6 Lessons I Learned The Hard Way While Publishing My First Book

In Digital Marketers Sound Off, Matt's Musings by Matt Chiera2 Comments

Are you in the process of writing a book or aspire to be a self-published author? This post will help you to avoid some of the mistakes I made and replicate the successes.

1. Amazon will disappoint you. Be ready for it.

Don’t get me wrong. Amazon is a fantastic platform for authors to self-publish books. They make it fairly easy to release your print and eBook on Amazon and enable people to purchase it. That being said, author requests and issues don’t always receive a quick and efficient response. For example, when you upload your book’s manuscript to Amazon, they automatically generate a “Look Inside” preview of the book. Great feature, right? Well, for my book, the formatting was completely wrong in Amazon’s preview. The tiny on-page images were blown up to a ludicrously large size and the page formatting was all messed up. I uploaded the manuscript correctly, but Amazon’s preview made the book look hideous. To get them to change this and upload a new version it took me calling three seperate departments, jumping through various hoops, many email back-and-forths, a lot of time on hold, and ultimately a few weeks delay in getting what should have been a simple PDF upload completed. All-in-all, I love Amazon and what they’ve done for authors, but just don’t expect everything to go swimmingly with them.

My recommendation is to try to find workarounds as much as possible. If you have a specific issue with Amazon, use Google, look for forums, post your issue on self-publisher social media groups, and try to find a solution that doesn’t require Amazon’s intervention.

2. Your contractors are extremely important. Vet them hard.

When you publish a book, there are a few key contractors that you’ll need. You’ll need a copy editor, proofreader, cover designer, and interior designer at a minimum. You can try doing any or all of these items yourself, but if you aren’t already expert at these projects, you’re very likely to screw them up. Your book and e-book must have pixel-perfect formatting or else it just won’t look good in print and on e-readers. If you aren’t expert in the Chicago Manual of Style, you absolutely need a copy editor. Even if you are, you probably still need a copy editor as another set of eyes. Unless you’re a graphic designer, don’t design the book cover yourself. Your book cover design is extremely important. Let a professional cover designer do it for you. The upfront cost will pay off later when you need to market the book.

On my first go-around publishing a book, I ended up with some great and not-so-great contractors. For example my interior designer, Julie Hodgins, was an absolute gem and I would HIGHLY recommend her if you’re publishing a book. Many people have commented on how great my interior design turned out, and for a book like mine it was a very important aspect. My copy editor didn’t work out quite so well. After paying a few thousand dollars for copy editing, there were still many errors in the book that had to be re-edited, and she ended up missing three deadlines throughout our engagement. My advice: vet well, ask for multiple samples and references, and make your timelines and objective crystal-clear to avoid any miscommunication.

3. Don’t set a firm book launch date.

You’re going to miss your launch date. Amazon will delay it. One of your contractors will. Or something on your end will happen and cause a delay. My recommendation…don’t promote a firm launch date or even a firm launch week.  Sure, you can set internal launch dates and milestones, but my recommendation is to keep the public launch date as loose as possible until the book is 100% ready.

4. Proofread, proofread, and then proofread again.

After my book was finalized by my copy editor, I proofread the book three times myself and had two other people proofread it. After the third full proof, I still found minor grammatical and formatting errors. You really can’t proofread your book enough. Also, I recommend only proofreading your book for an hour or two at a time. I found that at right around the one and a half hour mark I would start to get worse at noticing errors. By two and a half hours of proofreading I was basically useless at finding errors. The last thing you want is for your book to be published and then you catch an error and have to update and upload a new version (or even worse, for someone who purchased the book to catch it, ugh). Thorough proofreading may seem like a chore, but it will save you time and headaches down the line.

5. Marketing is everything.

So you published a book, now the cash will roll in! People will see your book on Amazon, see all the great reviews and your awesome cover and click the “Buy Now” button lickety-split. NOPE! Unless you’re a celebrity, a former President, or Stephen King, your book just won’t sell organically.

That being the case, you need to:

  1. Utilize social media before, during, and after your launch. Note that there’s a balance between good promotion and annoying people. Some of my most successful social media posts were when I asked for public feedback during various publishing milestones e.g. asking for people to pick their favorite among a few book cover design proofs. Also, you’ll need pretty high-res mockups of your book and eBook for your website and social media. This is the best website I’ve found for this. The mockup images from this site look great and are 100% free.
  2. Run ad campaigns. Don’t forget to set an ad budget as part of your overall book budget! The best performance I’ve gotten for book sales has come directly from Amazon Marketing Services, where I’m currently running about a 25% AcoS (AcoS is Advertising Cost of Sales – the amount you’ve spent on a campaign divided by total sales during the campaign run dates). Also, Fiverr has a whole slew of book promotion services, mostly through book-related Twitter and Facebook pages. You can get about a week of posting for around $50. I have actually gotten a positive AcoS (although not by much) from these services.
  3. Most importantly, reach out to your network! Let everyone know that you’ve published your book. Ask them to tell their friends about the book and share on social media.
  4. Partner with other companies and publishers. One of my most successful campaigns was partnering up with SparkleHustleGrow – a monthly subscription box and online community for female entrepreneurs. They included my book in one of their boxes, which got my book into the hands of over 1300 entrepreneurs.
  5. Get creative. I’ve gotten a surprising amount of sales from adding a link to buy the book in the signature of my email 😉

6. Focus on getting reviews.

Reviews are the social proof for your book. Reviews will help establish credibility that the book is a worthy read, help for organic book rankings, and are often the deciding “conversion” factor once people hit your book’s sales page. Amazon is REALLY good at filtering out reviews from your friends and family members (how did they know it was my Mom, she used her maiden name!) Reviews won’t happen organically. Well, you’ll get some, but not enough to make your book stand out. Hand out copies of your book like popcorn. Send copies to people and ask them to review. Ask your Facebook friends and any other social media followers to review the book. YOU NEED REVIEWS. Also, don’t forget about Goodreads. As soon as my book was added to a bunch of Goodreads lists and gained a 5-star rating, I immediately saw an uptick in sales.

Are you a digital marketer or aspire to be one? Check out Digital Marketers Sound Off, now available for 10% off on Amazon! In Digital Marketers Sound Off, you’ll find 101 accomplished digital marketing specialists sharing their favorite tools, tips, tactics, and predictions for the future.

About the Author

Matt Chiera

Matt Chiera is Founder & Principal Consultant at Ice Nine Online. Since forming the company in 2014, he’s helped Ice Nine Online’s clients generate millions of dollars in revenue from digital marketing. Matt taught digital marketing strategy and tactics at the Tribeca School’s Digital Professional Institute. Matt’s book “Digital Marketers Sound Off” has been ranked as the #1 book in the Web Marketing category on Amazon.

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  1. Thank you,
    I am writing my book following my journey with breast cancer: 24 yrs survival, 15 of which were spent in advocacy work.
    I would love to talk to you if possible?

    1. Author

      Hi Philippa, sure thing, I love meeting fellow authors. Please send me a message on twitter @MatthewChiera and we’ll find some time to chat.

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