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5 Warnings I Wish I Could Have Given Myself Before I Published My First Book

(Originally posted 9/19/19)

It’s often said that hindsight is 20/20. And after publishing my first book, I can definitely see why that’s so.

Self-publishing was a very rewarding experience for me. When I published, it felt as if I had validated myself as a true author. But looking back, there are some things I wish I would’ve done a bit differently the first go-around. 

However, that doesn’t mean you need to go through the same issues I did. You can learn from my mistakes and hang-ups. Here are 5 I wish I could go back in time and warn myself about. 

1. You Need to Have A Marketing Plan

“Just write a great book, and it will market itself.”

I’ve heard this so many times. And unfortunately, it isn’t true. 

Sure, a great book can speak for itself when it comes to writing quality, world building, and storytelling. An even better book can help to build an author’s brand and attract more readers. But a well-marketed book gets read first.

For my first book launch, I simply released it into the world and let it do its thing. I had zero sense of direction, and this was one of my biggest mistakes. 

I was so proud of the book I had written I just assumed it would go viral on its own. 

Then, when my work failed to get the recognition I felt it deserved, frustration set in. I later realized that, by not having a clear marketing plan, I had set my book up for failure. 

These days, when I publish a book, I work hard to choose the smartest keywords and categories and to prime my book for consistent exposure on Amazon. I even invented a software to make this process easier and more effective — because I’ve seen first hand how crucial it is if you want to sell books online.  

There’s nothing wrong with writing for yourself. But if you’re looking to share your work with the rest of the world, you need to rise above the masses to get noticed. That all starts with a solid marketing plan. And here’s some good news: Even if you’ve already published your book, and even if it fell flat like my first one did, it’s not too late to turn your book into a strong seller on Amazon. Just start where you’re at. 

2. You Need to be Obsessive about Your Book Cover

“Never judge a book by its cover.”

We’ve all heard this advice, but shoppers on Amazon don’t follow it. In fact, this might be the biggest bunch of baloney when it comes to writing books. Your cover is monumental in how readers will perceive your book — and even you as its author. 

When I published my first book, I made the mistake of thinking the cover was one area I could cut a few corners on. I had spent so much time and money on the rest of the book writing process. So I went cheap on my book covers. 

This was a big mistake. Your book cover is your chance as an author to provide a great first impression. Unfortunately, my cover didn’t make that good of a showing. I was getting very few clicks and even fewer sales. And I didn’t know why. 

Thankfully, a close friend leveled with me about my cover designs. For a lack of better words, they stunk. After revamping my covers, it was like night and day. I went from not getting any attention to finally making sales. 

If you’re serious about marketing your book, don’t be afraid to invest in a well-designed cover. And yes, this applies to you whether you’re writing YA sci fi, Mexican cookbooks, or anything in between.  

3. You Need to Be Prepared for Bad Reviews (and Never Respond to Them) 

“Don’t feed the trolls.” 

I’d heard this advice, but I didn’t heed it. 

Once I started making sales, the reviews started coming in. Many people loved my book, but not every review was positive. 

One hard-to-please individual left a scathing critique, and that got me worked up. My book was my baby, and I decided to defend it. 

I now believe that was the wrong idea. By arguing with this negative review, I didn’t put my best foot forward, and I suspect it made a bad impression on other potential readers. 

To make matters worse, the offending commenter replied. And again, I responded in kind. There’s no doubt in my mind that this back and forth hurt my book sales. Since then, I’ve learned that I can’t please everyone. There will be some haters and I’ve accepted that.

In retrospect, I should have just let those harsh words roll right off my back. But I didn’t. I jumped at the chance to prove my worth, instead of being confident in the book I had written.

4. You Need to Take Advantage of Pro Tools

“Work smarter, not harder.”

More advice I didn’t listen to… 

When I first started writing, I had a “starving artist” mentality. I imagined a lonely man sitting in a dimly lit cabin in the woods, dragging an ink quill across weathered parchment. I mistakenly assumed it was somehow my job to make the writing process hard — that this would somehow make my writing more raw and authentic. 

I quickly learned writing is hard enough already. There’s wisdom in taking advantages of modern tools and shortcuts.  

For example, there are numerous writing softwares that can help you be more productive and organized. 

There are even mobile writing apps that allow you to get in some writing time while you’re standing in line at the post office, helping you never forget a great idea. 

Don’t fall for the starving artist myth. The reason classic authors didn’t use these tools is they’ve only recently been invented. If you’re taking advantage of innovation in every other area of your life, why not with your writing? 

5. Your First Book Usually Isn’t Your Best Book

“Practice makes perfect.”

We’ve all heard that, and it’s absolutely true.  

Looking back at my first book, I’ve noticed one thing in particular: The whole process and experience gets better with each subsequent book. 

Though I’ve made mistakes (and will continue to do so), I’ve learned from them. And each book moving forward has been just a little better because of it. Nobody becomes a true master overnight. It takes practice and hard work.

You’ve just got to keep honing your process as time goes by.

I wish I could go back in time and warn myself about some of the mistakes I’ve made. But that’s impossible. So hopefully, you’ll learn from my mistakes and not run across them yourself.



Dave Chesson is the founder of and creator of Publisher Rocket, a software that helps authors market their books more effectively.




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