book-designOur thanks to book publicist Claire McKinney of Claire McKinney Public Relations for this post!

Having been raised by an academic who learned everything from a book, when I decided to return to New York City to be a professional actor, I sought out a manual called How to Be a Working Actor.  Unfortunately I’ve found a lot of “how to” books contain pithy and not very useful advice.  But the one thing that stuck with me from this one—I think because I was shocked that it was actually in there—was about appearance.

The book said when you go to auditions you need to be clean, body and clothing, and that you should show up on time.  It was the cleanliness part that threw me: did people actually expect to get jobs if they had a trail of dirt and flies around them like Pigpen in the Peanuts cartoons?

The point is, if you are self-publishing nobody cares if you iron your shirt, but your book has to be clean, combed, and polished for its audience. Here are four things you need to do to produce a good looking book:

1. Get an editor.

There are many, many freelance editors out there and by looking at different online resources that cater to writers (such as you will be able to find your own.  I’ve been quoted an hourly rate of $50/hour, but there are some that are higher and some that are lower, depending on their experience levels.

make-your-book-look-goodYour book needs to be readable and as free of basic grammar mistakes as possible. It will be tossed aside by reviewers if they look at a couple of pages and it’s clear that the book has many errors.

2. Get a book designer.

You may not know about these folks, but they are important.  Your book, whether sold in e-book or print needs to be formatted appropriately so it looks professional.  A designer will paginate, insert chapter headings, justify margins, and make sure that your book isn’t screaming “self-published” to a reviewer, bookstore, or reader.

3. Register your book with the Library of Congress.

You can go to the website for directions on how to do this.  Consider investing in having someone who knows what they are doing to provide the “in catalog” data for libraries.  This looks like some kind of secret code to me, but it’s necessary for providing librarians with the information they need (metadata) in order to shelve the book. I’ve used the folks at to help with this.

4. Set yourself up as a publishing entity.

Don’t publish the book with your last name as the imprint.  Take the time to consider what you want to name your business, because publishing is one.

Try your hand at a simple logo or get a friend who likes to play with graphic design to draft one for you. ( offers logo design for as little as $5!) No matter how you do it, it will serve you better to have a publisher name associated with your book.

There are so many independent houses these days, it is getting harder to differentiate between the “self-published” and the “traditionally published.” Many independent presses are going the route of self-publishing when it comes to printing their books, and their distribution is no different from what you can do.  They may have staff, like editors, who can help you, but their actual process isn’t so different.

claire mckinney pr When is the Right Time to Hire a Book Publicist?Claire McKinney PR, LLC specializes in campaigns for books, authors, educational programs, websites, art, film, and other intellectual properties. They work carefully with clients to create messaging; branding concepts; and marketing and media strategies that integrate both traditional and new media opportunities.

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4 thoughts on “Indie Book Biz 101: Four Tips to Produce a Good Looking Book

  • September 15, 2015 at 12:06 am

    You can find great inexpensive editors, book formatting, proofreading, book cover designers, and much more at I created my entire book using this site and I have to say I am so impressed.

    Hope this helps.
    The Mask of Deception

    • September 15, 2015 at 1:59 am

      Thanks, Marisol! We’ve had folks use it for biz cards but not for editing — glad to hear they worked well for you!

  • September 14, 2015 at 4:23 pm


    Thanks for sharing these tips for producing a good book. Even for us who have heard them before, they bear repeating, especially #1, getting an editor. I continue to see new authors in various social media groups saying they can’t afford an editor and/or believe they can do it themselves. Yikes!

    I had my recent book edited twice each by two different editors and a copyeditor (that’s 6 readings). There is no substitute for having experienced eyes go through our manuscripts. I assure you each of mine found something the others didn’t find or suggested changes that substantially improved the finished product.

    Following your suggestions will help us achieve not just a good looking book, but an engaging read as well.

    • September 14, 2015 at 9:34 pm

      Absolutely, Flora – there’s no substitute for a professional editing job – I read so many self-pubished books (that haven’t sold) that could if only they’d revisit the craft a bit… Good for you doing it right — you can only benefit!

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