First, big news! I am thrilled to announce that I have been invited back by popular demand to speak at the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) conference in Chicago, IL the first week of April. What an honor! At this event, I will have the opportunity to be part of a movement; one that educates and supports authors of ways to put their books on the same playing field as those from big-name publishers. I will get to spread the word about new industry standards that take self and hybrid-published books to the next professional level.  Check out the lineup of speakers at this event!

The list of industry standards is long, so I decided to write about five things that can propel you in the right direction toward having a beautifully designed book, on par with the industry-standard.. So, let’s dive in.

They say, Don’t judge a book by its cover, but quite honestly, when it comes to books, this rule simply does not apply. The title of a book with a bad cover might as well be, “I didn’t care enough about this book to dedicate much time to its cover, so the content inside is probably just as bad.” And that book won’t be flying off the shelf any time soon.

The truth is, now that self, indie, and hybrid publishing are all still settling into the mainstream, competition is fierce…and the cover must reflect your effort. It must speak to the author without words, using only a striking, dynamic design. By using these professional standards, it is possible for independently published books to compete on a level playing field with traditionally published books.

And the cover is just the beginning. There are industry standards now that, if followed, will set your book apart from the unfortunate norms that originally gave self-and indie-publishing a bad reputation. It will allow your book to rest comfortably on shelves filled with titles by big-name publishers. Because here’s the thing: books must (obviously) boast strong, compelling, well-written stories…BUT they must have visual appeal to stay in the game.

And visual appeal goes far beyond the cover. Think…lines and spacing, color and font, design elements, consistent running heads, special characters, trim size, meeting Library of Congress guidelines, and on and on….

The complete list is far too long to include here, but for the purpose of this post, I want to accomplish two things.

One, give you the top 5 issues that can easily be improved to make your book look more professional. And two, provide reasons why you should absolutely follow this list ( so your book has the professional advantage it deserves.

The Top 5 Issues

  1. The Cover. First off, I’ve already stressed just how important the appearance of the front of your book is, but let’s dig a little deeper. It’s important to study other books in your genre and take note of the common elements such as font style, images, colors, and general tone of the cover. Make sure yours is comparable so that it doesn’t stand out too much (in the wrong way). My rule of thumb? Your cover should be a color that is found in nature. Neon colors and many web-only colors tend not to translate well to print versions, so it’s best to just avoid them. Second, make sure the title is readable at a print book-size of 6” x 9”, as well as at a thumbnail size that shows up on an Amazon search page.
  2. The Back Cover & Spine. Common elements on the back cover of your book include: a short description of the book (hint: use your elevator pitch), the author’s headshot, and a two-to-three sentence bio. It’s also a great place to put endorsements or blurbs that are relevant, real, and properly credited. As for your book’s spine, essential elements include a title, subtitle (optional), author name, and publisher name/logo. Keep in mind that a book with no printing on the spine is a dead giveaway that it’s self-published.
  3. Title Page. The first few pages of a book should make an immediate impression…but how? First, it should always include the title and sub-title (if there is one), the author and other major contributors like an illustrator (again, if there is one), and the name of the publisher with their location and logo. And an important note; the font should match the title font on the cover of the book. The title page is always on the right side (or “recto”) and the copyright page is always on the reverse side of the title page (or “verso”).
  4. Copyright Page. I am going to refer you, once again, to the full Industry Standards Checklist here ( so you have all the information you need to make your copyright page shine with professionalism (because this page is often incomplete in self-published books). Here is a quick list of things the copyright page should contain: date and the holder of the copyright; a copyright notice defining what can and cannot be copied; edition information; library of congress CIP data; printing history; country of printing; name of publishing company and contact information for that company; name of author and any other major contributor such as an illustrator; title of the book; 13-digit ISBN number; credits for design, illustration, editing, and cover artwork, as applicable; any applicable waivers or disclaimers.
  5. Interior Layout. An attractive interior layout for your book is key. Whether using a graphic designer (who will most likely be using Adobe InDesign) or doing it yourself, here are a few tips to make your pages look great. First, choose a font that is not Times or Times New Roman (these were designed for newspapers, not as an elegant book font). Some good font choices are: Bembo, Minion, Bookman, Jenson, Caslon, and Garamond. These are especially good for novels. For non-fiction books (because of the possibility of charts, pull-quotes, sections that need to stand out from the rest of the text, etc.) better font options include: Myriad, Helvetica, Futura, Arial, Franklin Gothic, or Gill Sans. Font size and layout design are crucial for your book. Please refer to the full list for more detail.

The Top 5 Issues I’ve addressed here are just the tip of the iceberg for Industry Standards. I understand that this can seem intimidating, but I can’t stress enough the importance of following the full list of guidelines to make your book really stand out. You’ve worked incredibly hard to write your book, now you want it to get as much attention as possible from readers, reviewers, contests, and bookstores.

If you do chose to self-publish and follow the guidelines on your own, it’s definitely worth the work. And if you hire Top Reads, another publisher, or author services provider to do the work, it will be worth it in the long run.