Top Five Self Publishing Mistakes List for New York City

August is vacation month in publishing, so I thought I go for a New York City type mail-it-in vacation post.

1) Form a Team

Forming a team is a good way to fail in almost any business endeavor, but in self publishing, it's failure by definition. The "self" part of self publishing isn't a marketing gimmick, it's really about you being the publisher. If you put together a team of coaches and advisers and try to come to a consensus, you've got the business model for a government grant or a new academic department, not a publishing business.

2) Write a Memoir

I'd have to guess that more people get involved in self publishing because they've written a memoir that New York isn't interested in publishing than for any other reason. It's a really, really bad reason to start a publishing business, but it's not a bad reason to self publish. You just have to understand up front that memoir isn't a business model unless you are famous or infamous, and ideally, good looking as well. As I just admitted in the comments, I spent quite a bit of time translating my great grandmothers childhood memoir which was published in Hebrew.

3) Hire a New York City Editor

Do not, I repeat, do not hire an editor because she has a New York City mailing address. Even if you should chance to stumble on a good editor that way, you're only paying more to subsidize her big city living expenses and expensive taste in hats. Self publishing is not a game of inches, where the slightest misstep makes the difference between success and failure. Self publishing is a game of miles, where you either get it largely right or largely wrong. Largely right means writing a book that has an audience and establishing a marketing platform that lets you reach that audience. Largely wrong means doing anything else.

4) Invest Heavily in Hats

I'm not talking about a couple of hats to wear to trade shows or handout as thank-you gifts. I'm talking about spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a branding effort that's meaningless:

Investing heavily in anything other than your titles and marketing your titles is a waste of money. You don't need a new desk, or a lovely in-home office, and those things aren't write-offs until you succeed in selling books.

5) Blog

New York City has finally discovered blogging as a marketing tool for authors. The reason trade publishers love the idea of authors blogging is that it doesn't cost the trade publishers a dime. Many of the quality bloggers I know in the book business have already give up blogging as a waste of time. Unless you establish a large subscription base, it really is a waste of time because it's an incredibly inefficient way to attract visitors to your website.

So, that's my top five list for self publishing mistakes, and I want you to know I didn't put any time into thinking about it. Aside from the memoir warning, I sure I'm could come up with a gross of worse mistakes, or at least a baker's dozen. But I'm too busy admiring my new hats!


John Maberry said...

Get that tongue out of your cheek, Morris. You have obviously committed two of the five mistakes and I can't be sure about two of the others. I guess you haven't done the memoir. I did and it is the reason I went the self-publisher route. But I expect to make that all work out in the long run as I write other books.

Morris Rosenthal said...


I'm on vacation, just an easy way to get in a post for the week, which is all I'm going to manage.

BTW, my old publishing business partner published a childhood memoir about his time in Catholic school (which was good), and one of his history books takes something of a memoir form. The childhood memoir eventually sold a couple hundred copies, and the history book, well over a thousand. But he really worked at it hard.

Then you have the three years I spent translating my great grandmother's works from Hebrew, starting with her childhood memoir:

which gave the name to this website. So if you include guilt by association, I've made at least three of the mistakes:-)


profitable said...

Good advice as well if you want to go into the shmata business...

I once had fake large dollar bills with my business info on one side. People loved to collect them and I didn't get any business from them.

Kim Greenblatt

Morris Rosenthal said...


I can't give them away on 7th avenue, New York's in tatters.



Tom Nixon said...

Sure, that's all well and good, but where do I get one of those cool hats?



Morris Rosenthal said...


I'm cleverly building buzz for the hats. I figure I'll wait until the world is beating on my door, do an IPO, and cash out for billions!

No, wait, that was the dot com bubble, I still get confused at times:-)


Zoe Winters said...

hehehe and yet you blog. ;) Blogging is more of an addiction than a marketing tool. Though I do think, for a fiction writer, it's a good way to get your core fans together bouncing around off each other. And build some momentum. In the successful blogs I've seen by indie fiction authors, there seems to be a strong interactivity and that's partially facilitated either by a blog or forums.

I totally agree with you on the team issue.

I do have a question on editing though. If not a new york editor (and I agree they're prohibitively expensive), where does one go on that front?


Morris Rosenthal said...


I have a page talking about editing:

But my blog post on the subject is probably closer to what you were looking for. I never would have found it if I didn't remember the horse:

Yet another problem with blogging:-)


Captain Tom Mengesha said...

Morris, I think blogging is a good thing. That is how I found you. I have patterned my site off of yours.

check out. Then click on my blog.

Zoe Winters said...

Thanks Morris! Those articles were very helpful!


Morris Rosenthal said...


My objection to blogging is a long term issue. The first few months are great, and not a bad way to get started on a book. After that, if you write in an entertaining manner, do news, or appeal to a niche political or activity group, you may build a large subscriber base, but there are a limited number of winners.

The problem is that blogging is an inefficient way of attracting new visitors to your site. My blog draws essentially the same number of visitors from search now as when there were only a few dozen posts. The last 300+ posts, though I try to make them unique, are largely seen as duplicate content by the search engines. I don't get penalized for it, but I don't get many new visitors that wouldn't have come anyway for posts I started with back in 2005.