Thursday, May 18, 2017

Memorable Author Screw-Ups

By Jana Oliver, @crazyauthorgirl

Part of the Indie Authors Series

Mistakes. We all make them. Sometimes we don't even realize that we do, and other times they're so horrendous we still have nightmares about them. Here are some of mine over the last sixteen years because sometimes the best way to avoid a mistake is reading about someone else’s.


I'm not fond of being caught unprepared, so I over compensate. It’s hardwired into me to not wait until the last minute. I didn't like scrambling around as the clock ticks down when I worked for corporate America, I don't like it as an independent author.

Planning ahead can be a lifesaver in certain circumstances, but sometimes it's a waste of time and money because the expected outcome isn’t anywhere close to reality. My example comes from 2001, back when you had to ship your books to Amazon to fulfill orders rather than have CreateSpace print the books for you.

For my very first self-published book, I took out an ad at a major romance magazine. Circulation for that magazine was about 100K subscribers so I decided to have the books in hand, ready to ship, when the orders came through because I didn't want my readers to wait weeks to receive their shipment. I allowed for a 1% order rate off that ad, which was reasonable given the dedicated readership. Which means I ordered a thousand books. Yeah, one thousand.

Of which I sold just over forty copies. Not only was that a big hint that print media ads weren’t necessarily effective, at least not for my books, it meant that I had nine hundred and fifty some copies left. I sold another five or six hundred of them eventually, but the rest were recycled. Since they cost $3 each to print, that was a very expensive lesson.

This over-preparation obsession is hard for me to break, and has manifested in other situations over the years. Most of the time, that prep didn’t save me any time or money because Murphy’s Law always seemed to win. So, if you find yourself going gung ho when it might be best to throttle back, look at the worst-case scenario, then decide if all the prep is worth it. It might not be.

Not Keeping My Eye on the Ball

It is so easy to let things drift, especially if you're working a full-time job and have various family responsibilities. I don't have the former, and very few of the latter, but it is easy to put something off that will haunt you down the line. Sadly, I have a cringe-worthy example of this kind of mistake to share with you.

I use CreateSpace for my print books because they've been easy to work with. You have a change in the interior, you upload and file and it’s done. However, a few years back, I loaded one of my books on Lightning Source and then paid extra for it to be sold in the U.K. and Australia.

Somehow the file that went to LS was riddled with typos—whether that was because I used an uncorrected file, I'm not sure, but those books were a mess. Luckily one of my friends let me know of the problem and I planned on sending a corrected file. Unfortunately, LS had already shipped books to a vendor and they'd been returned (30 of them), which they sent to me since I’d chosen the Return option. Since I’d paid for them, I stuck them back in a corner and promptly forgot about them. (These become important down the line).

Time passed while I tried to decide if it was worth the extra cost to upload the changes to LS since they have a fee every time you do so. If I remember correctly it would have been about ninety-five dollars for the three locations, and since I'd yet to see any books sold in the UK or Oz, that was the source of the debate. More time passed and I absolutely forgot about this issue.

Remember those returned copies? Well, I sent these to a writer's conference to be used as goody bag stuffers which meant the readers who received those books found a story that wasn't ready for primetime. When I realized what I’d done, I was mortified.

Since then I’ve discontinued my account with LS, which cost me way more than I ever made, and collected what copies of this edition I could find, including buying one back from a reader at a recent convention. This was a very stupid error that should never have happened. The instant I found out there was a problem I should have either 1) Closed the LS account or 2) Uploaded the revised files. By putting off either of those actions I have given a handful of readers the impression that my books are not professional. The less than a hundred bucks I would have spent to fix this error is nothing compared to the potential lost readership.

I have yet another example of this one, even more recent. I uploaded pre-orders for two books on iBooks and Kobo. Because the publication dates slid forward due to my upcoming relocation plans, I completely forgot about those pre-orders and lost them because I didn’t take the time to alter the publication dates. Somewhere out there are a handful of readers who expected to receive copies of those books and never did.

These are rookie mistakes. Even though you’ve been in the business for years, it’s easy to get sidetracked by all the writing and editing, and personal life demands. Still, not keeping track of the day-to-day work requirements can be a strategic mistake and cost you both sales and readers.

