How To Avoid the Self-Published Look, Part 1

by Dick Lutz

Appearance Is Everything

There’s a lot less stigma of self-publishing than there used to be, but it still exists. Regardless of the stigma, there’s no reason why your book can’t look just as good as one published by, say, Random House.

The steps to avoid the self-published look are simple but they are important to the marketability of your book. Here are some ideas:

1. Get a professional cover design. An amateurish cover is the first sign that says “self-published.” You may think that by going only to an ebook you’ll avoid the need to have a professionally designed cover for your book. You’ll be wrong! Ebooks are almost always displayed with a thumbnail version of the cover first. A well done cover may be even more important for ebooks than for print books.

2. The writing and editing should be top quality. While the cover design is the first external indication of a book’s quality, the first internal sign is poor writing and/ or editing. If you’re not sure how good a writer you are, consider joining a critique group. Whatever you do, don’t publish your book until it’s as well-written as you can make it. Re editing, get the best you can afford.

3. Front Matter. Although the cover and the quality of the content are the two most important things to watch out for, there are others. One of the most obvious is the lack of the traditional front matter on the first few pages of the book. I recommend that you buy a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style. This book is the Bible of publishing. It covers grammar, punctuation, the mechanics of publishing, and the correct way to organize the front matter. It is important to follow the traditional ‘rules’ in order to appear professional.

4. Ebook Front Matter. What is true for the printed book, in this case, is not true for the ebook. On Amazon, potential buyers can ‘look inside’ your book for as much as 10% of the pages. You don’t want that 10% to be page after page of boring front matter. You want to let that potential purchaser get into the meat of your book as soon as possible. For ebooks, the order for the front matter can be as follows: After the cover, blurbs, Table of Contents, Foreword or Preface (but not both, and neither for fiction), and then Chapter 1. There’s no reason why you can’t include all the other stuff that goes in the front matter, but put it in the back where people who are interested in such things can find it.

5. Organization Name. A sure sign of a self-publisher is giving his press his own name. This is so obvious that I hesitate to mention it. Instead, pick a short name that’s meaningless such as a pet’s name or a combination of abbreviations. I called my press DIMI PRESS at my father-in-law’s suggestion. It is a combination of the first two letters of my name and the first two letters of my wife Mary’s nickname as she was growing up in the Netherlands. Her childhood nickname was Miep.

Another thought concerning the name you choose for your press is something you shouldn’t do. Don’t tie your press name to the subject of your first book. You never know what you may be publishing in the future. For example, if your first book is about real estate you might be tempted to call your company something like REAL ESTATE PRESS. If you later decide to publish a novel you would be in an embarrassing predicament. Who would buy a novel from a publisher called REAL ESTATE PRESS? Another example would be your first book being a cookbook and your press might be named DINING PRESS. There is always the possibility that your press will, in the future, publish books on other subjects, whether the books are written by yourself or others. What will you do if your next book is on auto mechanics?

6. Blurb Overload. Another sign of self-publishing is an excessive number of testimonial quotes (known as blurbs in the publishing business).The best blurbs are short and limited to six. The blurb should answer the question “Why should I buy this book?”

Include blurbs in the front matter of the book for two reasons: First, they persuade the browser to become a buyer and second, bloggers will often quote blurbs in their review. With print books blurbs can be on the back cover, but with ebooks there is no back cover and the blurbs should come before the text of the book. Also, if your ebook is published with Kindle Direct Publishing you can include blurbs in the online listing of your book.