How to Look Professional as a Self-Published Author

man wearing black notched lapel suit jacket

Self-publishing still has quite a stigma attached to it, and not without reason. After all, it can be done by anyone who has the means and the time to put his or her work out there with a relative minimum of technical skill required. Hence, self-published books can and often do still turn out looking half-finished, and with all kinds of obvious formatting errors that would send the staunchest of professional typesetters into apoplectic fits.

So, how can these many potential pitfalls be avoided in your own self-publishing endeavor, should you decide to pursue that route? And how can you overcome the stigma of being self-published so that your books might have a shot at becoming true successes? Well, I shall do my best to answer these questions and more in this week’s post.

As I have mentioned on previous occasions, self-publishing has a bit of a bad rep, which gives authors who take that route more of an uphill battle than those few who manage to achieve publication the traditional way. After all, while big publishing houses make mistakes too–especially, as I have noticed, when they are in a hurry to get that next title out in a series by a best-selling author–they have an established rep to fall back on. People will look at the error and shrug it off as a simple typo that anyone could miss. Yet, when a self-published author commits the same error, it is treated as a sure sign that that author is just like all the other self-published types out there: lots of money with no real talent for the craft. Unfair, perhaps, but that’s the way it seems to work.

So, while large publishers can afford to be sloppy to some extent, self-publishers–especially new ones just trying to get their careers off the ground–must be extra careful about the first impressions they make upon readers. The ideal solution, of course, is to simply hire editors and formatting experts to take care of those aspects for you: cover art, interior illustration, editing, formatting, etc. However, most self-publishers do have some kind of budget constraints, and it must be remembered that while quality product is key, a certain amount of resources must remain available for promotional efforts after the book is released as well.

So, with this in mind, what can you do? Well, obviously, the more you can do yourself, the better. If you’re a good illustrator, you can provide your own interior drawings, and possibly even cover art. Though keep in mind, that art may have to be cropped somewhat to fit the formatting of the interior and the text layout of the cover. If you can do your own formatting and graphic design for the cover as well, that’s great. Especially since, while it can be tedious, it is nevertheless a set of skills that can be relatively easily acquired if you have even a minor knack for technology, and it can save you quite a bit of money as well.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect to get right when you’re by yourself is the editing. While you may have a good idea how your story functions and good overall methods of telling it, it nevertheless has to be presented in a way that the reader can relate to if it is going to be any kind of marketable success. This, if nowhere else, is where you almost have to have another set of eyes to look over the manuscript, so as to give you a different opinion on it, as discussed in last week’s post. It helps to get input on all the other aesthetic aspects too, of course–the illustrations, the format, and especially the cover design–but nowhere is it more critical than with the core product: the manuscript itself. You could look it over yourself, of course, and perhaps take long breaks in between to try and come back with a keener eye each time. And in a pinch this may do. But if at all possible, try to get at least the most important parts of your manuscript looked at by someone else, even if you have to pay to have it done.

There are all kinds of other aesthetic things you can do to make your book look more professional and disguise its self-published nature too, of course. Making sure you have a professional-looking copyright page is a must, and if you’re really confident, you could even pay to have a PCIP data block created for your book by a professional source and put that in your copyright page as well (more on PCIP data in a future post). This is not strictly necessary, but it certainly looks very official.

Finally, perhaps the most important outward sign of a professional self-published author is some kind of brand. By this, of course, I mean the publishing name itself. Now, you could simply use your own name, but unless you’re a long-established firm like Allen & Unwin or Alfred A. Knopf, this will scream self-published, and will push some people away right from the start. As a start-up author, while you may be really excited to place your name all over the process and show all the great work you did all by yourself, it may be wise not to go all out on this. Come up with another, more imaginative name for your works. It could be something related to you and the kinds of books you write/publish, or it could be something totally unrelated. This is entirely up to you. Either way, once you have your publisher name, it’s essential you have a professional-looking logo to go along with it that you can stamp somewhere on your print books (and of course, a website to go along with it, if possible, even if it’s really just your own author website).

There are a lot more aspect to looking professional than those mentioned above. This is really just a random scattershot of things to consider, though I tried to cover the most important ones. If you have any questions on this topic, feel free to contact me via my Contact page, or even via comment below. I would be only too glad to help.

Published by J. S. Allen

J. S. Allen is a writer, linguist, historian, and nature-lover from Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of the young adult series Sauragia and the 'Woodland Tales' anthology for children, as well as several shorter works in various online and local venues. In between writing and publishing, he likes to draw, spend long hours outdoors, and read. His favourite authors include M. I. McAllister, Brian Jacques, and Alexandre Dumas.

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