Repeating the Same Mistake

As the quote goes – “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” We’ve all done this, repeating some action despite the previous results. My example is attending an event, year after year, though I knew it had done nothing to help me sell books. Since that event’s attendance was funded by me, returning to such a venue really didn’t make sense. Yet I did. Why? Because sometimes you blame the lack of results on yourself rather than the situation. In this case, the con wasn’t the best fit for me as I do better at smaller conventions. Now that I’ve recognized that, I’ve not returned to that particular convention.

Being Cheap

Speaking of money, I’ll offer my cautionary tale of a proofreader I hired a few years back. He’d done work for me before and the final manuscript was great. He worked insanely fast and cost very little. However, that project was non-fiction which did require him to slow down his proofing speed. The next project I gave him was fiction, and it was a full-length novel (about 100K). I believe he charged $350, which should have been a clue.

The proofread manuscript was returned quickly, I and promptly sent it off to a New York Times Bestselling author to offer a cover blurb. Within a very short period of time she emailed me to say that she’d found ten errors within the first twenty-five pages.

I must admit I used some rather colorful language when I read that email. I pulled the manuscript back in-house and hired someone else to proof it. That person cost considerably more, but the final manuscript was excellent. But boy was that a lesson: Don’t Go Cheap. I don’t doubt there are some excellent inexpensive proofreaders out there, but when you combine cheap with fast, something has to give. In this case, the result was a shoddy manuscript.

These are just a few of my more memorable mistakes over the years. None of them were life-threatening, but a couple probably didn’t do my career any favors. If any of these help you avoid your own, I’ll be happy.

And because I just HAVE to ask, what’s your most indie-publishing memorable mistake? 

An international bestseller and the recipient of over a dozen major awards, Jana Oliver often laments that there are far too many stories inside her head at any given moment.

Best known for her young adult Demon Trappers series, she writes what intrigues her, and spends a good deal of time fretting about whether demons actually exist.

When not wandering around the internet researching exorcisms, or posting on social media (eerily similar, those two), Jana can be found in Atlanta with her very patient husband, and a rapidly dwindling collection of single malt Scotch.

Jana Oliver | Chandler Steele | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound |

About Cat's Paw

After five years in a Louisiana prison, Alex Parkin desperately wants to start over. Even more, he craves revenge against Vladimir Buryshkin, the New Orleans drug lord who framed him for cocaine possession. The second he walks out of prison, Alex is a wanted man, both by the Russian mob, and by Veritas, a private security firm that claims to be "on his side." When his sister is brutally beaten, he has to choose: Join forces with Veritas, or let Buryshkin destroy his family.

Because of the Russian mobster, Morgan Blake lost both her husband, and her career at the FBI. Now working with Veritas, she's eager to take Buryshkin down. So eager, she's willing to do anything to make that happen, even sacrificing a certain ex-con, if needed.

As a load of tainted cocaine hits New Orleans' streets, the body count quickly rises. To prevent more deaths, and a potential drug war, Morgan and Alex must learn that revenge comes at too high a price, and that love always has its own agenda.


  1. I recently found that I had accidentally taken one of my books off sale for months on one of the minor retailers. This taught me that I'd better check my listings on all the vendors on a regular basis.

  2. That's one I haven't done (yet). Give me time (wink). I can imagine how annoyed you were when you found out you'd lost some sales.

  3. I lay out all my books before I write them then I put the main plot points into each chapter before I start the first draft. I also include any other information I think is important in that chapter like a bit of dialog I might want to use, something I'll need to research, etc. As I write, I delete these things once I've covered them and/or I integrate them into the text...most of the time.

    Recently a book that had been Beta read, proofed by me, proofed again for spelling/grammar errors and then sent out as ARC copies to a couple of 'the faithful' went forward for digital publication with more than 400 words of such notes at the end of a middle chapter. It was separated from the main chapter text by about 8 lines, but it was there.

    Dozens of copies of the book sold before I caught it when I was proofing the CreateSpace files. I was mortified.

  4. Man, that had to suck. We authors have really strong mortification circuits. I've seen a couple books with notes in them that got missed somehow. I've always been amazingly paranoid that just such a thing might happen with mine. Glad you caught the mistake.