Things Indie Authors Do Wrong

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So before I start this post, I just want to make it very clear that this is a rant. I’m not talking specifically about any indie authors or books, and what I say does not apply to all of them. I am just going to talk about a lot of “mistakes”, or rather “turn-offs”, that I have noticed in independently published books.


1. Cover Design

So, obviously every book has a cover. I mean, how could it not? It is a book… right?

What I have noticed with indie books, is a lot of authors get pre-made templates to use or watch a few YouTube videos about graphic designing and decide to go ahead and make their own.

Can this work? Yes.

Does this work? Most of the time, sadly not. See, it’s not that the covers are horrible or ugly (I mean, in some cases they are, but that’s not the point), it’s more that the covers are boring or unoriginal. They don’t stand out in the crowd. Nothing about them screams “Pick me up and read me right now!”

I’m going to be totally honest here and tell you that when I buy books (like actually spend my own money to purchase a book), it is either because I 100% am in love with the author and I don’t even look at the cover, or because the cover is so beautiful I can’t leave the store without it.

What can I do to fix this problem?

Why, thank you for asking that totally relevant question.

I think the best thing to do is to stay away from designing your own cover. This is for the same reason we authors have beta-readers and editors: we can’t always see the flaws in our own work.

The challenge with this is having to pay someone to create a cover. It is a bit of a catch 22; you need money for a good cover and you need a good cover to make money. There’s no perfect solution to this, but after investing all that time in writing and editing and such, why not invest a little money into a stunning cover?

If you do decide to hire someone, make sure they are a good graphic designer and have done notable books in your genre before. Otherwise you may as well save your money and take your chances designing the cover on your own. Also don’t be afraid to tell the designer you don’t like the first cover they come up with… its important to be able to convey the feeling and emotions of the book through the cover. That is what makes them so great.


2. Bad Editing

Getting a really good editor can be hard and expensive. I get that. However, that is no excuse for some of the things I have seen in indie books. I mean, I have come across some pretty awful spelling and grammar mistakes (and I mean super noticeable ones… not just little “barely-there” mistakes).

I mean lets be real here: there is no excuse for an author to shift between third and second tense in the middle of a paragraph. That’s just not okay. NOT OKAY PEOPLE. Just had to get that out there. Stick to your tense.

Then of course there are those books where I’m not even sure if the author was sober when they released. There are forgotten characters and plot lines and it just makes me wonder if the book was just written and put out into the world without so much as a proof read.

What can I do to prevent such a horrendous mistake?

Thank you for yet another totally relevant question.

Bad editing is pretty easy to avoid…. as long as you are willing to put in the time and effort. I mean, you could always hire a professional editor (if you don’t mind the cost), which of course is never a bad idea. But if you don’t want to, you could do several other things.

You could:

  • Find a bunch of beta readers who are willing to give you pointers and suggestions (and who preferable have some kind of writing experience or who are avid readers and know their stuff).
  • Join a critiquing group (just remember that means you will most likely be critiquing other peoples work as they critique yours)
  • Let your finished manuscript sit in the back of a closet for a few months then re-read it with a set of fresh eyes
  • Stalk an editor on twitter until they finally agree to edit your book for free
  • Sell your soul to the devil in exchange for a perfectly edited book

Wow. That escalated quickly.


3. Awful Book Formatting

So you know when you open up a book and it just doesn’t look right? That is probably because it wasn’t formatted well. The whole book just feels amateur-ish. It throws the book off, if you know what I mean.

If there is one thing I appreciate most about traditionally published books it is the book formatting. I have to give it to the publishing houses… they have got the page design down to an exact science; it just gives books that extra special “pop”.

I feel like a lot of indie authors overlook how important page design is. A books interior design can make or break the entire reading experience.

Now, I’m not saying that every single indie author should have a design at the beginning of ever chapter or a special symbol between scene breaks, I’m just saying that more often than not the interior of the book just isn’t put together the right way.

Tell me how to make the inside of my book beautiful. I beg of thee!

How demanding of you! But okay, okay, I’ll do my best.

So, I’m obviously not a graphic/any kind of designer, but there are a lot of them out there. If you do decide to hire someone to make a cover, ask them about interior book design. More likely than not they will have experience with that as well and be able to make the pages of your book look beautiful and amazing (and the pages of your book will match the cover).


So there you have it. Rant over (I think). Feel free to share your opinions, and any other “turn-offs” you have noticed in indie books (or published books if you want). Have you ever noticed my book turn-offs?

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7 Mistakes Indie Authors Make Designing Their Book Cover

This is a guest post by Kari Anders, the designer behind Free eBook Covers. Learn about the seven most common mistakes indie authors make when designing their book covers.


As self-publishing becomes more and more prevalent, I’ve noticed a trend in authors working to stand out from the crowd by professionally self-publishing. Authors of all experience levels are hiring teams of freelancers to edit and design their manuscript to prepare it for sale. This creates a unique marketplace where self-published and published works are often undistinguishable, and gives readers a wider (and less expensive) range of books to read.

