Professional Touches that Make Books Stand out

Design Marks

Small professional touches on the cover, title page, copyright page, and first pages can make a big difference. They may be little design marks, but they help to create a favorable impression.

Self-published books are competing against traditionally published books. Some books appear very much self-published at a glance, others are obviously traditionally published, and there are also many in between – those that use an imprint and look very nice, but not quite.

When we’re buying books, we prefer to find those that look professional. For this reason, all publishers – self or traditional – want their books to look professional.

One way to tell is to carefully examine the cover and Look Inside. Don’t just read the first chapter: If you’re looking for a professional book, look for visual clues before investing time on Chapter 1.

Following are a few examples. I’m not affiliated with any of these authors in any way. I’ve never met or interacted with any of these authors. I haven’t even read these books (well, not yet): I chose them for the professional touches that they illustrate, not because I wanted to recommend the content.

(1) Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki:

See the gold starburst on the paperback cover. Such a starburst doesn’t need to be an award; it can be any note worth highlighting, although in fiction it’s usually an award. (By the way, although this book was published with Penguin, this author has recently self-published a book with CreateSpace.)


Look at the pictures in the Look Inside of the Kindle edition. These are not just the front cover repeated inside, but are sending a unified message with the front cover by using the same butterfly.

Interestingly, the Look Inside for the paperback brings up the “Kindle edition” (or so it says), but when you click on the Kindle edition and then Look Inside, it’s different. The actual Kindle’s Look Inside includes a logo, for example. The logo is another professional touch.

Study the copyright page. Every traditionally published book has a very detailed, professional-looking copyright page. Virtually every self-published book has a minimal (if any) copyright page.

Why? Because self-publishers are thinking (A) customers don’t care about the copyright page and (B) they want to get to Chapter 1 as soon as possible, hoping to hook the reader who begins reading. Think about why traditional publishers don’t similarly minimize their copyright pages. Their copyright pages look very professional.

Customers don’t stop and stare at the traditionally published copyright pages. They pass right over them. It’s not going to be a delay on the potential customer’s route to Chapter 1. However, customers will catch a glimpse of the copyright page as they skip past it.

When customers see the minimal copyright page, it creates the impression that the book is self-published. Not much effort was put into this page (perhaps like the rest of the book?). When they catch a glimpse of the long, detailed, professional-looking copyright pages of traditional publishers, it makes the impression that a professional staff has combed through and prepared the book.

(2) The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott:

You’ll find another starburst here; this cover also has matching top and bottom borders. (Note that this book is geared toward businesses.)

Check out the customer images and you’ll find an Amazon Video – a video from the author. There are many ways to use AuthorCentral to help make the book’s Amazon detail page look professional, too.

In the Look Inside, of course the copyright page is again very professional (since it’s published by Wiley). The page numbering, horizontal lines after section headings, and matching gray boxes outlining some short paragraphs are design touches that help the book appear more professional. Note that traditionally published books often have such design marks – which come in a wide variety of styles – but that they don’t overuse them.

(3) The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko:

This cover has a corner stripe with text instead of a starburst (but when you Look Inside, there’s a similar cover with a starburst instead of a corner stripe).

It also features a logo on the copyright page.


(4) Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich:

Most fictional books that include a starburst do so to indicate an award of some type (whereas a nonfiction book that doesn’t have an award or bestseller rank to advertise might use a starburst just to say something like, “Includes answers”).

If you publish a fictional work and don’t have an award, note a couple of other design marks on this cover: part of a green circle on the bottom right and a quote between brackets at the bottom center. Harper chose to clearly advertise that this was a “newly revised edition” right on the cover.

Notice the logo/picture at the bottom of the title page, which also appears at the top of the copyright page.

Find the flowery artwork border at the top of the family tree pictures. Such artwork can also be used as section breaks (provided that it matches the theme of the book). If so, it should be short – just taking up about one line of text (and often isn’t nearly as wide as the artwork I’m referring to here). For eBooks, a glyph section break should be in gif (not jpeg) format, and should look good against white, sepia, or black backgrounds (it’s very important to check the preview in each format with each background).

(5) Wool by Hugh Howey:

When you Look Inside, first you find the logo, then you see a cool picture on the next two pages that looks like the “page” is torn. Although this is now published by Simon & Schuster, this author had been featured at CreateSpace.


Look closely at a variety of traditionally published paperbacks (and, where available, compare with their eBooks). You will sometimes see a couple of lines or other marks on the cover, copyright page, and other pages, or special marks used in a page header or footer, for example. This sample will help you see what’s possible and help to inspire a professional looking design of your own.

Check out traditionally published books in your own genre to see what kinds of design features are common. Some kinds of designs are more popular in some genres and much less common in others. You don’t want your book to seem out of place.

Don’t go overboard and overuse design marks. Don’t make the cover too busy with too many design details. Notice that traditional publishers tend to add occasional touches. An occasional design touch stands out very well – you notice it better this way.

Make sure that no design marks or pictures seem out of place. Any glyphs or images should match the theme of the book.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 coming in mid-April)

3 comments on “Professional Touches that Make Books Stand out

  1. I never even thought about things like stars on the cover until you pointed them out.

    And your take on the lowly copyright page making a book look professional was something I’d never thought of. In a way, it’s validation. The reader thinks ‘I don’t need this information now, but it’s there.’ And sometimes I do go back in a book and check which edition I’m looking at, for example, or when a book was first published – and I know exactly where to look.

    A very interesting post – including the links you chose to illustrate your points.

    I’ve bookmarked it – to be reconsidered when making my own choices. Thanks.

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