The top 5 mistakes I’ve made in my self-publishing journey (and what they’ve taught me)

Fantastic, accelerated learning experiences

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What are the times you’ve learned most? Probably the times you’ve made most mistakes, I would guess. Yet at the time you probably felt bad about making these mistakes, only to realise later how you benefitted from them. I, on the other hand, like to think of these not as mistakes, but fantastic, accelerated learning experiences. Since I started this self-publishing journey I have had many ‘fantastic, accelerated learning experiences’ (and my first book won’t even be published for just over a month)!

“Get it wrong quickly”

I used to work with someone who regularly said, “Get it wrong quickly”, when discussing some new task we needed to complete. This was their way of saying “just [expletive deleted] do it”. However, there is some wisdom in this advice if you apply it to activities or decisions that are not life or death or which do not have the potential to ruin you financially (and, to be fair, the activities to which this advice related were not in either of those two camps). Often having a crack at something and getting it wrong is the fastest way to learn how to do it. For your own enlightenment I share below perhaps my most fundamental mistakes / ‘fantastic, accelerated learning experiences’ to date.

My top 5 mistakes

1. Diving into action without a plan

I realise that for many people planning is probably even less preferable than having a tooth pulled, but it really can save quite a bit of wasted effort and heartache. I’ve dived into a few things related to setting myself up as an ‘independent author’ without really planning them (just in case you are worried, this doesn’t include the books themselves). The most obvious thing I failed to plan was my website, or should I say, my previous website, now firmly deleted from the WordPress universe.  You may well argue, though, that this current website too could benefit from a bit more planning (if so, please let me know your thoughts on my contact page here!). Anyway, having decided I needed a website, the first thing I did was go onto wordpress.com and start bashing about and setting one up. I hadn’t really planned what was going to be in it and how it might look. After a few hours of said ‘bashing about’, I decided I just needed to take the proverbial axe to the website and just canned it completely. I then spent about 30 minutes one evening brainstorming this one and then set it up in about another 30 minutes a few days later. A lot less elapsed time and effort for a much better outcome.

2. Too much time researching, not enough doing

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Jeremy had been researching the correct usage of ‘hashtags’ for 8 weeks now

Obviously there are lots of moving parts to this ‘self-publishing’ and ‘independent author’ thing and I am still getting to grips with it. That is not an excuse, though, for spending whole days doing ‘internet research’ into it. I realised very quickly I was using research as a proxy for action. If you are buying a house, choosing your child’s school or looking for a job (pretty big life choices) then days of research is fine and probably to be recommended. If you are thinking about how to set up a Twitter account and how to use it, days of research may not be very worthwhile (I know this now).  I’ve since realised that the amount of time researching should be proportionate to the importance and complexity of the decision or action that will follow it.

3. Believing ‘time out’ is wasted time

Have you ever had an epiphany in the shower or suddenly worked out what to do about that delicate situation at work while walking the dog? If you are anything like me, you often do your best and most creative thinking away from your desk or normal work environment. Although I probably knew this somewhere at the back of my mind, I would often force myself to forego anything more than a 5 minute break and any form of prolonged relaxation because I thought this was wasted time and I couldn’t justify it. However, a little like taking a few minutes to plan before starting something, time away from your main work is an investment that will save you time in the future. If nothing else, it will mean you are more productive in the hours that you are working, and in all likelihood it will also mean you come to that work with many more ideas.

4. Not treating writing like any other job

If you’ve read my previous posts, you will be aware that I am hoping to be able to make some form of living from writing. Something you make a living from is also known as a job (just in case you were wondering). However, I was not treating writing as a job. If you want to do something professionally, you have to approach it professionally. Jeff Goins, a great writer and blogger (go check him out if you haven’t), talks about the importance of ‘turning up’, i.e. you have to put in a day’s work and take writing seriously if you are going to get anything out of it (I paraphrase. Jeff puts it better me than me on his own site). So I now schedule writing and things related to it just as if it were a crucial meeting at work.

5. Editing as I write

Do you spend ages at work writing and re-writing the same sentence of the same email, thinking of just the right way to phrase it, instead of just writing the email? You can’t see the wood for the trees. I’ve done it myself many times and have caught myself doing it quite often while writing my first two books. This is, in effect, multi-tasking (something which we men, of course, are not meant to be able to do and something which I certainly cannot do) as writing and editing are two very different skills. I’ve now learned to turn off what many other writers call the ‘internal editor’ as I write. That is to say, when I’m writing, I’m just writing. I then worry about editing and finessing the words later. This is definitely more time-efficient and leads to a more cohesive piece overall.

Have you committed any of the mistakes above yourself? Or do you have further advice to add? Please let me know by leaving a comment. If you’ve enjoyed this post and found it useful, please do share it with your friends through Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or any other networks you use (you’ll find shortcut buttons for doing so below).

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You can find out about the two books on which I am currently working here. I hope to publish the first of these in Spring 2016.

2 thoughts on “The top 5 mistakes I’ve made in my self-publishing journey (and what they’ve taught me)

  1. Writing and self publishing is a series of FALE’s I have found which is why it’s so fascinating. I have made some of your mistakes and many others besides. I do too little research though and tend to fly by the seat of my pants into things thinking it will all work out okay in the end. I’m the same with my writing, I really am. I’ve tried very hard to plan properly this time but am now annoyed that I didn’t start with the actual writing earlier as the characters are coming alive as soon as I write the words around them whereas they felt stilted in the planning. I do also edit when I write – guilty – but this helps me in 2 ways a) by going over (quickly) what I wrote the day before it gets me into the zone, and b) my first draft ends up not being too shabby. I’ve even been known to give that for initial feedback to by beta-readers (tough on them I know but meh!) Anyway excellent post Barford, thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Thanks Georgia. Editing while writing is so tempting and I’m still falling into it to be honest, but it does slow me up massively if I do. When I force myself not to do it, the word count really does shoot up (although I appreciate it’s quality not quantity!).

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