5 Reasons why self-published books fail

Why books fail

There is a longstanding stigma attached to self-published books in that most people think they are inferior to those that are traditionally published.

There are many reasons why some might think like this, but the most common reasons why self-published books fail are:

  • Poor writing
  • Rushed editing
  • Incorrect format
  • DIY cover design
  • Lack of marketing

Yes, I will concede their popularity is increasing, and there are lots of success stories out there. But pound-for-pound, failed self-published books outweigh best-sellers by a country mile.

Before I wrote my first novel, I read at least one book a week. But those books were always traditionally published novels. They had been selected for representation by a literary agent and bought by a publishing house.

Every once in a while, I’d come across a mistake, but they were so few and far between; I didn’t give them any real thought.

However, when I “discovered” the world of self-publishing, I began looking for and reading self-published books. Now, my Kindle is full of them. After all, I’m an indie author. Why wouldn’t I support my fellow self-published authors?

The stories are often unique, sometimes genre-bending, and contain wonderful characters that one doesn’t usually find in the mainstream.

That being said, having read more and more of them, I now understand why so few make it past the gatekeepers. So many suffer from one or more of the things mentioned above.

But, as self-published authors, we are masters of our own destiny. We can do something about each one of the listed points.

All it takes is patience.

Poor writing

This is the first quality check.

You might have an incredible story to tell, but sometimes a writer might struggle to deliver it in a way that grabs a reader.

Poor writing could come down to several things. There could be an issue with the point of view of the narrator. The sentence structure could be overly sticky, repetitive, or awkward. Or the writer is focusing on the wrong things, drags out points to increase word count, or fails to give scenes a clear direction.

An example of sentence structure issues.

I won’t name books or authors here, so I’ll name this example “The Long Night.”

It was quite obvious from the first page that the writer was trying to be unique in their sentence structures. Every sentence in the entire first chapter comprised of three to four words.

“He stood still. The night above. Awestruck, he watched. Stars moving silently. He was home. Where are they now? Waiting for them. The chill of night. He shuffled for warmth. Cloudless… the stars shone.”

This book went on like this for about fifteen pages. However, when the writer did break from this pattern, they unleashed sentences of twenty to thirty words over and over again.

It was exhausting.

Write for the reader
Write for the reader

I really struggled to turn the pages, and by the time I found the last page, I was left wondering what the main storyline was.

But this book is out there as a self-published novel for £2.99 on Amazon KDP. If there are readers paying for it, they’re probably regretting the purchase. I know I am.

Now, I’m not saying my work is better. These are my observations as a reader, not a writer. And I know what I enjoy when I get into a good book.

All I can do is hope that my book I something that other readers will enjoy.

Rushed editing

Editing is the most important part of the writing/publishing process. I cannot overstate this enough.

New authors are often excited authors, especially when they’ve just completed their first draft.

We’re eager to know what readers will think about it. So, in our haste, we are tempted to push the manuscript through editing as quickly as possible. However, some completely skip editing altogether due to the cost.

We can all agree that editing is the most expensive part of the self-publishing process.

As self-published authors, we don’t always have £500.00 to spend on editing services, let alone two or three, or more rounds like publishing houses.

Had The Long Night been edited by a professional, the developmental or copy editor would’ve warned the author immediately.

Fix our mistakes
Fix our mistakes

But how do I know that book wasn’t edited by a professional you might ask? Because it was riddled with mistakes.

Within the first two chapters, there were two spelling mistakes. It was ironic that the first mistake was one that I fall for all the time. ‘Your’ became ‘you’ – dropping the final letter due to typing too fast. And the second was the actual chapter name – ‘Chatper’.

Even one round of self-editing would’ve highlighted these issues. That being said, it’s easy for writers to miss these errors when we check our work.

Our eyes scan what we know, rather reading what is written. But an editor will see them just as easily as a reader, and this is why it’s worth investing in professional editors.

Remember, mistakes like these are why people believe indie books are of a lower quality. And it’s within our power to address this issue.

Incorrect formatting

Formatting a book is a straight forward process if researched and understood properly.

That being said, far too many writers think this is simply hitting return or tabbing an indent for a paragraph.

There are several things that need to be addressed, and I go through them in my article on format and book design.

Format like a pro
Format like a pro

To properly format a book you need time and patience.

Each sentence, paragraph and page must to be checked for precision and consistency. If rushed, the book’s readability will suffer, and it’ll be another example of poor quality.

If you don’t have the time or interest to format your book, I urge you to hire a book formatting expert.

DIY Cover design

Some book covers look like they would be better suited to hanging on a fridge door. And I don’t mean to be harsh here, but book covers are an important aspect of marketing.

Everyone judges a book by its cover.

And if the cover looks like it was made on Photoshop, the reader will move on to the next book.

Why? Because the cover says a lot about the skill and dedication of the author.

If the author is happy to self-publish a cover that looks like it was thrown together, what kind of attention did they give to the content?

Again, not everyone can afford to throw money at a cover designer, but we can spend our time.

Research covers of books within your genre. Study them and take inspiration from them. Then, get on Canva or another design tool, and go to work.

Again, it’s worth reiterating the point: don’t rush. Take your time and create a book cover that you would be happy to buy.

Lack of marketing

This is where self-publishing and traditional publishing meet. Both will benefit or suffer on the strength of an author’s ability to promote a book.

Not all of us are sales experts. A lot of us are introverts and prefer to write in peace and quiet rather than shout from the rooftops. But shouting about your book is exactly what’s needed to make book sales.

Promote your book the right way
Promote your book the right way

Unfortunately, I discovered this after I published my novel.

No one knew my novel was being written, and no one knew it was being released. Therefore, when I hit that orange button on Amazon kindle direct publishing, no one was there to buy it.

To avoid this, you must drum up some excitement about your novel before you release it. Promote your book the right way.

Traditionally published authors will be told when to start their marketing campaign by their publishing house. Usually, they begin making noise around 4-6 months before the release date. But as a self-published author, you can get away with two months.

I acknowledge that it’s easier said than done. We are so excited that our book is ready for the world, we just want to get it out there the moment it’s ready.

Don’t! Patience is the key to marketing a novel.

Take a breath. Plan a marketing strategy. Don’t rush the release.


It’s true that there is still a lot of stigma associated with self-published books.

Most readers won’t give them the time of day, let alone pay for one. And if you don’t believe me, do a quick search on the internet. The comments in forums and book reviews will tell the truth.

But you don’t have to be tarred with that brush if you just take your time.

Read and re-read your story. Is it written with the reader in mind? Or are you trying to impress yourself?

Are there any editorial problems? If so, can you hire an editor? If not, save for one. You’re not in a rush. There are companies and foundations who offer indie authors grants for this very reason. Research and approach them.

They do the same for formatting and cover design.

Investing your own time in the editing and design process is just as important as investing money. And if you can hire a professional to give your work some attention, all the better.

Simply put, if you rush any part of the publishing process, it won’t matter how good your marketing campaign is.

Give your novel the time and attention it deserves.

Good luck.

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