On October 2 in New York, I’m giving a talk at the Self Publishing Expo Conference titled, “The Seven Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success.”

While preparing the presentation, I started thinking about how it’s possible to succeed as an author yet still fail to achieve your full potential.

Every author is the CEO of their own budding publishing empire, full of unrealized potential. Decisions you make today will determine your success in the future.

We all make multiple decisions every day, and some of our decisions will inevitably prove incorrect or ill-conceived. The secret to success is to recognize our mistakes before they become business-limiting. Just ask Mr. Big Fish in the image above. Maybe he should have favored a smaller meal.

Today, I’m going to share the Seven Secrets to Ebook Publishing Failure.

All of us authors have probably made some combination of these mistakes at one time or another.

My intention is not to ridicule the authors and publishers who inspired these tips. Instead, my goal is to help you, the CEO of your business, avoid these business-limiting mistakes that might prevent you from achieving your full potential.

The Seven Secrets to Ebook Publishing Failure

  1. Fail to respect the reader – Don’t waste your reader’s time. Some authors, empowered by the ease and speed of ebook publishing, rush books to market that haven’t been thoroughly revised, edited and proofed. Books get better with revision and editing, so don’t skimp. If your book or story isn’t the absolute best you can make it, don’t release it until it’s ready. With so many great books out there, you have to compete to earn and deserve the reader’s attention, and their word of mouth.
  2. Limiting your Distribution – Some authors treat retailers like a religion, sports team or political party. They think they must only choose one and shun the rest. This is counterproductive. Authors should work to expand distribution of their books across multiple retailers, rather than concentrate distribution on only one. So what if 80% of your sales come from a single retailer today. It won’t always be that way, as many Smashwords authors already realize. If you shun other retail opportunities, that 80% will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and you’ll leave sales on the table as the rest of the ebook market develops without you. Cherish your retail partners. Each is investing millions of dollars to attract readers to their stores. They will gladly provide you the benefit of their investment if you’ll allow them. Every time an author deliberately removes their book from a retailer’s shelf, a little angel in heaven sheds a tear, or stabs itself in the eye.
  3. Limiting your sampling – The other day I learned approximately 450 of the over 19,000 books at Smashwords don’t permit sampling. What are these authors thinking? They might as well encase their books in cement. Why would any reader in their right mind purchase a book they can’t sample first? Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Books with disabled sampling are automatically removed from our catalogs in Stanza (iphone, ipad, ipod touch) and Aldiko (Android devices), because these catalogs require samples.
  4. Laziness – It’s tough work writing a great book. Some authors, after spending years or a lifetime investing their heart and soul to finish their book, look at the Smashwords Style Guide (or Amazon’s DTP publishing requirements) and give up because they say it’s too difficult to format an ebook. If these folks can’t spend thirty minutes or an hour to study the Style Guide (written for novices), or can’t shell out $45 to hire a fellow Smashwords author for formatting help, or can’t find a fellow Smashwords author friend to help them for free, can the be helped? If free-to-$45 is all that stands between you and widespread distribution to all the major retailers, why give up now? Maybe this is a form of Darwinian natural selection.
  5. False expectations and Impatience – I admit, I think millions of people would enjoy my novel if only they gave it a chance. You probably feel the same way. Unfortunately, you and I are probably wrong. Most of us will never reach millions of readers, so we should set more realistic expectations, lest we enjoy wallowing in bitterness and regret. Every once in a while I’ll hear from authors who are giving up on publishing and unpublishing their books because their sales didn’t meet expectations. Why deny future readers the chance to discover you? See Darwin.
  6. Play the Blame Game – Some authors, when their books fail to live up to their inflated expectations, try to point the finger at someone else. Some might blame the reader for not understanding their brilliance, or blame their agent, or blame their publisher for not promoting it enough, or blame the retailer for whatever. Almost once per month, like clockwork, I’ll get an angry email from an author complaining they haven’t sold a single copy through Smashwords or any of our retailers, and they’ll threaten to unpublish their book and remove it from distribution if we don’t do something about it. See Darwin. You’re the CEO of your publishing business. Take responsibility, and don’t shoot yourself in the head with tempestuous, foolish decisions. It’s tough to sell any book. Write the best book you can, revise and edit it until it’s squeaky clean, market it with passion and commitment, and then cross your fingers readers love your book as much as you do. Readers are in charge here.
  7. Failing to Trust your Partners – There have always been bad seeds in publishing (including publishers who do a good job of following these seven rules for failure), and thousands of authors have been burned by them. Yet it doesn’t mean you should be mistrustful of every player. The vast majority of people I’ve met in publishing the last three years are honest and ethical. We’ll often get emails from authors who tell us their book’s sample has been downloaded 30 or 40 times yet they haven’t had a single sale, and they’ll accuse us of not reporting the sales. We’ve even had authors who had trouble getting accepted to our Premium Catalog (hint: read the updated Style Guide) demand to know why we were discriminating against them, their book or their religion. More than a couple have said, “if you don’t want to publish my book why don’t you just tell me.” Paranoia runs deep in some authors, possibly because authors are so great at imagining things that don’t exist. It’s tough to reason or do business with folks like this. Another author last week, not realizing our retailer sales reports weren’t fully loaded, accused us of illegal activity and threatened to “take the matter to the authorities.” They even complained to our retail partner before they bothered to check with us, or read our online site updates. Business cannot run without trust. As the CEO of your business, you should trust your distributor (Smashwords or other), your retailer and even your customer. Give your partners the benefit of the doubt and recognize that any of us who plan to build a long term business can only do so by treating each other with honesty and ethical integrity.

So there’s the list of failure secrets. I don’t want to give the impression the mistakes above are common, because they’re not. I’ve highlighted a few true, rare and extreme examples to illustrate my points.

Once I do my session at Self Publishing Expo, I’ll summarize the seven secrets to success here on the Smashwords Blog. Until then, happy CEO’ing!

Via Smashwords blog


  1. Hi Mark,
    An author puts so much into writing and re-writing their book that by the time it finally gets published we are rip-raring to go and don’t know why everyone is not as excited as we are. Excellent points and a needed reminder or wake-up call as the case may be. (PS that fish picture is really gross)

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