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3 Mistakes I Made When I Published My First Novel

“Don’t let this happen to you!” – my future infomercial

By Stephen A. RoddewigPublished 6 days ago 6 min read
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3 Mistakes I Made When I Published My First Novel
Photo by Francisco De Legarreta C. on Unsplash

This past Sunday, the “platform that shall not be named” suggested an article for me:

How I Earned Money Self-Publishing 11 Ebooks

I started to read it and quickly found myself hung up on a particular paragraph:

It feels like just yesterday that I self-published my first ebook My Mistakes in Self-publishing on Gumroad. I made quite mistakes during my writing journey (as a romance writer) and put that whole out into that book.

I’m sorry, your first self-published e-book talked about mistakes you made when… self-publishing? How the fuck does that work?

So, my brain attempted to offer a few solutions:

  1. The e-book was the mistake
  2. This person has only published in print or audio format before
  3. This person is a time traveler who returned to a previous point in their life to warn themselves of the mistakes they were soon to make and decided to release that warning to the entire world in the form of an e-book
  4. I shouldn’t be taking this person at their word when the next sentence is riddled with grammatical errors (is “not proofreading” included in the list of mistakes?)

I settled on Option 4.

Still, it did get me thinking what my own list of mistakes might be.

It’s been 1.5 months since I put out my book A Bloody Business, and I figure it’s never too early to reflect on the process. Specific to this article, I wanted to lay out a few areas that, in hindsight, definitely could be counted as missteps.

Perhaps, seeing my failings, you will find a better path with your own book!

Mistake 1: Preorders Do Count Toward Sales Rankings

A long time back, my friend and fellow author Marissa Lete had her second book in the Echoes trilogy coming out. A book that I proofread and was keyed up to support.

Knowing a little about Amazon and publishing, I asked her if I should pre-order the print book or wait until Release Day.

She said no, because print pre-orders don’t count toward Amazon sales rankings.

Somehow, three years later, that answer had mutated in my head to mean all pre-orders didn’t count toward Amazon sales rankings (print, e-book, audiobook).

And I was wrong.

Turns out, e-book and audiobook pre-orders do count toward sales rankings. In fact, they are preferable because they all are applied to the sales ranking on midnight of Release Day, so you get a big initial surge off of them (assuming you have a lot of pre-orders). Otherwise, you’re hoping those same folks remember to buy on Release Day. And while the book is your biggest priority, it certainly is not theirs.

Print pre-orders don’t count because KDP doesn’t support them, so those are being offered through another publishing service even if they appear on Amazon’s site.

The Micro Takeaway: Share that pre-order link loud and proud.

The Macro Takeaway: Always check your assumptions before making large, sweeping strategic decisions. Boy, when I put it like that, makes me sound kind of dumb 😅

Mistake 2: Ask for Reviews Whenever You Can

You’ll see it at the back of a lot of independent published books (hell, even traditionally published books):

If you enjoyed this book, please consider leaving a review.

But not A Bloody Business.

Not because I thought I was above that or didn’t think I’d need reviews.

The thought just, uh, didn’t cross my mind.

And now I’m left to think about just how many more reviews I might have now if not for that misstep. Because reviews are one of the best ways to convince the proverbial stranger that this book by an author they’ve never heard of is worth the time and money.

As fellow Vocalist Brin J. stated on my friend Bri Craig’s article: “…three days ago a self-published book caught my eye. It's been out for almost a year yet has less than 300 reviews on Amazon, and usually I wouldn't have paid attention to it since it hasn't had enough reviews to be a solid indicator of how good it is, but I gave it a shot.”

“Less than 300?” I remember remarking to myself before hopping over to Amazon to check my total.

“Well, only 292 to go,” I concluded with a dark chuckle.

So don’t be me. Get your review numbers up to the Brin J. Benchmark (Copyright 2024 by Stephen A. Roddewig).

The Micro Takeaway: Kindly request reviews at the back of your book.

The Macro Takeaway: Kindly request reviews everywhere and anywhere you can. After buying the book, it’s the next best thing a reader can do to support your work.

Mistake 3: Your Fellow Authors Are Not Your Competition

It’s easy to fall into a mindset that goes something like the following:

“There’s only so much time and money to go around, and I am competing with everyone else that wrote a book—or at least a book in the same genre—for it.”

OR

“I’m going to be a breakout success, so what do my peers have to teach me?”

Reject the Malthusian mindset. Stomp that superiority complex into the ground.

Sure, in some ways, you are in competition. But have you seen the size of some people’s TBR (to be read) piles? I don’t think we’re in a life-or-death struggle for survival with everyone else who wrote a thriller (my genre). No matter what Malthus would have us believe.

And what do your peers have to teach you?

Plenty.

