Making you Book Text Look Professional

14 Jan

Today’s blog post is brought to you by frequent contributor Editor Ed, a small press publisher, author, and my dear friend. You can read his latest short story compilation, Sorcery Against Caesar, in the Amazon store.

Why Is Looking Professional Important? Because the Gatekeepers are gone, and readers know it. In the days before self-publishing, only big publishing companies could afford to print books. That meant every novel in the bookstore has been vetted by experienced editors, formatted properly by industry professionals, and met at least minimum standards of quality.

Those days are gone, and there are no quality controls on the books found online anymore. The unpleasant truth is that Amazon today is full of terrible self-published novels that twenty years ago would never have made it past the slush pile at a big publishing company.

Readers know this, and don’t want to risk spending money on an awful book (like this one Marcus reviewed). Consequently, they tend to shy away from self-published novels, automatically assuming—fairly or unfairly—that they’re badly written. After all, if it’s really a good book (so the thinking goes), it would have been picked up by a real publishing company… right?

The self-published author’s saving grace, however, is that readers don’t really know if “Excelsior Press” is a legitimate-but-obscure indie publisher with an office and a dozen employees, or an amateur high school student with a laptop. I suspect most shoppers assume it’s a professional small press unless you give them a reason not to—and that’s where looking professional comes in.

If your paperback looks amateurish, you risk losing sales. Although readers may not be able to consciously identify what exactly makes the text look professional, they’ll know when it just looks wrong.

So here are four tips on how to make your paperback interior look as professional as possible. They may sound obvious, but I’ve seen various amateur self-publishers make each of these mistakes.

Include Front Matter

Front matter is the stuff in tiny print at the beginning of the book that people rarely read—but will notice its absence, since it’s a clue the book isn’t professionally formatted. At the very least, include the following information at the bottom of your title page:

  • A Copyright Notice in this format: “Copyright © YEAR by YOUR NAME”
  • A similar Copyright Notice for any cover art or interior art, if a different person from above
  • The ISBN number (or, if you don’t have one, the assigned ASIN (Amazon), Google ID, etc.)
  • The name and city of the publisher in this format: “Publisher Name, City, State, Country”

Use a Serif Font

Nothing screams “amateur” like a novel printed in non-standard fonts like Comic Sans, Handwriting, or Gothic fonts. Professionally published fiction almost always uses a serif font like Times New Roman, Georgia, Baskerville, or Garamond (Amazon’s preferred font). So unless you’re doing Kindle/ePub versions only, use a Serif font.

Single-Space Your Text

The body text in professionally published fiction is almost always single-spaced. Double-spaced or even 1.5-spaced text is a red flag to readers that the novel was self-published by an amateur.

Indent Paragraphs

Professionally published fiction indents the first line of each paragraph, and doesn’t have a blank line between paragraphs. Text on the intent, however, usually doesn’t indent paragraph, preferring to separate them by a blank line instead (like this blog post). When the text in a novel is formatted this way, though, it’s another sign the book was self-published, and thus might scare readers away.

Only Use One Space Between Sentences

While two spaces is becoming more common and acceptable, especially in internet content like blogs and social media, the publishing industry still uses only one space between sentences.

There’s a LOT more I could say about presenting your book text in a professional-looking way. For example, there are some guidelines that apply only to paperbacks and not ebooks (and vice versa!), but I’ve run out of space. If you found this useful, say so in the comments. If I forgot something you think it’s important, let me know in the comments as well!

One Response to “Making you Book Text Look Professional”

  1. Editor Ed January 14, 2021 at 12:29 pm #

    …aaand I forgot another important tip for looking professional. Instead of left-aligning your text, use a justified alignment. Also, turn on Hyphenation, so you don’t get big gaps between words.

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