However, not all self-published authors can afford to hire a team of freelancers to help sell their work. It becomes a chicken and egg problem. If the author cannot hire professionals, it’s likely their work will not sell as well, and therefore they will not earn enough to justify those costs. So many authors are choosing the do-it-yourself option of publishing. If you are self-publishing and planning on designing your own book cover, take a look at the seven most common mistakes I see from Indie authors:

Mistake #1: Using Text Overlays

I would classify this mistake as lazy design. When selecting an image, you should keep in mind possible arrangements for text placement. Not all great images will work as book covers. However, a classic mistake I see being made is where there is plenty of room on the image for text, yet the author creates an overlay instead. This causes the eye to gravitate towards the text and not look at the cover as a whole. A book cover is intended to sell your product, and you will only have a few seconds to draw a reader in before they flip to another book. You want the readers attention on the image first, not on the text (unless you are Stephen King and your name sells books).

These two book covers are great examples of the above mistake. There is so much room above the man in the first image to display the title, and here the overlay completely hides the image. The second one could have text split between the top and bottom of the image, and with the right color choices, would have stood out well on the darker image.

Mistake #2: Too Large of Font

It’s tempting to fall into this mistake when designing your own book cover, especially if you are picturing your title as a thumbnail image. The bigger the text, the more its readable, right? Unfortunately, this is not the case. Text that is too large or disjointed from the cover can require the eye to read it one letter at a time, requiring more processing time to take in the image. Cover art is meant to encapsulate the entire mood of the book; the specific text is less relevant. Avoid the desire to fill up blank space and your final product will look more complete.

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I actually really like this cover, and separate from the oversized font, it has a lot going for it. However, if the font was smaller and closer together it would read more powerfully. Here is just feels like four different words and not a book title.

Mistake #3: Unreadable Text or Images

Some authors try to get fancy with text placement or typography choices, and this ends up look amateurish and difficult to read. If the eye needs to sit on an image or text too long to decipher what it says, it will move on. You want to make sure you are answering the following questions on your book cover: What is this book about? What genre does it fall into? Am I the target audience? What’s it called? If your cover can’t do that is 5 seconds, you need to go back to the drawing board.

The title of the first cover is difficult to read, the typography choice, color and placement all lead to a poor design. On the second design, I have to really think about what the image is supposed to be and I am still not sure. Is that a snake in front of a pyramid?

Mistake #4: Subtitle Placement

Oh the awkward subtitle. First of all, I rarely see subtitles at all on professionally published books. So, if you are considering adding a subtitle, rethink that idea all together. If you must have it on your cover, it should be placed less conspicuously than the main title. The subtitle should be something you have to seek out to read. The main things our brain should take in first are the image(s), and the title. The rest will come secondary if we like the cover enough to stay.

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Oh and that colon is the worst.

Mistake #5: Ignoring Genre

Self-published authors are so worried they are one of many fish in the sea they have an innate desire to try to stand out. Unfortunately, this isn’t what readers want. If I am a reader looking for a erotic romance novel with vampires, then I am going to scroll through listings and descriptions until I find what I’m looking for. Being unqiue doesn’t make a book stand out, instead, it confuses readers. And confused readers don’t by. You can intrigue your audience while still being obvious about what your book is about and what genre it fits into. Before you look at designing your own cover, look at comparable books in the genre. Make sure your cover is fits in with similar well-known books so your book can find its audience.

The first cover gives me no indication of what the book is about. Reading the description, the book sounds very interesting. It’s about a woman who inherits tickets to a cruise when a family member passes away. But it’s not just any cruise. Reservations were set years in advanced to sail to the Southern Hemisphere to see Halley’s Comet. Sounds very interesting. For the second cover, I would say this cover fits into the bio/memoir genre. Maybe. It appears to be an actual photo taken that has some significance on the story. However, this is a paranormal novel and nothing about the cover says novel or paranormal. Yes, the shack COULD be scary, but really it just looks sad.

Mistake #6: Hand-Drawn Images

These images scream self-published. Unless you wrote an illustrated children’s book, you should not have anything hand-drawn on the cover. If you are set on selecting something that is illustrated, there are hundreds of thousands of inexpensive stock illustrated images on iStock or Shutterstock to chose from, and they have been inspected for quality control.

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This cover just looks incomplete.

Mistake #7: Word Art Typography

The best typography for book cover design is to stick with simplicity. The text should blend into the cover not stand out from it. Avoid adding anything to the text that isn’t completely necessary to make it readable (i.e. shadows, titled text, or fancy coloring).

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The shadow/outline makes the text look cheap, and the tilt has me confused on what it what.

The best advice I can give to someone insistent on designing their own book cover is this: Look through Amazon at 100 covers for books similar to yours. Find a quality stock image that encompasses the mood of your story, and keep the text simple and similar to your genre. When in doubt, hire a designer or buy a Pre-made eBook Cover. There is a large selection on thousands of book covers on the web starting at around $40, and it will be one of the best investments you can make in your work.


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Kari Anders is a book cover designer who works mostly with self-published authors and small publishing houses. She worked in freelance design for six years before attending graduate school, and now teaches design and runs freeebookcovers.com. All of Kari’s covers are designed as CreateSpace Wraps for only $75, with the eBook version included for free. Her site specializes in Pre-Made Book Covers, but she also does interior design and custom covers.