Top Signs a Book is Self-Published

As you can see from our “World’s Worst Book Proposals” series, there are plenty of really bad books being shopped to publishers and, unfortunately, most Print on Demand (POD) publishers will print anything and everything just to get an author’s money.

NOTE: At, we reject most manuscripts because, after 13 years of publishing, our book buying customers expect the best…and because inundating the market with bad books harms not only readers and authors, but also our entire industry.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I completely support self-published authors. I have a contract with St. Martins for one book and I’ve self-published a dozen more. I was left so disappointed by my traditional publishing experience that I would not sign with a traditional publisher again unless they offered me a six-figure advance. Some professional authors are supporting themselves with their self-published books while others are simply throwing money at their POD publisher’s board of directors.

Unfortunately, some new authors make huge mistakes with their content and book design that make a book appear unprofessional and, thus, self-published. Of course, these types of errors can harm an author’s reputation and, thus, their book sales. Don’t count on your POD publisher to catch or fix these types of errors. Most are in the business of selling services to authors, not selling quality books.

Top Signs a Book is Self-Published

Cover items (text blocks, images) are not centered or are otherwise out of alignment.

Text inside the book is misaligned (text blocks are not properly centered).

Images inside are not formatted consistently (some centered, some not, some with frames, others not).

Text and/or graphics inside or on the cover are so close to the edge that they’re at risk of being cut…or have been cut.

Odd shadows, scratches or other imperfections appear behind cover graphics and/or words, indicating the graphics or words are from the scan of an old or otherwise imperfect item.

Blurry text on the cover, indicating a bad scan or poor resizing of the graphic.

Words on the spine of U.S. books are backwards (or run bottom to top).

A misspelled word or punctuation error appears in the title of the book (yes, it really does happen).

Numerous misspellings, grammatical and punctuation errors appear in the book.

Misspellings, grammatical and punctuation errors appear on the cover.

The book’s description on Amazon and other stores is riddled with errors. (This usually means the publisher didn’t even bother to read it.)

About the Author section is written in the first person.

No frame or other creative border around cover graphics.

No shadow behind the main title on the cover. (While this may be intentional on some covers for a specific artistic effect, books that appear flat in this way are usually a clear indicator the book was self-published.)

Author photo is not professional and high-quality (off-center, blurry, bad contrast – not bright and clear – and/or the author is doing something unprofessional, like wearing pajamas or a torn t-shirt). Nothing beats a professional headshot by a real photographer.

Inconsistent formatting appears inside (different numbers of blank lines between paragraphs, some paragraphs are indented while others are not, some paragraphs are fully justified while others are not, some graphics are centered while others are not, etc.).

Poor quality interior photos or photos that are so dark you can barely discern the image. (With very old photos, sometimes substandard quality can’t be avoided but those can usually be cleaned up a bit, and made brighter/clearer with a graphics program.)

Use of too many different types and/or sizes of fonts (this makes a book look messy and unprofessional). Formatting that causes readers’ eyes to jump around too much is distracting, and can give them a headache.

The POD publisher’s logo appears in/on the book, thus promoting the POD publisher’s services. (Some overbearing POD publishers force their authors to do this.)

And, finally, when somebody clicks on the author’s website appearing in their book, the link eventually leads them to the POD publisher’s website, which is clearly promoting the publisher’s own fee-based services over their author’s books.

If you have other items to add to this list, please email

Angela Hoy is the co-owner of and is the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday. According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, is: “As close to perfection as you’re going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing. The ebook royalties are the highest I’ve ever seen, and the print royalties are better than average. BookLocker understands what new authors experience, and have put together a package that is the best in the business. You can’t go wrong here. Plus, they’re selective and won’t publish any manuscript just because it’s accompanied by a check. Also, the web site is well trafficked. If you can find a POD or epublisher with as much integrity and dedication to selling authors’ books, but with lower POD publishing fees, please let me know.”


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