Mistakes I made with my book

Reading time: About 6 minutes

Are you considering self-publishing a book? Here are the mistakes I made when producing Your Happy First Draft. 

Some 30 years ago, when I was an editor for a large metropolitan daily newspaper, I had a terrible boss. But I was lucky enough to qualify for some management coaching. And the coach gave me some advice I have treasured to this day:

“Remember, Daphne,” he said, “you can learn just as much from a really bad boss as a really good one.” 

I’ve thought about that advice many days since I heard it and I’m convinced of its wisdom. (Further, I think it applies to writing as well: you can learn just as much from bad writing as the good stuff.) In any case, if you see mistakes being made, people being mismanaged and production being handled ineptly, you know precisely what NOT to do yourself.

In that vein, and the spirit of transparency, let me tell you about the many mistakes I made in producing my latest book Your Happy First Draft

I mismanaged the research

While I was clever enough to hire two researchers to help me, (Jacob and Melodie, you were excellent!) I wasn’t smart enough to have a rock-solid way of storing and then retrieving the information they dug up for me. They sent me all their findings by email and I left the emails in my inbox, sorted to a specific file, yes, but otherwise unmarked. Later, I faced the horrible — and time-consuming — job of having to find the specific pieces of research I needed.

Lesson: I should have saved the information in Evernote. There, I could have annotated it with key words, making finding it ever so much easier. (The other great thing about Evernote, is that — unlike email — it’s easy and engaging to scroll through an entire file, where you can see all the headlines and any photos with no extra clicking.) My fingers itch when I think of how much easier it should have been to handle my research.

I didn’t allow enough time for testing the shopping cart

My son likes to tell me that most of my computer problems are PICNIC-related. Are you familiar with that expression? It means Problem In Chair Not In Computer. (In other words, I’m the bozo.) But while I like to think of myself as slightly more computer savvy than most 62-year-olds, I do tend to turn off and check out when someone else can solve the problem.

I had hoped and expected that my wonderful webmaster was going to deliver a flawless shopping cart performance from before the first day of sale. But there we were, exchanging panicked emails the weekend before and, indeed, the morning of my launch date. While all the serious problems were fixed by sale time, I think the anxiety has shortened my life by several months.

Lesson: In future, I’m going to push back testing by at least another full week.

I left hotlinking too late

My book took longer to produce than I expected, in part because I was so busy with other work and in part because my copy editor, Naomi, had an elderly mother who’d broken her hip. Nevertheless, as soon as my book went to the printer I should have forwarded the file — right away — to someone who could have generated the hotlinks for the digital copy. I have 23 pages of notes and citations in the book, and they are all hotlinked, making them far easier to use electronically than in the hard copy. But by the day I received the file, I had no one lined up to do the hotlinking. How did I forget about that?

Lesson: I spoke with my webmaster, hoping he’d be able to direct me to someone who could hotlink. He didn’t know anyone but he suggested I post the job on Upwork — a site for finding freelance workers around the world — and I found someone who did the job in 24 hours. Relief! (But more stress than necessary.)

I made too many assumptions about the ease of creating e-books

I’ve been a Kindle owner for more than 10 years and, in fact, prefer to read fiction and memoir on it. Basically, I’m sympathetic to anyone’s desire to get their material in e-book form. I even have the open-source software Calibre on my own computer, allowing me to translate PDFs and other types of files to the .mobi format my kindle requires. For this reason, I didn’t think it would be a big deal to translate my book to .mobi and .epub.

How wrong I was!

I asked the person doing the hotlinking to perform the e-book translations for me and assumed all was A-OK. But within an hour of the first sale, I started receiving emails from people telling me the files were “broken.” Argh! I had my webmaster remove the e-files from the shopping cart and started looking for a professional to fix the problem.

Lesson: My webmaster didn’t know of any professionals in this line of work but, later the same day, researcher Jacob told me he had a friend who might be able to help. When I spoke with the friend — who had been an e-book producer for a traditional publisher — he said that the “cascading style sheets” process used by the book layout software doesn’t allow for easy translation to e-books. In other words, he would need to start from scratch, and to do that, he required the original files. I got them to him within 24 hours and he returned the e-files to me within five days. Getting him to do the job was expensive but worth every penny for my own peace of mind and for meeting the needs of my readers.

My webmaster has put the corrected e-books back into the shopping cart and has emailed a new link to the early purchasers who received the broken files. (If you fall into this group and failed to receive the email, please email me and I’ll get them right to you.)

I failed to plan adequately for success

When my book went on sale at 10:10 am Sept. 24, I was thrilled to see orders start pouring in immediately. At the second hour mark, I went from being thrilled to being slightly alarmed. How was I going to handle this volume? True, I had hired a fulfillment house to deliver books sold in the US but I was handling all the Canadian orders myself. And there were a significant number of those. At the third hour mark, I was beside myself. I hadn’t ordered enough books and needed to go into a second printing immediately.

Dealing with second printing issues, hundreds of emails, people who didn’t receive their digital files (about two percent of orders), plus the problem with the e-books, kept me troubleshooting for 10 days. I didn’t get a lick of other work done.

Lesson: For my next book, I’m going to hire a full-time virtual assistant for the first week. Maybe the first two.

I didn’t think hard enough about mailing logistics

Canada has many positive attributes — awe-inspiring mountains, delicious water, common sense people, and taxpayer funded health care. But Canada Post is definitely not a benefit. Their service is slow and painfully expensive. With my last book, US purchasers had to wait two to four weeks to receive their book. This time, I decided to ship in bulk to a US-based fulfillment house that would do the mailing for US customers.

The difference in cost alone was persuasive: $8.96 per book in Canada vs $2.75 in the US. Even with the extra mailing house cost ($1.25 per book) it’s still a lot less expensive to have them do the work. Plus readers get the book so much faster.

But my trials with Canada Post continued…. for Canadian purchasers. A colleague had told me I could get an account with them and print out my postage. Yahoo, I thought. I find the total number of stamps required (six, for total value of $4.34) makes the package look slightly amateur — like a Christmas gift from mom. Also, lining up at the post office for stamps is a major drag. So I signed up for my Canada Post account, looking forward to a professional single stamp.

That’s when I discovered that to be eligible for the professional stamp, I’d have to generate a new label for each parcel. Given that I’d already produced roughly 100 of my own labels, I wasn’t going to redo them. (Sorry if you were a person receiving a postage-laden package!)

Lesson: Now that the volume has calmed down a little, I’m going to start experimenting with a professional label and stamp to see if I can adapt, albeit reluctantly, to the Canada Post system for my Canadian customers.

Anyway, one mistake I’m not making is to beat myself up for these mistakes. I recognize they’re an inevitable outcome of something I do as infrequently as book publishing. Still, I’m going to save this list for my next self-publishing venture. And if the thought of self-publishing has ever crossed your mind, you should save it too.

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If you want to make fewer mistakes in writing your book, thesis or dissertation, consider applying to my Get It Done program. I’m holding a no-charge webinar Thursday, Oct. 17 at 1 pm Pacific to introduce you to the principles I teach in the program. Register by emailing me. If you already want to apply to the program,  go here, scroll to the very end of the page and select the bright green “click here to apply now” button.

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My video podcast last week aimed to help authors know how long their book should be. Or, see the transcript,  and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel.  If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

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What mistakes have helped YOU do better in the future? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Oct. 31/19 will be put in a draw for a copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, BetterPlease, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!