Most readers can pick up a book and tell whether it was self-published or professionally published mainly by looking for what’s missing. The more “professional” items that are missing from a book, the less inclined many readers are to read it. If you make your self-published or Kindle books look like any other traditionally published book out there, readers will more likely hold onto them and give them a chance. Here are four crucial ways to professionalize your Kindle or self-published books without spending any money.
#1: The cover
Eye candy is important. A good book cover will sell a bad book more often than an average cover will sell a good book. You may have written the greatest novel for all time, but if you don’t catch readers’ eyes with the cover, they will never know it.
When designing your cover, remember the 60% rule: the focal point should be 6/10th the way up your cover. If you’re self-publishing a physical book, make sure you put your title, author’s name, and a mini-cover on the spine as well.
For the cover graphic, you have many options, and you don’t have to go broke. Borrow that artist or photographer friend of yours and pay them with compliments or a meal. I commissioned an artist to paint and design a poster for a book event, and it turned out nice. All he wanted was the exposure, and he had plenty of work after the event. You can also get or borrow a decent digital camera and take your own pictures. You know what you want on the cover, so who better to take it? Take the shot and save it at the highest resolution you can. Then open that graphic in Paint to make your cover. Paint? Really? Paint doesn’t take a degree in nuclear physics to use, it's usually already on your computer anyway, and it won't cost you a thing. Because Paint is easy to use, it also won't take you long to make your cover, and if you screw up, you can easily make another.
If you don’t have a decent camera or photographer, download free high-resolution graphics from Dreamstime.com, morgueFile.com, or the Library of Congress (loc.gov/pictures). Open the graphic in Paint, edit it by resizing or cropping, and add text for your title and name. I use Paint to make my Kindle covers, and I borrow public domain black and white photographs from the Library of Congress for my graphics. The covers aren’t flashy, but they get the job done. In using black and white photographs exclusively, I have “branded” my novels, too. Readers know that “H. M. Mann” books have black and white covers.
If you’re truly adventurous and don’t mind many hours of stress (and making a myriad of mistakes), download thirty-day trial versions of Fireworks or Adobe PageMaker. These programs aren’t easy to use, but thirty days is long enough to create a decent cover. It took me all thirty days to use Fireworks to create two covers for my self-published titles, and they came out fine … in my humble opinion. My sons provided the pictures, and I paid them with McDonald's.
#2: The pages
Too often self-published and Kindle pages look like high school essays. Pick up a traditionally published book and study how the page looks. It is clean looking, neat, and organized.
If you are producing a physical book, include page numbers that alternate with your title and your name at the top of each page. Microsoft Word makes this easy to do—learn how. It takes only minutes to learn. Because the Kindle is “reflowable” (Amazon’s word, not mine), you don’t need to include page numbers for Kindle books.
Use normal sizes (10-12) and normal fonts like Times New Roman, Garamond, Bookman Old Style, or Book Antiqua. Yes, fonts like Colonna MT and Papyrus are cool, but try reading anything in these fonts for half an hour. They’re hard on the eyes. When it comes to the Kindle, however, Amazon limits fonts to Serif—unless you know how to hack your Kindle and change the font. Stick to one or two fonts for the entire novel, as well. I used to spice up my chapters with handwritten or script fonts like Lucida Handwriting, but my copy editor at Kensington had issues with them.
Use a minimum one-inch margin all the way around your page for ease of reading, and justify your margins! Your pages should be flush right and flush left with no cascading “ledges” like your Hubs. Again, pick up a published book, and you will see what your page should look like.
#3: The title page inside
Many readers skip this page in their rush to get to chapter one, but you still must mimic what’s out there. Include title, author’s byline, copyright, and Library of Congress number if you have it.
Also include your publisher. That’s right. Create your own publishing company. I “own” two publishing companies, both of which live inside my laptop: James Crowe Press and Kinfolk Books. When readers ask me about them, I tell them, “They are small Mid-Atlantic presses.” I’m not lying. They are small. They “exist” inside a laptop. A friend of mine used “Carter-Krall” because it sounded professional and old to him. It has worked for him. “J. J.’s Books,” “Great Virginia Author L.L.C.,” and “My Awesome Novel Company” are wrong and obviously portray you as self-published.
You can also include a publisher's note along the lines of: "This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s warped imagination and experiences or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental … and extremely unfortunate."
