang term for someone who is new to something, and therefore doesn’t have a high level of proficiency or experience with it . . . yet.
Noob is the slang term for someone who is equally unskilled, yet stubbornly refuses to acknowledge it (or do anything to change it).
The key difference is that Newbies can (and do) learn.  Noobs don’t (so they continue making the same mistakes and falling short of expectations).


31 Common Mistakes Made by First Time Self-Publishers
Mistakes that can cost you time, money, and book sales!

Digital “print-on-demand” technology allows high quality paperback books to be manufactured one-at-a-time, quickly and cost-effectively, as they are purchased. There’s no need to print thousands of books in advance (as with offset printing) and hold them in a warehouse. With print-on-demand, a book can be printed, bound, finished, packaged, and labeled for shipping within seconds of a customer placing an order for it.

This technology has made it possible for almost anybody to publish a “real” book and have it listed with major on-line retailers like Thousands of people are doing exactly that. In the U.S. alone, a new book title is released about every two minutes. Even so, 92 percent of those books never sell more than 70 copies. How come?

Well, because they’re bad – not necessarily bad ideas or bad writing (although that’s sometimes the case), but very often because they’re just amateur-looking products. The self-publisher either didn’t know or didn’t care about the standards that apply to publishing a book that will be offered to the public. It’s like trying to sell a boat with a big hole in the bottom. Anyone who knows anything about boats knows better than to pay good money for that!

The same is true with books. Retail buyers, literary agents, reviewers, librarians, and the majority of avid readers expect a “real” book to have certain qualities and characteristics. When it doesn’t, it doesn’t sell (except to friends and family).

Another reason many self-published books sell poorly is that the authors don’t know anything about the new business they’ve entered into (i.e., book publishing) – and rather than learn the ropes, they make key decisions on the basis of faulty assumptions and misinformation.

The following are common “newbie mistakes” (listed in the sequence they typically occur). Each one you avoid will result in a better, more profitable book.


1. Not learning the simple “basics” of book publishing
Almost anyone can fly an airplane – or publish a book. We weren’t born with the skills to do either one, however. When an author jumps into the self-publishing “pilot seat” and grabs the controls without first learning a few simple basics, the book rarely gets off the ground – and if it does, it won’t fly very far, or very high. To publish a book successfully, you must complete a specific sequence of tasks. Skipping a step, taking a “shortcut,” or doing something improperly can be costly. Guiding Beacon

2. Not recognizing what it means to self-publish
The term “publishing” refers to the editing, design, production, and marketing of a book. There are a lot of entities out there that promise to publish or help publish your book, and first time authors are often unaware of the key factors that separate vanity presses, subsidy presses, and book packagers from true self-publishers. As a result, many newbies fall victim to schemes that are far too costly and not in their best interests. Know what you’re getting into. Guiding Beacon

3. Self-publishing without a viable goal or plan
“Begin with the end in mind” is one of Stephen Covey’s seminal 7 Habits. Too many first time self-publishers start their projects with little more than a hope or a dream. Success (in self-publishing, or anything else) begins with a clear and realistic vision of the desired outcome, and a viable plan for achieving it. Without those two elements, the whole thing is left to chance (and the odds are very much against you if that “game of chance” is book publishing). Guiding Beacon

4. Not understanding the world of book sales
Writing is a craft, but publishing is a business – and a highly competitive one. (6 out of 7 books released by major publishers actually lose money!) A lot of aspiring authors don’t understand how books are moved through the supply chain, and how book profits are divided among the key players. This creates unrealistic expectations, and often causes inexperienced self-publishers to make ineffective sales and marketing decisions. Guiding Beacon

5. Not formulating a marketing strategy
The successful sale of anything begins with a clear understanding of the product being offered and the way in which it benefits a buyer. You have to know ‘em (your prospective readers) to sell ‘em (your books). The fact that a book is listed on Amazon or even sitting on a bookstore shelf does not mean people will buy it. With over 12 million paperback titles currently in print (and more than a half-million new titles are being released each year), it’s not enough to get your book “out there.” You need a plan to market your book intelligently, and ensure that target readers are not just aware of it – but excited about it! Guiding Beacon

