My Disastrous Journey Into Self-Publishing: What You Can Learn From My Mistakes

A Guest Post by Brad Vertrees

I’ve read some horrible ebooks over the years that, much to my surprise, have hit the Amazon bestseller list. I thought to myself, “I can write a better ebook than these hacks.” So I quickly came up with a plan to publish my very first short story on Amazon. I was going to be one of Amazon’s big success stories; from unknown author to writing superstar.

Like most aspiring authors, I saw Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program as a golden egg. If I published it, readers would come in droves. They’d buy my ebook and shoot it to the top of the bestseller list, making me rich and famous.

But when I finally did self-publish my first story I learned the hard way that just putting your ebook up for sale guarantees nothing. My story didn’t just flop, it was dead on arrival. I made about every mistake a self-published author can make. The experience was a huge blow to my ego, to say the least, and taught me that being a successful writer is more than just putting words on the screen.

How big of a failure was my first self-publishing endeavor? My ebook was listed on Amazon’s Kindle ebook store for a little over two years. In that time I think I made less than a dozen sales. I also published it on Smashwords, with the same results. I even made the story available as a PDF download on a previous incarnation of my personal website–-resulting in zero sales.

The following list is all the mistakes I made during my first publishing experiment (that’s what I refer to it as now, just an experiment). Many of the mistakes are obvious, but to a writer eager to self-publish, it’s very easy to let the fantasy of being a successful author gloss over the harsh reality.

I Assumed The Title Would Attract Readers

With a title like ‘I Took Grandma To The Strip Club’ (yes, that is the real title of my story) how could it not sell? A title like that draws readers in like bees to honey, right? Nope. The title did absolutely nothing to bring in sales, at least not that I’m aware of. Maybe one or two readers bought the story because of the title. But the title certainly didn’t cause it climb to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list.

I’m not saying the ebook title isn’t important, because it definitely is. What I am saying is that the title alone won’t do the heavy lifting in the marketing of your ebook. Further, if you’re publishing non-fiction and your title is a clever play on words then you’ll probably end up confusing readers. While you have a little leeway with fiction, non-fiction titles must be very straightforward.

For example, in my second attempt at self-publishing, I compiled all the blog posts I wrote for a blog I started back in 2007. The blog, called Brad’s Reader (now defunct), focused mostly on writing tips/tricks, inspiration, self-publishing and ways technology is leveling the playing field for writers. I only included posts about writing and titled the book, ‘The Brad’s Reader Guide To Writing.’ Big mistake. First, I just assumed people would know what my blog was about. Second, the title confused people because it was a guide to writing, but had the word “Reader” in it. Yeah, that ebook flopped too. My self-publishing career was going up in flames before it even got off the ground.

I Used Twitter As My Main Marketing Method

I’ve been on Twitter since 2009 and have only recently hit the 1,000 follower mark. The kid who delivers my morning paper probably has more Twitter followers than I do. Further, most of my Twitter followers are fellow authors who are also trying to promote and sell their own ebooks. So how well do you think my constant promotion of ‘I Took Grandma To The Strip Club’ on Twitter went? I’d get the occasional ‘Like.’ But I never saw a single sale after tweeting about my ebook. My big problem was my twitter followers were the wrong audience.

In fact, beyond Twitter, I didn’t do much else to market my ebook. I had a sales page on my website dedicated to the ebook, including a link to Amazon, but that didn’t do much either. I assumed that my blog would draw readers in and they’d naturally gravitate towards my ebook. Again, like my Twitter followers, my blog was geared more towards other writers, not readers who’d be interested in grandmas going to strip clubs. I didn’t think my marketing strategy out very well, to say the least.

Only One Person Proofread The Story Before Editing

I found a beta reader on Goodreads that proofread the story before I slapped it up on Amazon. Don’t get me wrong, she made some great suggestions and found a lot of embarrassing mistakes. She even said it was a good story.

Looking back, I shouldn’t have relied on one person’s reading and should have splurged on a professional editor who could turn a mediocre story into something more polished, professional, and something worth publishing.

