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The 5 mistakes that make your book look self-published

Updated: Jul 8, 2022

The biggest shake-up the publishing industry has experienced in the last 20 years isn’t ebooks or audio—it’s the rise in self-publishing.

And it’s great, isn't it? For years the only options available were to try to get a traditional publishing deal or pay thousands of pounds to a vanity publisher. Now, anyone can successfully self-publish with next to no investment and few technical skills.

Or can they?

To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, we’ve been so preoccupied with whether we could self-publish that we didn’t stop to think if we should. The freedom self-publishing has given us comes at a cost: the market is now flooded with poorly produced books that aren’t doing their subjects or their authors any favours, simply because they don’t look professional.

So how do you make sure your self-published book doesn't look... self-published? Here are five mistakes that can give you away as a self-published author, and how to make sure they don’t trip you up.


I cannot stress how much this matters. In house, cover designs go back and forth between designers, editors and sales & marketing teams for a reason: covers sell books. However fascinating your book is inside, if your cover is bad then your reader won’t even pick it up. It's your very first marketing tool.

And it’s easy to get it wrong:

You'll agree this is a pretty extreme example. But it does show how wrong things can go when you try to design a cover yourself. At the very least, this author should have used a template from a design website, but ideally they would have paid for a professional cover designer. Try the publishing platform Reedsy (, where you can search for professional designers with in-house experience. Just make sure you view samples of previous designs so you know they have a style you like. A professional cover designer should cost a few hundred pounds, but the value they will give your book is immeasurable.


Your title is your first message to your reader. Most non-fiction books have a main title and a subtitle, and they do different things. A main title should be catchy and memorable—it should draw your reader in and make them want to know more. Try to use positive words, preferably ones that speak to your reader’s main fear or desire.

If the purpose of your main title is to catch your reader's attention, your subtitle should show what the book is about. Use it to explain what your reader is going to get from your book and how it's going to help them. If your book has a clear structure, e.g. a 10-step plan or system, it's a good idea to include that in your subtitle, as it will show your reader there's a process they can follow.

Above all, use common sense. Here’s someone who didn’t:

The main problem here is that the title is ambiguous—is this a book for beginners or a book about websites for beginners? It's simply not clear.

Here’s someone else who didn’t think much about their title:

The problem here is grammar. As a reader, I find the -ing verb in the main title ('being') at odds with the infinitive verb in the subtitle ('be'). It feels clumsy and unprofessional, and that’s because it’s inconsistent.

And then there’s just the plain crazy:

This is an example of the author failing to think about what their reader is going to get out of their book and simply using their subtitle to make a statement. At best this is unhelpful; at worst it makes you sound odd.

Instead, make your title clear, catchy and informative. Here’s a great example: