I have a confession to make. My partner and I sometimes entertain ourselves by sharing hilariously bad self-published book covers. That may sound a bit mean-spirited, but trust me, if we actually wanted to be mean about it, we’d show you some of the covers so you could laugh right along with us. Then again, we probably don’t have to because if you’re an avid reader and/or author, you already know what we’re talking about. And sadly, it’s not just the covers that are craptastic. It’s book blurbs, review requests, author websites and social media posts. And that’s all before you consider the quality of the actual book.
Don’t get me wrong, we love self-published authors. We both read tons of self-published books on a regular basis and support indie authors with original reviews published on our blog and Goodreads. We also promote self-pub authors and books on social media, offer interview opportunities and even invite some to do guest blog posts. Heck, we even have a bestselling indie author on staff. Seriously, we’re big fans.
That said, we’re also realistic. While there are plenty of self-published authors deserving of our praise and support, there’s no denying the fact that there are also quite a few who are in desperate need of some advice and guidance (which is a nice way of saying “What the hell were you thinking?”). Well, it just so happens self-publishing advice is what we do.
What’s up with that?
Now that we’ve admitted there’s a problem, the most obvious question is why? After all, it takes a significant amount of time, perseverance and intelligence to write a novel and publish it on your own. Anyone who’s been through the process deserves some credit for that accomplishment alone. But back to our original question...how is it possible for smart people to release books with so many obvious problems?
When you stop and think about it, the answer is surprisingly obvious. Besides a talent for writing, becoming a successful indie author requires a range of specific skills very few people have including: proofreading, editing, blurb writing, cover design, book marketing, website design, website building, social media marketing, review request writing and project management.
Sure, there are probably a few crazy-talented freaks out there who are capable of doing all of those things on their own, but for the rest of us mere mortals, we need help. First and foremost, however, we need to have enough self awareness to know what we’re skilled enough to do on our own and where we need the help and advice of experts. Often times, understanding when to ask for help can be the biggest challenge.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the major categories of author challenges and examine where some of our self-published friends might be falling a wee bit short.
BOOK COVER MISTAKES
Face it, just about everyone is going to apply some level of judgement about a book based on the cover. It’s just a fact of life. And since the cover is almost always a reader’s first impression of a book, it’s all the more important to have a cover that grabs attention. We have a few blog posts that go into the specifics of designing book covers, but for our purposes here, we’re going to discuss why some authors might struggle with this part of the self-publishing process.
Regardless of genre, writing a novel requires an author to literally create whole worlds out of their imagination. And since you have the clearest understanding of the characters and plot, it stands to reason you would be most qualified to decide what goes on the cover and how it should look, right?
Unfortunately, that approach assumes the sole purpose of a book’s cover is to simply convey what the book’s about. In reality, experienced book cover designers will tell you that’s only a small part of the overall goal and probably shouldn’t even be very high on the priority list. The number one goal for any book cover is to attract the attention of its target audience. That’s it. Anything else is gravy.
Wanted: kick ass cover designer
One of the main challenges authors face with book cover design is finding a qualified designer. It’s tricky, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for. If you Google “book cover designer” you’ll be confronted with page after page of options. Some are highly skilled professionals with years of cover design experience, and others are hacks who think all they need is Photoshop and a website. How do you find the right designer for your project?
Let’s start by going back to Google. Instead of simply searching for a generic term like “book cover designer” try a more targeted search specific to your needs like “romance novel cover designer” or “book cover design and reasonable rates”. You’ll not only find designers, you’ll also find in-depth advice from a range of knowledgeable sources.
Kicking the tires
Once you’ve narrowed the field and start evaluating specific designers, take the time to carefully review their portfolios. Do they have an extensive collection of covers or just a handful? Are their cover designs for books that have actually been published or are they just spec work? Have they designed covers within your genre? If so, how many? Take the time to compare their covers to a range of books doing well in your genre. Do they at least “feel” similar? Do you recognize any of the authors? Check to see how the books they’ve designed covers for are selling. Sales certainly can’t be entirely attributed to cover design, but if all their books are selling poorly, that might indicate a problem.
It goes without saying that you should read their terms of service very carefully. Make sure you retain ownership of the final artwork and that it will be delivered in all the formats you’ll need. Ask about their design process, when they expect payment and the cost for revisions. More than anything, make sure you feel comfortable before proceeding.
Asking questions and building trust
So you’ve done your research, found a designer you feel comfortable with and you’re super excited to dive in and get started. Believe it or not, this can be the hardest part. If the designer understands how to do their job, they’ll begin the process by asking you a wide range of questions about your book. It’s extremely important to provide them with a thorough synopsis of the story as well as any big-picture themes, character motivations and inspirations. The more you can share the better.