6. Pursuing unproductive sales channels
This newbie mistake is usually a by-product of the previous two (i.e., not understanding how books are traditionally sold, and not having a marketing strategy). This lack of savvy causes self-publishing authors to fixate on nationwide placement in brick-and-mortar retail chains if it were the “Holy Grail.” In fact, the quest to place your book on retail shelves can be every bit as epic as that depicted in Arthurian legend. Guiding Beacon

7. Improperly forming a publishing company and imprint
For many authors, self-publishing is a hobby or “test the waters” endeavor – but when it becomes a business, it needs to be set up and run like a business. In most U.S. states, it’s neither difficult nor expensive to form a publishing company, and doing it properly can offer you several important money-saving advantages. Not doing it, or doing it improperly, can actually cost you money (and even get you into legal or financial trouble).
Guiding Beacon

8. Not knowing your ABCs (ISBNs, LCCNs, & CIPs)
What’s an ISBN? What’s an LCCN? What’s a CIP? When and why do you need them? Where and how do you get them? And does any of this stuff really matter anyway? For most self-publishers, some of it matters a lot and some of it doesn’t matter at all – yet clear, reliable explanations can be hard to find. Getting the right information, and making good decisions to begin with, is much easier than trying to fix a bad decision later.  Guiding Beacon

9. Not giving your book an effective title
A self-published title needs to stand out like a flowering CACTUS in the barren desert (watch out, here comes a mnemonic!) -
Catchy, Appropriate, Compelling, Tactical, Unique, Short. While there is no single proven process or sure-fire magical formula for naming your book, evaluating your prospective title relative to each of those criteria will help you know when you’ve chosen the right one (or not). Guiding Beacon

10. Not maintaining backup copies of all your computer files
“HELP!!! My computer crashed and my whole book is GONE! What can I do?” More than 30 years after the invention of personal computing, you can see a post like this almost every day in an on-line forum. So . . . Got back-upsGuiding Beacon

11. Not having your manuscript edited and proofread
This is a difficult mistake to avoid for self-publishing authors, because professional edits are very expensive and amateur edits are often worthless. So it’s important to focus on your goal, know your limitations, be selective, and be creative. With a little effort, you can identify the type of editing you need, and find the right resources to get it done cost-effectively. Guiding Beacon

12. Not understanding how on-demand books are produced
A variety of different methods, technologies, and types of equipment can be used to manufacture a book – and each has advantages and disadvantages. All print-on-demand books are produced using digital presses. Some of the things you see in “traditional” books from mainstream publishers (which are printed in large quantities using offset equipment) simply cannot be done with digital print-on-demand. A few things can actually be done better. Knowing the strengths and limitations of the print solution you choose can help you design a better book, and save you a lot of disappointment and rework. Guiding Beacon

13. Cutting corners that result in poor quality books
As a customer, how do you feel about a company that knowingly sells inferior products or services, just so they can make a bigger profit? That’s exactly how your readers and reviewers will feel about you (and your book) if you cut corners where you shouldn’t or rush through the publishing process. Small budgets and do-it-yourself resourcefulness are a necessary part of self-publishing. Yet to build a book (and a publishing enterprise) that you can be proud of, you must invest the time required to do the job right – or recognize your limitations, and seek professional assistance when it’s the logical thing to do.  Guiding Beacon

14. Not selecting the proper trim size and paper for your book
Books can be published using an array of trim sizes and kinds of paper. In most cases, only a limited number of options are offered by a specific book printer. Some of those options will be better for your particular book than others, so you’ll want to consider the risks and benefits of each when making your selection. Guiding Beacon

15. Not having an effective cover design for your book
Your book cover is very important, but for most self-published books (sold primarily through on-line channels or by the author directly), it’s not as important as it is for mainstream releases that are sold in bookstores. Further, some characteristics that are ideal for a cover on store shelves are ineffective (even distracting) in the low resolution thumbnail image of a cover on Amazon. In fact, marketing studies have proven that “stock” cover designs with a few simple and inexpensive customizations are far more effective than the amateur, do-it-yourself designs that are created by self-publishing authors. Guiding Beacon

