3 Reasons Self-Published Books Fail


by Laura Peters


The introduction of self-publishing on sites like Amazon has opened up new avenues for writers to get their work read. A lot of writers still maintain that you can’t find success without going through a traditional publisher but that isn’t necessarily the case. Take The Martian by Andy Weir. It started out as a series of short chapters published on his blog which he then decided to sell on Amazon for next to nothing. It soon topped the best sellers list for science fiction, got picked up by a production company that turned it into a movie, and now it’s been picked up by a publisher and it’s a massive seller. Stories like these might be rare, but it just goes to show that self-publishing isn’t the lost cause that people think it is. However, a massive percentage of people that self-publish don’t really get anywhere, so what makes books like The Martian any different. If you’re struggling to find any traditional publishers that are interested in your book and you want to go down the self-publishing route, it’s important that you’re aware of these common reasons that self-published books fail.


They Aren’t Original

When you’re trying to get your book published through traditional channels, there are a lot of reasons that you might get rejected. Even if the book is great, it might just be that nobody is looking to publish that type of novel right now because there isn’t really a market for it. However, a lot of the time, it’s because the book isn’t that original. It’s hard to know which applies to your book but when it comes to self-publishing, there is a lot of unoriginal work out there, especially in genres like fantasy. It’s always important to have confidence in your own writing but you need to take an objective look at your book and ask yourself whether you’re really bringing anything new to the table. Check out NY Book Editors for a list of the biggest cliches that make a book unoriginal. If you’re guilty of any of these, your book isn’t likely to do well.


The Cover Is Bad

Don’t judge a book by its cover is good advice when it comes to people, but it doesn’t really hold true when it comes to actual books. People will read a synopsis if they’re interested in a book but it’s the cover that first draws their attention. If the cover is amateurish or doesn’t really fit with the tone and genre of the book, you might struggle. You can easily make your own cover using a program like Microsoft Publisher (or if you’re an Apple user, the best Publisher for Mac alternative) if you spend a bit of time learning the program. Look at the covers on other successful books in your genre to get an idea of the style you should go for. If you’re really struggling, it might be worth paying a graphic designer to do it for you.


You Aren’t Marketing Yourself

Publishers are experts in marketing and they have the money to do it well, but when you’re self-publishing, it’s all down to you. Social media is an incredibly powerful tool for writers and you need to make sure that you’re using it effectively. If you can build a good following and promote your book online, you’ll make a lot more sales.

Your book isn’t guaranteed to be a best-seller that gets turned into a movie, but if you do these things, you can make a good living from self-published books.





Guest post contributed by Laura Peters.


17 thoughts on “3 Reasons Self-Published Books Fail

  1. Planning on self-publishing a poetry collection in autumn (second attempt now I’m a bit older and wiser). Going to hire someone to do the cover this time. You’re right about it playing an important part. A good cover also makes a book look professional whereas a dodgy cover can often signal dodgy editing.


  2. Had to save this post because I’m planning on self publishing my story collection soon, and I’ve been feeling lost, not knowing where to begin or how to market it so I can start off my career on the right foot (which is rare for people anyway but I’m gonna try to make minimal common mistakes like the ones listed in this post). Thanks for sharing- this really comes in handy!


  3. All true, especially #3, but the flip side to #3 is that traditionally published authors have to market themselves/their books just like Indie authors. The only ones who don’t have to self-market are the A-listers. Traditional publishers spend major marketing dollars on /them/ because they are likely to produce best sellers. Traditional publishers do not spend marketing dollars on debut authors. Often they don’t spend marketing dollars on mid-list authors either, that’s one reason so many of them are turning Indie.

    The reason ‘The Martian’ was picked up by a traditional publisher was because it had already become a best seller as an Indie book. Ditto ‘Wool’ by Hugh Howey. I know there are others in other genres, but sci-fi is the one I’m familiar with.

    Essentially, traditional publishers are using Indie authors as their new ‘slush pile’. Those that have a proven track record are head hunted.

    The question though, is whether it’s worth accepting an offer from a traditional publisher. Probably yes, for the paperback side of things. Getting into bookstores is very difficult as an Indie. Not impossible, but close to. With ebooks, however, I think traditional publishers shoot authors in the foot by pricing ebooks too high. I guess each author has to make that cost/benefit decision for themselves.

    Apologies for the long comment.


  4. Unfortunately, we do have a massive glut of books (or collections or stories) that have swamped the marketplace. Supply has eclipsed demand, and the trade industry if feeling this nasty punch too. E-readers have already been clogged with free and .99 cent books, so where does that leave the debut author, or even the mid-lister? It means an insufferably torturous promotion and marketing campaign that has never happened in this publishing industry before. We have it very tough out there for sales, and reviews are nearly becoming non-existent (except brand name A-listeres) due to stiff regulations imposed by Amazon. We need to fine-tune our genre audience down to exact, select groups and individuals. Evaluate and target your prospective readers very carefully. Beware of the thousands of promo/marketing companies, displays sites, advertisers, publicity agents and managers, and contests who make money hand-over fist from frustrated and desperate writers. Get thee to Guerrilla Warfare For Writers (special weapons and tactics to even your odds), and read those articles to understand exactly what is happening in this industry, and now not to make horrific mistakes that can cost you a career.


  5. Very helpful tips, particularly the first (Originality) and third (Marketing) for me. I am gradually building a writing career, and I am mighty pleased with the content of this great Post. Thanks for sharing.


  6. So true about the book covers. While it’s got a lot better on the Kindle store, a quick trip to Smashwords is really eye opening and depressing. How any of those authors expect to sell a handful of books is beyond me. And as for marketing, most self publishers are too lazy to market, or build an audience for themselves. Most authors know about building an email list of readers, but how many even go that far? And then they wonder why they’re not getting anywhere.


  7. Great advice! Id like to mention another…Editing. I know a guy that is an actual scientist. He wrote a fantasy book for fun and self-published it on Amazon. The story was good but I couldn’t finish reading it because there were typos on almost every page. Bad editing will sink a good book.


  8. The third reason is true for me, for sure. I haven’t had the time and the willingness to market it as much as it would’ve needed back then. Still, I am happy with the response I have received. It is encouraging enough for me to begin working on my second book. A truthful post, there; thanks for sharing.


  9. A really good list which very much rings true. Self-marketing has to be the toughest aspect. Trying to build your social media audience at the same time as your reading audience can be quite a challenge. I have recently self-published my children’s/mg novel and building an audience from people who aren’t your target…ie those who will buy the book vs those who will read it is an additional challenge. I’m working with schools and developing things that way, which I hope will yield results but we will see.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.