One reason some writers won’t consider self-publication is the number of poor-quality books produced. It can be seen in everything from no editing to unprofessional formatting. Knowing what makes a book look amateurish will help avoid this obstacle.
It is possible to format a book or e-book without the help of a professional. Simple e-books without a lot of images can be formatted in Word. Print books can also be formatted with Word, but it’s trickier with page numbers, headers and footers, blank pages, and so on. A professional designer will have tools to make your book look great. Like professional editing, a professional designer goes a long way to ensuring a quality book readers will want and recommend.
The use of unusual fonts goes on the formatting list. Generally, one serif style for content (Georgia, Century Book, Times New Roman) and one sans serif for headings (Arial, Calibri, Helvetica). Some designers think Times New Roman and Arial are over-used.
It’s the Details
The little details mean the difference between a professional-looking book and a D-I-Y-look.
- Take a look at books in your genre to get an idea of the correct interior design. Here are some of the elements missed by self-publishers.
- Numbers on blank pages. Blank pages should be just that—blank.
- Headers on blank pages. Ditto above.
- All chapters start on the left-hand page. Some self-publishers try to cut cost by removing all blank pages. This screams amateur.
- Not enough white space. A page with a lot of print is hard to read even with the best of eyesight. A little larger space between lines and wider margins help the reader enjoy your book.
- Large sections of blank space. Incorrectly formatted files for an e-book can cause large empty spaces in the middle of a chapter. I’ve even seen it happen in the middle of paragraph.
- No clickable links. E-book readers have come to expect clickable links to move around the book and access websites. Many programs that convert documents to e-book files automatically convert URLs to links to the internet. Word and other programs automatically create clickable table of contents, when formatted correctly. Links within the manuscript may need to be inserted manually.
- Attempting to make the e-book like the print book. This certainly can be done. For most general audiences, though, a standard e-book format is desirable. One of the drawbacks of a duplicate of the print design is the lack of ability to change the font size.
And What Else
- Front Matter Errors
Far too many self-published books have no copyright page and table of contents. Some of these also have warning labels about duplication in the footer of every page. Speaking of warning labels, often new writer/publisher insert a page with huge warnings about not violating copyright.
In the print editions, a half title page is often missing. A half title page isn’t used in an e-book, so a novice self-publisher may not know to add one to the print edition.
Other little details in the front matter are the use of “by” before the author’s name, “forward” instead of “foreword,” no publisher information, no ISBN. (I know Amazon doesn’t require it, but it screams “self-published by a newbie.”)
- Poor Images
It’s important for images to be the correct size and resolution. Small images can’t always be seen. If an attempt is made to enlarge it, the image will be blurry or pixelated (look like it’s straight out of Minecraft or Legoland). Poor resolution sometimes has the same effect. What works on a website may not work in a print or e-book. (For a discussion of image resolution, read this article https://snapshop.cam/dpi/.)
While we’re speaking of images, an author photo that is not a professional headshot also screams amateur. I’ve seen author photos cropped out of a family reunion picture or with a kid sticking out a tongue in the background.
- No or Poor Editing
Many of us have cringed at editing errors, even in traditionally published books. Like design, editing should be left to the professionals. It may not be necessary for a new writer to pay cash for editing (I know; I can hear the gasping). I have traded editing services for other professional services. It is possible. Mark Wayne Adams has a good editing list. https://mwa.company/2016/08/17/30-telltale-signs-of-a-self-published-book/
- Bad Cover
This is usually the number one item on a list of self-publishers’ mistakes. Whether an e-book or print book, if the cover doesn’t immediately attract the browsers attention the book will not sell. Cover design is another area best left to professionals.
Here are some cover design mistakes https://www.rockingbookcovers.com/book-cover-design/book-cover-design-mistakes/
The Book Designer has a list of articles about good cover design. https://www.thebookdesigner.com/book-design/
- Review. Review. Review.
Be sure to thoroughly review a proof of your book, whether print or electronic. Give it to someone else to look for the little details that mark it as self-published.
Self-publishing shouldn’t mean poor-publishing. Well crafted, both in design and content, self-published books can win major awards, such as the Christy Award. With the attention to detail, the reader may never know the difference between self-published and traditionally published.
Susan K. Stewart is a teacher, writer, and speaker known for practical solutions to real-world situations. Her books include Harried Homeschooler’s Handbook: Finding Hope in the Havoc, Preschool: At What Cost?, Science in the Kitchen: Fearless Science at Home for All Ages, the award-winning Formatting e-Books for Writers. She brings her inspiring and encouraging messages to online and in-person conferences about families, writing, and editing. The Stewarts live in Central Texas with their three dogs, three cats, nine chickens, and a couple of donkeys. They have three children and six grandchildren. You can read more of Susan’s practical solutions at www.practicalinspirations.com.