16. Not properly preparing your manuscript for typesetting
In the process of writing your manuscript, you (and your word processing software) added all kinds of extraneous characters and hidden “codes” to your document – things that will wreak havoc (and cost you time and money later) if you don’t find them and clean them out before you place this content in a page layout format. Guiding Beacon

17. Not choosing a suitable software package for book page layout
The Adobe Creative Suite/InDesign product is the “best” software and the “right” tool for book page layout. Nothing else compares, but it is expensive to buy and difficult to master. So you may find it necessary to use your word processing software for page layout. Microsoft Office is the “Swiss Army knife” of Windows-based computer software, and the Word application can produce a high quality page layout if you set it up properly (the default settings are not appropriate for book pages) and if your book’s content is mainly text (with only a few grayscale photos or illustrations). For books that are image-intensive, or that have complex full-color magazine-style pages, other software is needed (after all, it is called Microsoft Word). Guiding Beacon

18. Not learning to use the software you choose
A Swiss Army knife does you no good if you can’t figure out how to open it, or if you are afraid to use the tools it contains. Likewise, you can’t lay out your book’s pages if you’re claiming to be “computer illiterate.” Book page layout requires advanced user skills. It’s nothing that the average person can’t handle, but you do have to be willing to dig in and learn. That said, the technical stuff is not for everybody, and hiring someone to complete the page layout process for you is often well worth it. Guiding Beacon

19. Not adhering to book design and editorial standards
Major publishing houses and professional designers follow a very specific set of guidelines for book cover artwork, interior page layout, and content formatting (including rules for grammar, spelling, and punctuation). Adhering to these standards ensures consistency, gives your book a more polished and professional look, and ultimately makes the book easier to read, comprehend, and enjoy. Departing from those standards (without a very good reason) will instantly identify your book as “amateur.” Guiding Beacon

20. Adopting the “wrong” set of book design standards
Self-publishers are a wonderfully diverse, international group – and just as we don’t all drive on the same side of the road, we don’t all adhere to the same book design standards. Look at any title that’s a bestseller in the North America, Europe, and Australia. You will see that the editions released in the United States are different in more ways than just spelling and editing – they have radically different cover designs and interior formatting (they are designed specifically for American consumers). That doesn’t mean the standards used by book designers outside the U.S. are “bad” (they’re not), but extensive research has shown that they’re simply not as effective for the American market as books that are written and designed to U.S. standards. Guiding Beacon

21. Not selecting the best typefaces or fonts for your book
Selecting the wrong typeface or font is one of the most common mistakes that self-publishers make. It’s not merely an artistic preference. It’s a technical decision that affects the print quality, accuracy, and readability of all the text inside your book. Most of the fonts installed on your computer were designed for desktop display and printing, and are not suitable for commercial production. It’s essential to choose fonts that were originally designed to meet commercial requirements. Guiding Beacon

22. Incorrectly preparing and placing photos/images
This is another common mistake, yet an understandable one (because the wealth of information available to help you manage and manipulate photos and other images for printing at home is not applicable to preparing those objects for placement on a book page layout). Basic arithmetic and a few very simple rules regarding size, resolution, colorspace, and placement are all it takes to include quality images in your book. Guiding Beacon

23. Using the wrong software/settings to create a PDF file
This may be the biggest self-publishing mistake of all, and the root cause of more confusion, frustration, printing errors, and lost distribution opportunities than any other single issue. To create a good, reliable, press-ready PDF file from your book page layout, you’ll want to use the authentic “power tool” for that purpose – Adobe Acrobat Pro. A commercial press performs different functions (and speaks a different language) than your home computer, and Adobe products are the only tools that speak the “native language” to control those functions. (It’s one of reasons Adobe products cost so much.) No other tool can create a PDF file from a non-Adobe source (for example, a Microsoft Word document) that is 100% “print ready.” Can’t afford to purchase or learn Acrobat? Then at least consider spending a few dollars to have your document professionally converted and “preflight” tested. Guiding Beacon

