Make Sure Your Book Doesn’t Look “Self-Pubbed”

While the new professional indie author is on the rise and the stigma around self-publishing is fading, many of our clients are quick to express concern for making sure their book doesn’t look “self-pubbed.”

Details big and small add up to produce a book that reads as professionally published, not to mention prompting that click on the buy button. At GFP, we know that certain design issues are more quickly recognized as visual standards that self-publishers should think through before they take the plunge. Here are four critical moves to make your book look legit.

1. Invest in professional cover design. Friends don’t ask friends to design their book covers! Good intent (and cost savings) aside, amateur cover design breaks all kinds of rules of good design and genre standards, and those mistakes are easy for the average reader to spot. Sophisticated font treatments and the quality of image manipulation are just two critical issues, as the juxtaposition of the covers below illustrate (pun intended). If the cover is an advertisement for what’s inside, make sure yours is well composed and compelling to your potential readership.

Keep in mind that simply paying someone to design a cover for you does not mean you’re getting high-quality professional design. A graphic designer is not necessarily a good book cover designer (and oftentimes, professional book interior designers are not great cover designers!). Seek out the people who do book covers for a living, and ask for portfolio samples.

2. Don’t forget a publisher’s logo. For traditionally published books, the publisher’s logo is always printed on the full title page, on the spine or back cover of the book, and sometimes on the copyright page. Most readers will recognize the most iconic colophons of the Big Five traditional publishing houses. But publishers also have numerous imprints, or specialty subhouses that concentrate on a certain topic or market. Because there are so many imprints out there, these logos aren’t household brands that are recognizable to most readers. So, creating your own logo won’t tip off readers that your book is independently published. What is a self-publishing flag? Using the CreateSpace logo, your name instead of a logo, or no logo at all.

3. Yes, you need ISBNs. ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers) are standard identifiers used to track books. You can self-publish without an ISBN—and a great many self-published books don’t use them. But if you intend to sell your book at online retailers like or, or any brick-and-mortar bookstores, your book needs an ISBN. The ISBN is a unique identifier that’s used internationally to track sales, and booksellers and libraries use it to search for your book. Plus, all traditionally published books have them—and a copyright page without an ISBN looks strangely naked.

4. Choose the right print specifications. Print-on-demand platforms give you limited options for your book’s physical specifications, but there are right and wrong choices even within those specs. For example, most trade-sized books are printed on cream paper, not white. A novel printed on pure white paper looks very unusual. Using full-gloss lamination on the cover (read: shiny), while appropriate for a select few designs, generally looks self-pubbed as well. Matte lamination feels much more high quality and is in line with the treatment of most traditionally published books. Lastly, choosing a trim size (or footprint dimension) that is out of line with the rest of the books in your genre will make yours stand out—in a bad way. Make sure to visit your local bookstore or your own bookshelf and note the physical specs used by other publishers in your category.