After publishing ‘I Took Grandma to the Strip Club’ on Amazon I reread it multiple times. While I never found any glaring mistakes or plot holes, I knew it could still be much better. A story can always be better. The fact that I felt satisfied enough to publish it after only one reader’s feedback should’ve raised a lot of red flags.

The Cover

I outsourced the design of the cover to a designer on Fiverr—the gig website where people perform basic tasks for five dollars. To be fair, the designer I hired had a very impressive portfolio of ebook covers. I bought a stock photo of a cartoon picture of what looked like an old lady dancing around a pole for the designer to use.

The finished cover made me chuckle and I actually still like it. However, just because I like it, doesn’t mean it’s good and will help sell the ebook. Looking back, maybe I should’ve let the designer pick out the image to use for the cover. I simply don’t have a good eye for this stuff.

What Did I Learn?

There’s a hard truth about publishing: people simply don’t care about what you’ve written. A big part of a writer’s job is to make them care by marketing not only your work, but also yourself. Had I done some marketing legwork before I published my story then I’d be writing a very different article.

What am I going to do differently the next time around? Well first and foremost, I’m going to make sure that the ebook I publish is the best ebook I can produce. It’s going to be edited by a professional with a cover that says, “read me!” I’m also going to start marketing myself before I hit the publish button on Amazon. This means building an email list of readers who are interested in buying the ebook.

List building is perhaps one of marketing’s greatest secrets. An email list is valuable because the people who sign up are actually interested in what you have to offer. With enough subscribers, an email list can almost guarantee sales when your ebook is first released.

The biggest lesson I learned, however, is that self-publishing is not easy. It’s not a way to get rich overnight. Most of all, it will take more than one book to build up a readership. That’s how the money is made. One ebook simply isn’t enough to stand out from the millions of ebooks on the

About the Author 


About His Book

Kindle Scout – Another Publishing Option for Authors

A Guest Post by Teresa Roman

2016-05-11 book write writing magnifying glassIn 2015, I finished writing my first book, Back To Us. I combed through it repeatedly looking for errors, and finally sent it to an editor. Then I found a book formatter and cover artist. A few weeks later I had a fully edited and formatted book along with a cover I loved. I was ready for the next step, which at that time I thought would be to self-publish.

But then I got an email from Kindle Scout. According to their website, “Kindle Scout is a reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books. It’s a place where readers help decide if a book gets published. Selected books will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50% eBook royalty rate, easy rights reversions and featured Amazon marketing.”

2016-06-06 Kindle Scout

The Process

2015-07-13 Handwriting2Here’s how it works: You go to the kindle scout website – From there, click on the Submit Your Book link, which will take you to a page that explains the process of submitting your book. At the bottom of that page you will be invited to start your book submission. To proceed you will need an Amazon account.

One of the things that attracted me to this program was the promise of being informed whether or not my book would be selected in 45 days or less. For those of you who have ever tried sending out query letters, I’m sure you can relate to how frustrating it can be to wait and wait and wait, not knowing when or if you’ll receive a reply from an agent or publisher.

In order to submit your book to Kindle Scout, you will need to have a fully-edited manuscript as well as a book cover. Once your book is submitted it stays on Kindle Scout’s website for 30 days. During this 30 day nomination period the goal is to get as many people to nominate your book as possible, and keep your book on the coveted Hot and Trending list.

For some writers, myself included, this part of the process was the most difficult. I worried about crossing that fine line between asking for nominations and bugging people. Some ideas to garner nominations include announcing your Kindle Scout campaign on social media, emailing your friends and family, and sending out a newsletter from your website.

While having a good number of nominations, and being on the Hot and Trending list is important, these are not the only determining factors Kindle Scout uses during their selection process. In fact, which book gets selected and why is still sort of a mystery, as some authors with a huge number of nominations haven’t had their work selected, while others with far fewer nominations have.

A few days after my Kindle Scout campaign ended, I received an email informing me that my book was selected. I was beyond thrilled. As a then debut author, this news was huge for me.

The Pros and Cons

How to focus while you're writing

How to focus while you’re writing

Fast forward ten months…Since the time my book was selected I’ve been able to observe some of the pros and cons to choosing Kindle Scout as a publishing option.