If you quote lyrics or other works of literature in your novel, list them and put “used by permission” (after you get permission) or “in the public domain” on the bottom of this page.
If you have published other books, include this list on the next page after the title page. It’s free advertising, right? See below for how these two pages might look.
#4: Professional additions
Add a simple dedication or quotation before your first chapter. I dedicate my Kensington novels to my wife. Most recently, I added some scripture before chapter one of a Christian romantic comedy.
Add a preface, which is an introduction to the book that you write. A preface is generally short and explains how you came up with the idea for the novel. Many authors choose to use the preface to acknowledge a few folks who helped with the book’s creation. This is not the place to list 200 “shout-outs” to everyone you know … in the hopes that they’ll buy your book so they can “see their name in print.” If you list too many people, some readers may doubt that you alone wrote the book. Remember to “sign” (your typed name) and date a preface. Some authors include where they wrote the book at the end of the preface as well.
Add a foreword, which is an introduction to the book that someone else writes. Choose the writer of your foreword carefully. Don’t use a family member, especially one who shares your last name. Find another writer to “hype” you. The foreword can precede your preface if you wish to have both. The writer of the foreword should “sign” and date it as well.
Add a prologue, a short piece of writing at the beginning of your novel that immediately captures your reader’s interest. If you include a prologue, you must include an epilogue that brings closure to the work. They’re like bookends, and you can’t have one without the other. Most writers use neither, but again, using both of them can add a professional touch to your novel. Simply snip off the first part of your first chapter for your prologue and the last part of your last chapter for your epilogue. If you are writing a series, however, you most likely won’t need to use a prologue or an epilogue until the last book of the series. Remember: an epilogue is the final word.
Add an “About the Author” page at the very end, on the inside back cover, or on the back cover itself. Include your picture—or not. If you do include your picture, make sure it’s a high quality photograph, and don’t forget to smile—unless you write horror or mystery novels. Then you can look grim and sufficiently creepy. Your vanity will determine how “beautiful” or “handsome” you want to look years from now. I know a woman who has used the same Glamour Shots photo for 20 years, and she doesn’t plan to change it—ever.
If you pay attention to these details and include these professional additions, your book will stand out because it no longer looks like a self-published book. Professionalize your work every time, and readers will take you seriously every time.
JJ Murray (author) from Roanoke, Virginia on June 15, 2013:
I did not create an LLC for either of my publishing "companies" because they don't actually exist, have inventory, or require depreciation of machines. I handle all that through my 1040 Schedule C. I know that other authors have LLC's or have incorporated. I chose a simpler route. Everything I self-publish is in electronic format and is tied directly to me via my social security number. I do pay for a business license every year (I'm in Virginia) that covers both my e-books and regular books, and I depreciate and list inventory only for actual print books by "J. J. Murray." In other words, "J. J. Murray" has filed all the necessary legal papers, and my fictitious publishing "companies" are under that umbrella.
MostlyGood on June 15, 2013:
While I think most of your advice was great, the suggestion to make up a name for a publishing company needs a little more explanation. Creating a trade name or DBA (Doing business As) requires more than just picking out the name. In most states you have to register the name and the registration is made public. You can be fined for failing to file the proper legal papers.
ExpectGreatThings from Illinois on April 14, 2013:
Thank you for these tips. I hope you aren't disappearing from hubpages. You have great insight!
healthylife2 on February 06, 2013:
Thanks so much for sharing this extremely useful information. My husband is attempting to write a book so I will show it to him. He does have a PhD in Physics so he should be able to do the cover:) I plan to write a book one day so will bookmark this, Voted up!
JJ Murray (author) from Roanoke, Virginia on January 21, 2013:
Thank you. I'm always glad to help!
Bethaleg from Minnesota on January 20, 2013:
Very interesting. I came across your Hub as I was researching ways to publish a Kindle book. Voted up as useful!
JJ Murray (author) from Roanoke, Virginia on December 23, 2012:
Your book is a meal you want your reader to savor. That makes the presentation and the ingredients equally important.
Shasta Matova from USA on December 23, 2012:
A professional looking book does give a good impression and makes it look like someone took the time to make the book worth reading. Otherwise it just looks sloppy and not worth the time. Voted up.
Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on December 23, 2012:
Very helpful. Great details and explanations. Sharing.