Once you get the initial draft, it’s absolutely critical to ask questions before requesting revisions. The designer took the time to understand your book. You’ll need to understand their design decisions. It’s possible they may have a compelling argument you hadn’t thought of based on their experience. Regardless of the issues, however, it comes down to trust. You have to trust the work you put into finding this designer and trust him or her to do the job.
BOOK BLURB MISTAKES
Hmmm, “selling vs. telling.” That’s super advice for writing an effective book blurb, but it sounds really familiar. Where have I heard that before? Wait just a damn minute! I think we have a blog post with the exact same title. Yep, we sure do. Rather than go into all the details again here, we’d advise you to go check out that post and then fly on back here. Go ahead, we’ll wait. (Bad elevator music playing in the background…)
BLOGGER REVIEW REQUESTS MISTAKES
You’ve sent your precious book out into the world and you’re absolutely sure everyone is going to love it as much as you do. Why wouldn’t they? It’s genius, right? And then...crickets. Nothing. It’s as if your book doesn’t even exist. How can this be? What’s going on? Don’t they understand how fantastic your book is?
Um, actually no, they don’t. Why, you ask? It’s pretty simple really. They probably don’t know about it. There are literally millions of books out there and new ones being published all the time. You’ve got a metric ton of competition. Getting your book noticed is going to take time and effort, and one of the quickest ways to do that is to get reviews.
Reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are great, but that’s a chicken-and-egg situation. How do you get reviews if you can’t sell books, and how do you sell books if you can’t get reviews? The solution? Book bloggers. They have a built-in audience of readers who trust their opinions and buy lots and lots of books. So how do you get book bloggers to review your self-pub book? Actually, we wrote a book that answers that exact question in great detail. We won’t go into everything here, but we’ll give you the general idea.
Hey, how you doin’?
More than anything, getting blogger reviews comes down to one main thing: be nice. Seriously, it all boils down to that. How do you “be nice” to a book blogger? The same way you would anyone. Take an interest in what they do. Check out their blog, read their posts, leave comments, provide feedback and form a relationship. Once you do that, it softens ‘em up for a review request. Trust me, we’re total suckers for a nicely worded and thoughtful review request.
You know what else helps? As a show of good faith, maybe offer to do an interview or guest post for their site. If they have a podcast, offer to be interviewed for an episode. We even had an author write an original short story just for our blog. The bottom line is, book bloggers are just people. Be polite, friendly and have some personality. Your chances of landing a review will increase exponentially.
While there are certainly other tasks self-published authors struggle with (author website, social media, paid media, etc.), we’ll set those aside for the time being so we can talk about the biggie. Your book. Let’s be clear: we’re not here to insult your book or suggest extensive rewrites or edits. That’s way outside the scope of this blog post. But here’s the thing...if your book has been on sale for 3-6 months, you’re reasonably sure you haven’t whiffed on any of the items mentioned above and you still only have a handful of sales and/or reviews (other than family and friends), it may be time to at least consider the possibility your book may need some work.
Before you get ouchy, it’s important to keep in mind that slow sales aren’t necessarily a sign that your writing is bad. It’s possible you’re just not hitting the mark for your intended audience. It’s also possible that a few simple adjustments could make all the difference in the world. That’s where trusted beta readers come in.
Take the time to cultivate relationships on Goodreads with other authors in your genre who are doing well and whose writing you admire and respect. Once you’ve established a good rapport, ask them if they’d be willing to give your book a read and provide some writer-to-writer feedback. Some may politely decline, but if you can get a few to agree, it could go a long way towards improving your final product.
No one’s perfect
Look, we get it. You spent months, maybe even years, writing your book. After devoting so much time and energy, the last thing you want to hear is that it may not be any good. But here’s the thing...publishing is a cut-throat business with tons of competition. All those millions of readers out there don’t care how much time you’ve spent on your work. They’re just looking for an interesting book to read. The only question is: how can you convince them to choose your book?
Our advice is to bite the bullet and take the time to honestly evaluate every aspect of your book and book marketing to see if there are any areas that can be improved. Sometimes just a small tweak can make all the difference in the world. You’re a self-published author, dammit! You’ve already put in a ton of work to get this far. Don’t give up now just because you’ve hit a small roadblock. Make like a Marine: adapt and overcome. And don’t wait till tomorrow. Do it now. Those millions of readers are waiting.
Wait there’s more
You’re probably thinking, “Hey, what about marketing, author websites, social media, ads and all the other stuff authors screw up when marketing their books?” Not to worry. We haven’t forgotten but we’re already over 2,000 words with this blog post so we thought we’d give you guys some time to let all of this creamy goodness simmer in your brain for a bit before hitting you with Part 2 coming soon.
What about you? Do you have thoughts about what self-published authors could be doing better? We’d love to hear what you have to say. Start the conversation below or drop us a line.