For one thing, your e-book royalty rate is lower, which means less money for you. If you wind up selling more copies because of the marketing you receive, the lower royalty rate might be worth it.

While your book will be eligible for pricing promotions periodically, not every Kindle Scout book gets the same promotions. Some fellow Kindle Scout authors have found not having control over their book’s pricing to be a big negative. Essentially you are counting pretty heavily on Amazon to market your book. However, if you are lucky enough to have your book chosen for a promotion, it can have a major positive impact on your sales.

I truly believe that without Kindle Scout I would not have sold nearly as many copies of Back to Us as I have.

So if you’ve been struggling to get your books noticed, or are a debut author intimidated by self-publishing in such a hugely competitive market, Kindle Scout is definitely an option worth looking into.

Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them below and I will get back to you.

About the Author

2016-06-06 Teresa RomanIf it was possible to be born with a book in her hands, that’s how Teresa Roman would’ve entered this world. Her passion for reading is what inspired her to become a writer. She loves the way stories can take you to another time and place. Teresa currently lives in beautiful Sacramento, CA with her husband, three adorable children and a dog named Parker that her son convinced them to adopt. When she’s not at her day job or running around with her kids, you can find her in front of the computer writing, or with her head buried in another book.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon | Goodreads

About Her Book 

2016-06-06 Teresa Roman - Back To UsAbandoned by her abusive parents at fourteen, Jessica knows what it means to struggle–and she’s tired of it. Though Jessica’s vowed that getting her college degree is the only thing she has time for, a summer internship brings Justin into her life, and she can’t stop herself from falling in love with him.

But Justin has scars of his own. A tour of duty in Afghanistan has left him with wounds–some visible, others not. A medical discharge from the Navy leaves Justin struggling to make sense of his new reality. Then he meets Jessica, who brings him more happiness than he thought possible. But can two broken people leave the past behind them to make a new future together, or will the pain they’ve fought to free themselves of tear them apart?

Buy It on Amazon!

I Want to Be a Novelist. Where Do I Start?

2015-03-03 Typewriter TwI saw this question posted to an online writer’s group recently. What a daunting question! Let’s say you’re starting from square one. You love reading. You love writing. Now you want to do it: You want to write and finish your first novel. Where do you get started?

2015-05-25 I Want to Be a Novelist


Read and Write. A Lot.

2016-01-20 books pages reading reader glassesThese two go without saying, and as a beginning novelist, you’re probably already doing them! But now it’s time to take it to the next level.

Stack up your favorite novels and read them again–this time with a critical eye. Keep a journal handy and write down what you love most about the book and why. Ask yourself how you think the author accomplished his or her magic.

Want to take it even deeper? Set your favorite book on a book stand and type a scene or two. You’ll be amazed how much you learn!

Now try to apply what you’re learning to your own work-in-progress.

Read Books on Craft

2016-05-11 three books writing write four books pen readingThere are lots out there. Most of the ones I learned from are old, because I checked them out of a library. But they were good ones!  More recent titles that are popular include the many books by James Scott Bell, Randy Ingermanson’s How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, and, of course, Stephen King’s On Writing.

Many craft books have exercises you can work through to hone what you learn. Don’t just read them–do them! You’re not a writer if you’re not applying pen to paper. (Or hands to keyboard.)

And don’t forget to compare what you’re learning in your craft books to what you read for pleasure. Did you just learn about increasing tension in the plot? Giving the main character a fatal flaw? Describing your settings? Observe these techniques in the wild–look for them in the books you read!

Join a Writer’s Group

2015-04-01 Laptop2 (640x427)Online or in-person–or both! It depends on where you feel most comfortable and what’s available in your area. A writer’s group is a place for writers to exchange ideas and information and answer each other’s questions. The benefit you’ll get from the experience of other writers can’t be overstated.

Plus, you’ll be hanging out with other people who get it. You know. People who think nothing of fighting off dragons in the kitchen while making dinner, or talking out loud to your characters while running errands.

