5 Ways to Make Your Indie Novel Stand Out

I’ve self-published several of my own novels, but as a reader I usually cringe at the thought of reading those written by others. As a writer, the self-publishing world is full of promise, excitement and adventure. As a reader… it’s nothing more than a dump of rejected and amateurish failures of wannabe writers who can’t pull it off.

Before you get discouraged, let me tell you a secret: I haven’t actually even started reading many self-published novels. My ideas about them don’t come from the writing itself or from the stories, which are frequently much fresher and more unique than mainstream published novels. My impressions come from a host of other things–some of which are technical errors and some of which, though not directly wrong, just give a book the feel that its writer didn’t take it seriously and went with the default on everything.

I get it. You’re a writer, not a designer. You don’t know layout. You know type and save. But here are some tips if you want to attract serious readers and get people to start treating you like a real author.

Sorry, but this doesn't look like a serious romance novel.  Image credit: Cecile Graat
Sorry, but this doesn’t look like a serious romance novel.
Image credit: Cecile Graat

1. The cover. Look at covers of similar books and see what they have in common. Go the extra mile. Invest cash if you need to (though there are also ways to create excellent covers for free). I’ve seen some indie covers that look like the writer simply opened up Microsoft Paint and drew a brightly colored, mismatched image that looks like an eyesore. If you’re not an artist, find an artist who can help. Please. The world will thank you.

If it's as tall as the Shard, you've gone too far. Image credit: Marcus Gunnarsson
If it’s as tall as the Shard, you’ve gone too far.
Image credit: Marcus Gunnarsson

2. The size of the book. These days many POD publishers make it easy to select your ideal size, I’ve seen too many indie books that are 9″x6″. I don’t know why. It’s a big size that, simply put, looks bad on books. Please get out a ruler and measure the available options and decide which would work best. Typically longer books word better in bigger sizes, but unless your novel is over 100,000 words you should keep it under 9″x6″. When I see a thin book that’s that size I want to set it down and walk in the other direction.

And please, no stencils.  Image credit: Awitikoski ©
And please, no stencils.
Image credit: Awitikoski ©

3. The size of the typeface. This is something I’m still working out, but it’s easy to make your print larger than it needs to be to look professional. Unless you’re aiming for a children’s book or a large print book, you should keep your fonts limited to about 11 pt. for main text. Also, for crying out loud, use a serif font!

Please at least have words! Image credit: Billy Alexander
Please at least have words!
Image credit: Billy Alexander

4. The lack of embellishments. Traditional publishers do like to show off. Books usually have odd swirls or lightly decorative fonts to add some flavor to the printing itself. Embellishments don’t need to be fancy. Actually, the best embellishments are the ones you don’t even notice unless you’re looking for them (Open up what you think of as a plain book, and look for any variation of font or any swirls marking the front matter. You’ll probably be surprised at how many there are!). Don’t go overboard, but do have fun with it.

It just keeps going and going... Image credit: Xsmoke
It just keeps going and going…
Image credit: Xsmoke

5. Summaries and back matter. Most people start with the author’s summaries before they decide to read the book or download a sample. Your summary shouldn’t have too many elaborations or explanations, but instead should be a simple but elegant introduction to the intrigue of your novel. Why would anyone want to read it? Why should your readers care? More information is available here.

Having dealt with many small press and indie novels over the years, there are things that I pick up on that scream “amateur!” at me. These are all easy enough to fix, and if you do, you’ll get more serious readers than you could hope for otherwise. It’s not all in the writing!

Please share your tips on creating a beautiful indie book in the comments section. I look forward to hearing them!

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