24. Not “preflighting” your PDF files before submission
Because your home/office computer and desktop printer speak a different language than a commercial press, what you see (when you print or view the document yourself) is not necessarily what you’ll get (in the actual book). A “preflight” examines your PDF file to flag issues that may cause problems or inconsistencies when the book is printed. Like a medical check-up, this simple process serves two valuable purposes - (1) it gives you peace of mind (knowing for sure that your file is in perfect “print-ready” condition), and (2) it detects and alerts you to any problems or issues that will cause you pain later (in the form of books that ship with seemingly random errors or misprints). Guiding Beacon

25. Not asking for help when you need it
The organization chart for one major U.S. book publisher contains 67 boxes representing different functional areas – i.e., groups of employees who have different job descriptions, educational backgrounds, responsibilities, and areas of expertise. Each of them works full time at only one job, so are you really expecting to master all 67 jobs on your first book? Give yourself a break! You don’t have to know (or do) everything – provided you’re willing to ask for qualified assistance when needed. Guiding Beacon

26. Not carefully reviewing your proofs
Even a team of professional book designers (who are doing everything exactly “right”) can occasionally make mistakes. So when one person (you) does all the work associated with publishing a book for the first time, mistakes and oversights are inevitable. Finding and correcting them at the proof stage is relatively cheap and easy. Fixing them after that is not. Too many self-published authors get impatient at this stage and approve the proof without really looking it over. Guiding Beacon

27. Not protecting your copyright
Your well-meaning friends (and maybe even a few published authors) may give you some misleading information on this subject if you let them. Protecting your intellectual property is an essential part of writing and publishing – and in the United States at least, it’s a relatively easy and inexpensive thing to do. Guiding Beacon

28. Not celebrating your book’s release
This seems like a “no brainer,” yet it’s something that 99 percent of self-publishing authors fail to do (or fail to do effectively). Not only do they miss something fun, their “failure to launch” may seriously cripple their subsequent marketing efforts. (A runner sprints off the starting line when the race begins – he doesn’t sit down on the track.) Whether it’s a backyard barbeque, pizza party for friends and supporters, or a full-blown media event, do something special to kick-off the sale of your new book! Guiding Beacon

29. Not promoting your book proactively
Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, said it best: “Nothing happens until a sale is made.” As a self-publisher, book sales depend almost totally on your promotional efforts – and that’s true whether you pitch 10,000 copies of your book to a national distributor or sell copies one at a time directly to readers. You must continually work each element of your marketing strategy. The more you work it, the more books you sell. When you stop, sales stop. Guiding Beacon

30. Not understanding POD fulfillment and the web marketplace
“My book has been pirated!” “CreateSpace is printing and distributing copies without paying me!” “My friend ordered my book, but account shows no sales!” “On-line retailers are cheating me out of my book’s sales profits!” Claims like this are posted weekly in self-publishing communities, yet they are based on incorrect assumptions and a general lack of knowledge about how print-on-demand books are marketed on the Internet and how orders for those books are fulfilled. Guiding Beacon

31. Not thinking about your NEXT book
How many successful authors or publishing companies release only one book? Very few. The fact is, the more you publish, the greater the success you achieve (and the higher your net profit margin will be – because each subsequent book reaps the benefits of your prior experiences and marketing efforts). In fact, someone who buys an author’s first book is 12 times more likely to buy the second one. So once you find your readers (and they find you), give the people what they want! That’s how a successful writing career and a profitable self-publishing enterprise are built.

Nearly 75 million Americans believe they have a book concept that is worthy of publication. Yet fewer than one in a thousand people will actually write that book and see it all the way through to publication this year. You can. Really. You just need to get started. Chart your course. Set sail. And remember, there’s a Lighthouse here to help you avoid the rocks!

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Copyright 2011, 2012 Lighthouse24.  All rights reserved.
Extensive efforts are made to provide information that is useful and accurate - however, change is a constant in the book industry, so no warranty is expressed or implied regarding the accuracy of the content presented herein. Further, many of the guidelines offered are necessarily general in nature, so your specific self-publishing projects and experiences may vary.

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