Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How to NOT Look Self-Published, Guest Post by Kimberly Rae

Guest post by  
Okay, I'm sharing my secret with you all--for those of you who never noticed (which I hope you didn't!), Stolen Woman 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.

I know that 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 (see my post titled "Ever Wanted Your Book in Print?" for more on that).  Nonetheless it still feels just plain weird to tell people I self-published a book.  I always want to add, "But I've been published over 100 times in other places, so I really am a real writer!"

Fortunately, I think, when people see it and hear Stolen Woman was done through print-on-demand, the comment I hear most often is, "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.  

Stolen Woman's black cover is a photo of a shawl I bought in Indonesia, taken by my husband and tweeked 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 did not stand out as just a flat black, and that's the idea--to not have sections that stand out as "homemade."

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!  Ask for help, 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 www.stolenwoman.org 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 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, 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 or the first letter of the chapter 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?  So 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!

Please check out Kimberly Rae's blog at http://stolenwoman.blogspot.com/


  1. Excellent tips, Kimberly. Thank you for sharing them.

  2. You made some good points. I like the cover. I checked your book on Amazon and saw the image of the back cover. Looks good. I wonder why your paperback and Kindle editions appear to be different. Different subtitle, different reviews, different publisher. What do you think about creating your own publishing company to look more like a traditional publisher?

  3. I totally agree with the need for professional looking, polished cover art.