How to make your self-published book look like it’s been traditionally published

How often have you looked at a self-published book and seen straightaway that it’s a DIY job? It’s not just poor content that gives it away; in fact many truly good books are ruined by goofs which mainly are simple and cheap to correct.

article about self-publishing books

Can you tell if a book has been traditionally or self-published?

Here are 11 key points to watch out for:

Is the cover attractive and designed so when its image is shrunk down to a small size as it would be on Amazon or other sites, you can still see the key points? Make sure your book’s cover is properly designed: it’s well worth paying for a professional cover designer to do it.

Is the back cover “blurb” (as it’s so patronisingly called) enticing, accurate in spelling, grammar and punctuation? And if you look at the book’s ‘spine,’ is the text straight and properly centred? This may seem like a ‘no brainer’ but you need to proofread your back cover text like crazy … that’s often the first of your book a potential buyer will read and if tehre are any mistakes in it, you’re done for. And the spine text isn’t a simple as it sounds: your cover designer needs to know exactly how to measure it.

Inside the book, are the first few pages devoted to the traditional requisites of publishing data, copyright information, etc.? Many self-publishers ignore these preliminaries but without them readers know right away that the book is self-published. Here is what these pages are and roughly their order of appearance. Pages in italics normally go at the back of the book: acknowledgements and the author bio can be at either end.

  • Copyright page
  • Title page (a simpler version of the wording on the front cover
  • Dedication
  • Table of contents (including Introduction)
  • Praise
  • Foreword
  • Preface (often left out these days)
  • Acknowledgements
  • Author bio
  • Further reading
  • Other books by this author
  • Index (where appropriate)

Are these initial pages numbered in Roman numerals, so are not included in numbering of the main text? This rather quaint old custom has been around for centuries and is totally unnecessary but most traditional publishers insist on retaining it. Your choice!

Does the interior of the book look attractive and inviting to read, with consistent subheadings and (where relevant) well-displayed illustrations? It’s possible to get help from professional book designers to make sure your book is “beautifully easy to read” as one book designer I know describes it, but these people can be expensive. A good book producer (who converts your manuscript into digital files suitable for Kindle and other formats plus digital printing) will know how to set the book’s interior out properly. And there is good guidance on DIY publishing platforms like Amazon KDP, IngramSpark, Draft2Digital, etc.

Is the main text justified to both left and right margins? Traditionally published books nearly always are justified this way and once again, this is a delightfully quaint custom that goes back to the Middle Ages. Unprofessional versions are often justified to the left margin only, with the right side “ragged” which for me is far easier to read, but there you go. And has enough space been left in the inner margins to compensate for the space lost in the “gutter” at the centre of the book? Another ‘no brainer’ perhaps but you’d be surprised how many self-published books have this problem, which makes them hard to read.

In the body of the book, do you see ‘widows and orphans’ — the odd word or two carried over to a next page? These look awkward and amateurish and usually are the result of someone having uploaded the manuscript directly into the Kindle/print file and not checked it through. Naughty, naughty.

Are there spelling, grammar, syntax and other mistakes in the text? This suggests poor or little copy editing and/or proofreading. You know what to do!

Is the text repetitive, disordered, lacking in flow and continuity? This suggests poor – or no – planning of the book by the author. To an extent this can be sorted out by structural or line editing but that involves paying for another professional to help you. Planning the book’s content and flow before you write it can avoid such problems.

Do the cover and inner pages lie flat when the book’s down on a surface, closed? If cover/pages curl up this can signify poor quality production, paper and card, as well as cheap binding.

In the digital/Kindle version, is the text laid out in a good design – or does it just look like an uploaded Word document? Just as for print versions of your book, the digital one needs to be laid out carefully. Bear in mind that people will be reading from a screen so allow for plenty of white space, use a reader-friendly font, and avoid any images which are complex, dark, or wordy.

What else makes you see that a book has been self-published?

Do please share your thoughts!

Adapted from Suzan’s forthcoming title, “How To Write A Brilliant Nonfiction Book,” to be published later in 2020 by BetterBooksMedia.