And, hey, you’re already doing better than I did simply by reading this article!

Story Time:

Novelist isn’t my only writing identity. Before all of this book-writing nonsense, I was also a semi-pro short story writer.

And one of these days, by God, I’ll finally make it to pro status.

As part of that ongoing effort, I am always on the prowl for new publications and submissions calls. I don’t recall exactly how it happened, but I became curious about another author I’ve shared more than a few short story collections with.

So I did a quick Google search and found his author site.

And HOLY SHIT, I thought I had this whole submissions game figured out, but I’m nowhere close to Warren Benedetto numbers of placements.

Not only that, but this man has a real world-class effort stood up around cross-promoting any story now classed as a reprint on his site, all the way down to making custom covers for each story—with the help of AI, but you wouldn’t know that by lookin’ at ‘em (bonus points for the transparency).

See for yourself:

(Sidenote: what a tagline 👏)

Now, I could’ve looked at that awe-inspiring list of short story placements and let the Deflation Demons take over:

“I’ll never reach that level, so why even try?” or “Man, some people have all the luck.”

Instead, I took a deeper look at the publications list. I recognized some of these publishers. In fact, I was straight up jealous of a few of them (“He got into X?? Damn, pretty sure I submitted to them and got turned down.”)

I also recognized a similar strategy: a heavy emphasis on short story reprints.

Even genre synergy: horror, thriller, weird fiction.

Instead of getting dejected, instead of letting envy rule the day, I recognized this discovery for what it was:

Opportunity.

Here was an author who played the same game as me, just at a much higher level.

And here is an entire list of publications that take what I write.

No longer was I bemoaning the good fortunes of Warren.

Instead, to borrow one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite shows:

And now, one day after I finished working through Warren’s massive list of publishers and identifying those with open calls that matched the content I had to offer, swimming in Warren’s wake has already born fruit:

That said, I’m sure I have some rejections on my horizon as well. But I have at least one acceptance and a whole new list of publishers to keep an eye on for submitting current and future stories.

So, to bring us back to the main point: what do your writing peers have to teach you?

Plenty.

The Micro Takeaway: Don’t be a prick and listen to others who have come before you.

The Macro Takeaway: What he said^

The Final Takeaway

Don’t be like me and make the same mistakes. Make new ones!

What, thought I’d claim you’ll now be perfect at publishing with my wisdom in hand?

Get real. Mistakes are inevitable. Success is a much more fickle thing.

The trick is to gleam what you can so that next time, the mistakes are more subtle.

And the time after, even more subtle.

Eventually, your mistakes will be less of the “ugh” kind and more of the “happy accident” Bob Ross variety.

Who knows, enough mistakes and enough lessons learned, and success might just be inevitable as well.

PublishingAdvice
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About the Creator

Stephen A. Roddewig

I am an award-winning author from Arlington, Virginia. Started with short stories, moved to novels.

...and on that note: A Bloody Business is now live! More details.

Proud member of the Horror Writers Association 🐦‍⬛

StephenARoddewig.com

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Comments (7)

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  • Lamar Wigginsabout 9 hours ago

    If necessity is the mother of invention, then self-publishing is the father of nightmares. I tried to think of something more apt for the father but sadly, couldn't 😌. So glad you shared your experience. It taught me a lot whether I ever self-publish or not. This will definitely make your second run easier. And the whole experience is something you own. Not many of us can say we've been there.

  • Jazzy 6 days ago

    You are a very big reason as to why I keep getting rejection emails, so thanks for that! I keep thinking, "I can do this." Because of your stupid positivity. SO THANKS ALOT FOR MAKING ME THINK I CAN WRITE A NOVEL.

  • Paul Stewart6 days ago

    Bookmarking this and in terms of marketing and review requesting...I did nothing aside from a piece on here...and recieved the kinda response you'd expect - lol. Thank you for this insightful piece, though!

  • Mackenzie Davis6 days ago

    Aaaaand, there's another Stephen article saved to my resources! Thanks for this, my friend, and I appreciate your honesty in all areas of this piece. Of course you love “Always Sunny.” That’s one of my husband’s favorites too. It explains why your humor writing is so good. What a fun read too!

  • Christy Munson6 days ago

    Enjoyed reading this article. Learned a few tips! When I decide to jump in to getting published again, something I've not even tried to do since the 1990's, I'll be keeping in mind what not to do, and yep, I'll be making plenty of my own new mistakes!

  • Mark Gagnon6 days ago

    Thanks for this, Stephen. I've only tried a couple of online magazines and as expected either got rejected or never heard anything back. I'm sure my approach is all wrong. I also found that because my books are printed by Amazon when I tried to place them with other booksellers, I was promptly told no way. A lot to learn in this industry.

  • Matthew Fromm6 days ago

    Great insight as always

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