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The top 5 mistakes South African authors make when self-publishing a book

The top 5 mistakes South African authors make when self-publishing a book


This article will take a good look at the top 5 mistakes made by South African authors who self-publish their book.  Far too few South African authors find their writing being celebrated. Professing your passion for the pen almost feels like a whispered admission of unemployment. Not something you would want to own up to around your friend’s braai. Let’s take an honest look at why your writing might not be garnering the critical acclaim you know it deserves.

Mistake #1 - Poor covers

Too many authors make the mistake of placing their face on the front cover. This might work if you only ever intended to sell to your friends and family. If you plan to reach outside South Africa’s porous borders (which every author should be), then placing your face on the front cover will deter the reader who does not relate to your mug.

Does your cover image relate to your book content? Gardening books should depict flourishing fauna, cookbooks should display fresh food, romance books should showcase scantily clad torsos. Yes, these are irritating and seem to rob the reader of brain cells from just looking at it for too long but guess what, unfortunately these genre-specific designs are what the market expects. Putting a gun on the front cover of your romance title will lead the reader to expect an action-packed read. Imagine the review an irate action-expectant reader will leave on your book page after they stumble into your first fumbling fornication scene?

Most authors won’t do their homework when it comes to their cover design .

Two of the easiest ways to make sure your cover is appreciated by even the fussiest reader is to first see what is selling on the shelves at Amazon. Follow this link to take you through to the best-seller page in the Amazon store. Narrow down your category-choice by using the left-hand-side menu and take note of the books that populate the first page of results. Chances are that your cover designer would have an orgasm just looking at the cover-beauty burdening the best-seller page.

Use your friends. That’s right; it’s time social media actually did something for us. Once your designer has given you a few options for the cover design – release them into the wild. Get feedback from your Facebook “Friends” as to what they like the best, the results have surprised me every time.

Mistake #2 - Over-pricing their eBook

Yes, I know that your book took you five years to write. (Does this include time-wasted to writer’s block?) I know that you have poured pure undiluted love down every page and that you deserve at least R500 per book. Hear me out.

The world’s largest eBook retailer Amazon has a very specific author royalty structure. I cover the royalty structure in detail here. But, did you know if you price your digital eBook to their liking that they will pay you more? That’s right reader, pricing below $9.99 and above $2.99 will earn you 70% of your eBook’s list price in royalties. Disobey Amazon and find your royalties slapped down to a mere 35%. Amazon gets what Amazon wants.

The other variable in the pricing equation is that as South Africans, although we are new to eBooks, we are entering what is really a mature market for the rest of the world. Readers of fiction expect the eBook to cost $4.99 or less. Readers of NF are happy to pay more ($4.99 - $9.99). Break these boundaries at your own peril.

Mistake #3 - Placing the eBook in poor categories

Slapping your eBook into the romance shelf on Amazon without first narrowing your category selection will drop you smack-bang into a pond with 368 242 other titles. If Rambo was a self-publishing author, even he would pause to consider those odds.


Amazon romance category


By narrowing down your category choice as far as possible your chances of reaching the first page are given a big shot of Berocca. (God, I hope you guys get my humour.) Aiming for the Clean and Wholesome category would mean your competition is drastically reduced from 368-thousand to just over 1000 other books.


Amazon clean and wholesome category


PS – Clean and Wholesome Romance, really???

Read more on the topic of choosing the ideal keywords and categories, called METADATA, here.


Mistake #4 - Avoiding editing costs

Most authors who walk through my doors try their very best to avoid the costs of editing. Some of them have smart answers prepared, such as:

  • I have edited my own writing, vigorously.

  • My friend / family member edited my writing, again vigorously.

Let’s not beat around the bush reader, top authors pay top Dollar to have their book edited MULTIPLE times. That’s right, once is not always enough. This is why self-published books are shunned and given the shelf under the staircase at Exclusive Books. Don’t be a tool, make a plan to have your book professionally edited or risk the wrath of the angry Amazon reader.

Here is a link a friendly group of editors who would love to play with your words. (Not for free, they are not those kind of editors.)

Mistake #5 - Being afraid of selling

Creating and publishing your book is just the beginning. Once your book is nestled comfortably on the shelves that is where the real work begins. Most authors balk at the idea of marketing themselves (and their book) to the world.

Fears range from, the fear of “excessive” costs associated with marketing, through to memory of a devious and distasteful car salesman that haunted you and your family for years. Because you know, all salesmen are snakes.

Here is the cold water reader, without concerted effort from you, Amazon’s organic “foot-traffic” will never be enough for you to afford that week holiday in the Berg.

Marketing your book is a HUGE topic. The great news is that due to the power of online eBook ecosystems, all money spent on marketing efforts as well as the returns on that investment are now very measurable. Visitors to your author website can be accurately tracked. Compare this to trying to accurately measure the feedback from a book advert in your local newspaper. Marketing the old-fashioned way is more likely to result in a lengthy phone call to the generous folk at Life Line.

My advice for the authors curious to learn more about the topic of marketing a book without having to cut out your monthly visits to Spur would be to instead visit the book marketing section of my blog for free and friendly advice on how to reach more readers.

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