As the movement to self-publishing has grown, more authors are producing books that land on the bestseller lists, grab honors in book awards, and receive critical acclaim.
But to do that, publishing industry insiders urge authors to take the time and trouble to make sure their books are “professionally published.”
But what exactly does that mean? How does an author new to book publishing know whether the books they are creating really are professional grade?
To answer this question, I encourage you to take a trip through your own bookshelves, but with an analytical eye.
This makes sense for a few reasons.
- most writers are avid readers, with a large collection of books
- virtually all of these books were published by traditional publishers employing teams of book professionals
- therefore, the best resource for “professional” books is your own bookshelf, where you’ve got a big supply of “professionally published” books
7 Signs of a Professionally Published Book
Think of all the book professionals you may encounter when you try to market your book: book reviewers, bookstore buyers, chain store buyers, book awards judges, book bloggers, bookers for radio and television shows, librarians, book wholesalers or distributors, the list goes on and on.
These are all people who handle books all day, and know exactly what they are looking at. If your book is not professionally published, what impression will it give?
Answer: that it’s an amateur production, and that won’t speak well about the care you’ve taken with your book.
Despite the amazing creativity at work in book publishing, professionally published books do have some characteristics in common.
Keep in mind that although this might seem like a list of rules that must be obeyed, they are really more conventions that readers may unconsciously expect when they pick up your book.
- Proper editing—Without a doubt, this is the first and best sign that a book has been published well. I picked up a book by a client this week, and knew within 30 seconds that the book had never been properly edited. I noticed a typo, then I noticed that the subheads were not consistent, then I noticed that there were stray characters in a chapter opening that didn’t belong there, then I stopped looking. These may sound like small errors, but they indicate that the author didn’t want to take the time or spend the money to have the book properly edited, and believe me, every book professional who looks at this book will come to the same conclusion.
- A cover that works—If your book is your product then your cover is its packaging. In retail sales, packaging is critical. A book cover that doesn’t let a browser know what kind of book it is doesn’t help you. Or a cover that’s confusing, illegible, boring, or inappropriate is likely to have a major impact on your sales. A professionally published book has a cover that suits its content, “brands” the book, entices readers, and is aimed squarely at the intended target market. Your spine should contain a publisher logo of some kind, a barcode with the price encoded in it, and a “human readable” price and category on the back cover.
- Text that’s readable—The interior of your book ought to follow standard industry conventions and be designed and laid out with consistency, adequate margins, in a size appropriate for the use to which your book will be put. A readable book also has user-friendly navigation, the pages are numbered in a standard scheme, and customary elements like a copyright page, title page, contents page, are included. The use of a standard font and black ink are also highly recommended.
- Market positioning—Your book shows some thought into the other books on the same subject and where it will fit within that specific market. Does it offer more, newer, or different information? Is it a story that readers of book “X” will love? Is it produced and priced to compete with other titles in its market? These are all questions a professional publisher—no matter their size—will answer before designing and producing their books.
- Distribution that’s appropriate—How we get our books to the readers who will buy them—distribution—is key for your book to reach its potential. Self-publishers rarely have very good choices at achieving wide distribution for their books, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to match the buying habits of our intended readers with the kind of distribution that will put your book in front of them. You might focus on a specific retailer, or look for a variety of wholesalers and distributors to give you greater coverage. Self-publishers looking for national exposure will need to find a distributor to represent them, and create a book that will allow them a profit even when deeply discounted for this type of distribution.
- A marketing plan—Book publishing is a business, and for that reason the books professionals publish need to make a profit, or to have a pretty good chance at success. Although all publishing projects involve some risk, asking the questions that need to be answered to create a marketing plan for your book helps to focus attention on how your book will match the needs of its intended audience, and how you are going to present it to that audience. A marketing plan also assures a profit-oriented publisher that the project can be a success.
- Metadata—Your book will need a proper ISBN to be sold in a retail environment, and not one you borrowed from a friend or got for free from a POD vendor. You’ll also need a category, rich descriptions of various lengths, and accurate descriptions of the books physical properties for print books. Metadata is the data “wrapper” your book travels within, and reliable and up to date metadata assures that your partners in the book distribution and retailing world will get all the information they need about your title as well as an indication of the markets for which it’s intended.
Does your book have to meet all these goals to be “professionally published”? I’m not here to make rules, but I think taking your responsibilities as a publisher seriously would mean we’d have more authors having successful book launches.
And that sounds like a good thing to me.