How to NOT look Self-Published

Okay, I'm sharing my secret with you all--for those of you who never noticed (which I hope you didn't!), my Stolen Series was self-published.  I say that with a cringe, knowing the stigma that goes with self-publishing, i.e. the assumption that, well, nobody "real" wanted to publish it so you had to do it yourself.

With the economy tightening budgets in everything including the publishing industry, things have changed, and print-on-demand publishing is becoming a big new option that actually boasts several benefits over traditional publishing.  Nonetheless it still feels just plain strange to tell people I self-published a book.  I always want to add, "But I've been published over 200 times in other places, so I really am a real writer!"

Fortunately, when people see the Stolen books and hear they were done through print-on-demand, I often hear, "Wow, this looks really good.  It doesn't look self-published."  And I inwardly think, "Hooray!"  I worked very hard to make sure it didn't have that homemade look that is a dead giveaway for self-publishing.

And now, since so many people have asked how I made it look so not self-published, I figure I might as well stick it all on here so it's all in one place.

So here goes:

1.  No flat colors on your cover.  Even if you want a main background color, find some kind of texture, however faint, to give it some depth.  I can't think of any mainstream published book that has a flat color on the cover.  The black background of my Stolen books is actually a photo of a shawl I bought in Indonesia. My husband took the photo and tweeked it on Photoshop to be lighter on the back cover and darker on the front.  On the front cover, it's barely even noticeable, which was the idea.  Most people would think it was just black, but it does not stand out as just a flat black, and that's the idea--to not have sections that stand out as "homemade."

You can't see the shawl design in this photo, but if you had the book in your hands, you'd be able to tell. =)

2.  Use quality digital photos.  Nuf said.

3.  Put a lot of time into making your back cover "hook" good (that's the 1-2 paragraphs on the back that summarize the story with just enough of the plot to tease a reader into wanting to buy/read your book--it's important!).  Sometimes writing that one paragraph to hook potential readers is harder than writing the whole book!  Write several options and have people who know nothing about your book help choose between them.

4.  Add details on the back cover.  Pull down 3-4 of your favorite books from your bookshelf and look them over for small details that you never really notice normally.  It's interesting that those details that we don't notice if they're there, we notice if they are absent.  Those are the details you want, such as:
   *author photo placement and bio
   *credit to cover design person
   *credit to cover photographer
   *price listed in US and Canadian (easy to check with an online converter)
   *usually the publisher is listed with a logo--put something in that spot, like your website, blog, anything
   *endorsements if you have any

5.  Play with color effects on your words.  With Createspace, the print-on-demand option I used, they had a downloadable template for the cover design.  My husband put it into photoshop and used it as a base, then added everything we wanted, playing especially with the effects on color for the words.  Small touches, but they made a big difference (see for a close-up look at the cover).  Oh, and please don't use bubble-shaped words or rainbow-curved words or any other style that is a little too creative to be professional.  If you go to the library, you'll notice that nearly every book's font is pretty close to the same, with color and texture changes to make them unique.

6.  The boring copyright/info page.  This is probably the biggest way that even the average reader will notice you're self-published.  You know that page, about the 2nd page in, that has all that boring copyright info and Library of Congress stuff?  I doubt anybody actually reads any of it, but if your book just says your name and a copyright right date, it screams "self-published."  Again, pull down some of your favorite books and see if you can borrow any of their boring info.  I put in stuff about the version of the Bible I used, a long useless paragraph about not copying anything without permission, etc.  You can also get a library of congress number for free (google how to) and put that on there, too.

7.  Chapter image.  I think it's nice to have some little graphic at the beginning of each chapter--something that represents or accents your style of book, even just a swirly-whatever to add to your interior.  It should be the same throughout because changing it for each chapter would look odd.  Again, check the books you like.  What did they do?

8.  Fonts.  Using a special or italicized font for your Chapter headers. The first letter of the chapter being larger and a special font is another thing I noted from my favorite books and utilized in mine.  Again, it just sets you apart in little ways.

9.  The extra stuff.  Author page, thank-you-to-everybody-and-their-grandmother page, etc.  There's a fair bit of freedom on where to put those, but you'll want to check other books to see where they put things and how they expressed themselves.  I find acknowledgment pages extremely boring (unless you're one of the people thanked of course), so I put mine in the back and made it short.

10.  Lastly, don't go cheesy.  I really wanted to put some photos in from Bangladesh to show some of the scenes in my book.  It might have been a nice idea, except that NOBODY in traditional publishing would do that, so it would plop me down in the self-publishing camp for good.  Your book is a piece of professional work, so like a resume, you don't need to add in photos of your grandchildren or long lists of how you came to write the book, etc.  Readers do like personal info, but those are the kinds of things you can put in your website or your blog for the ones who want to get to know you instead of just read your writing.

Make sense?  Hopefully the above will help you put out something that people will say, "Wow, it doesn't look self-published," and you, too, can inwardly say, "Hooray!"

If you thought of some questions, please post them--
you may be asking something somebody else wants to know the answer to!


  1. That was a nice summary, thank you! Your readers may also want to pay attention to left facing and right facing pages, making sure that the first chapter DOES land on a right-facing page. CreateSpace offers a Word template for interior files, too. Thanks Kimberly!

    1. Oh, yes, I'd be lost without those templates from Createspace for the interior!!! I'm technologically clueless, so they are the only reason I'm able to do this myself. =) Good points, thanks for adding them, Leslie!

  2. Good article. Page numbering can also be a bit tricky depending on what program you use to lay out the book. I use Word and hate how difficult their program makes it to get the page numbering right. But Google is your friend and there are lots of instructional blogs out there and with a little work, I got it figured out. PLEASE don't leave page numbers on blank pages, or on the front matter of the book. It really makes them look unprofessional. :)

    1. BTW, LOVED the tip about the flat colors. Some covers are fairly well done but just have that "look" about them. A friend and I have been looking at several and trying to assess why some look self-published while others don't - I think this is a big key. (As well as making sure images blend well and are cropped professionally, etc.)

    2. Good points--thanks for adding your insight, Lynnette!