My favorite online writer’s group is 10 Minute Novelists.

Get Your Work Critiqued

2015-07-08 Cafe street windowAt some point or another, you need to expose your writing to other people, especially other writers who can spot your strengths and weaknesses and put a name to them. Maybe your writer’s group offers a critique group or a way for like-minded authors to buddy up. If not, your writer’s group is a great place to ask!

Maybe there’s an in-person critique group in your area. Keep your eyes peeled for posters, or ask at the local library, the book stores, the college, and the coffee shops. Meetup is another option for finding in-person groups. Can’t find a group in your area? Start one!

Try to get together with a small group of people who can be your ongoing critique partners. They’ll read for you, and you’ll read for them. Don’t be worried you have nothing to bring to the table! If you’re a reader, you have something to offer to a writer. Don’t forget that the best way to learn is by teaching.

Take Classes

2015-04-13 School Room (2)You’ve had your writing critiqued by your peers; it’s time to have it critiqued by your superiors. One of the first writer’s groups I ever joined (American Christian Fiction Writers) had monthly classes lead by best-selling authors. The opportunity to have my work critiqued by these professionals was the most valuable thing I ever did in my writing education.

You can also see if your local or online college offers creative writing courses. Or you can look for a personal writing coach–an editor/mentor who will walk you through the learning process.

So, you want to be a novelist, but don’t know where to start? These are the best tips I have to offer, and the course I followed myself to become a competent writer. If you’re doing these five things, you’re on your way to becoming a published novelist.

Why Failure Is Awesome

2016-05-18 happy dance joyHow do you feel about failure?

I grew up believing that failure was not an option. You had to do stuff right the first time, every time, and it was better to do nothing at all, rather than try and fail. An attitude like this is obviously a massive road block for anyone who wants to be an author. There’s a lot to learn–from the actual writing of the books to the marketing that sells them. What to do about failure?

2016-05-18 Why Failure Is Awesome

Embracing Your Mistakes

2016-05-18 happy joy stars successFortunately for me, I didn’t truly believe in my heart of hearts that failure was a bad thing. Honestly, how realistic is it that you’ll be able to do everything perfectly the first time? Everybody does it wrong the first time. Well, nearly everybody. We can’t all be Nancy Drew, after all.

And in case you hadn’t noticed, failure is hard-wired into the success process. We try, we fail, we try again. That’s just how it works! And those who don’t try again are those who don’t reap the top successes.

But most importantly, I saw from my life experiences that I learned more from my mistakes than I did from my triumphs. Once I knew how to do something wrong, it was easier to figure out how to do it right.

Am I the only one who feels this way? Far from it! Read the inspiring stories from these other authors who also embraced the process of failure.

What Author-Publishers Can Learn from Their Mistakes

by Samantha Warren on the Alliance of Independent Authors website

Samantha had unexpected initial success, raking in $12,000 off an ad on Pixel of Ink. But, by her own admission, she took it for granted and didn’t continue her promotion efforts. Was she devastated? No! She picked herself up and tried again. Read more!

The Two BEST Reasons to Fail as a Writer

by Marcy McKay on The Write Practice

The creative process can involve trial-and-error, too, as Marcy McKay says in this post. “My books feel more like I’m assembling a jigsaw puzzle without the box top showing the final photo.” Who else can relate? (Raising hand!)

McKay draws examples from the book Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. Catmull clearly embraces failure, as well. “Stop panicking that you’re doing it all wrong,” McKay says. “You’re not. Keep writing.” She gives two excellent reasons why you should fail. Read more!

Building a Business One F*** Up at a Time

featuring JB Glossinger on the Self Publishing Podcast 

2016-05-18 happy joy laugh smileI’ve included this one for those of you who prefer audio. (Though if you couldn’t tell from the title, I should advise you that there is explicit language!) Glossinger works for an hour every day, then plays golf. How did he get there? One failure at a time. From the show notes: “What’s the ratio of failure to success? 90/10: can you guess which is which?” Listen Now!


Now you tell us: How do you feel about failure? Do you feel any better about it now that you’ve seen a number of authors who actively embrace it?