A Look Inside that Sells

Copyright Design Pic

A fantastic cover grabs the attention of the target audience. A killer blurb arouses the curiosity of the target audience. But it’s the Look Inside that decides whether or not the shopper will buy now or pass on it.

There are two components to a stellar look inside:

  • Formatting, design marks, and imagery that suit the content and impress the reader, without distracting from the reading. Thus, many traditional publishers include designs in the front matter and first page of the chapter, but often have very plain pages where they want readers to focus on reading.
  • A sample, prologue, prelude, and first chapter that grab the interest of the target audience and compel them to keep reading. A slow beginning is for your existing fan base; only they will exercise patience, trusting that the best is yet to come. If you hope to attract browsers, you want to come out with your best stuff. (Of course, if there are spelling, grammatical, or other mistakes in the Look Inside, these often tend to have the opposite effect.)

Spend time studying the Look Insides of top selling books. You can get several great ideas this way. You don’t want to copy those ideas; just use them to see the possibilities and inspire your own design.

Following are a few examples.

Wool by Hugh Howey


  • I’m looking at the specific book from the link above and checking out the Look Inside of the paperback edition. I encourage you to also check it out and follow along.
  • It starts out with quotes about how awesome the book is. You can do this to by sending out advance review copies. If other authors or book reviewers have good things to say, get permission to use their quotes (there is also a section for editorial reviews at AuthorCentral).
  • One page has just the publisher logo.
  • Note that this author succeeded very well as an indie without Simon & Schuster.
  • The pages with the white-above-black torn image provide a wow factor. The cover wasn’t so hot; but if you Look Inside, now you might be impressed.
  • The copyright page begins with the logo and publisher info.
  • Part of the copyright page comes from stating that the book is a work of fiction and that any similarity to actual people, places, or events is coincidental; and this is separate from the copyright notice and trademark notice.
  • One line specifies the edition. The printer number won’t be relevant for eBooks or print-on-demand books, though. There is also manufacturing info.
  • Most professional books do not have the cover designer mentioned on the front cover. Instead, this information is placed on the copyright page and sometimes in fine print on the back cover.
  • A couple of notices are taking advantage of a marketing opportunity, though not for book sales.
  • Of course, there is the 13-digit ISBN.
  • Note that the copyright page is filled to the brim. Compare the copyright page of a book published by any big publisher to that of the vast majority of indie authors and there is a world of difference. It’s not that people will study your copyright page; it’s that they will see it in passing and it will make an impression – professional or amateurish.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


  • Subtle stars decorate the first two pages.
  • Check out the design on the title page.
  • The next two pages are also decorative. You have to check out the designs used in this book to appreciate their effect and to help generate your own ideas.
  • This copyright page is centered.
  • See the matching designs at the beginning of each chapter and with the page numbering.

All-American Girl by Meg Cabot


  • A sample from the content is placed on the first page to attract the attention of the target audience. If you have a lot of front matter and want to move some good stuff to the beginning, this is one way to do it.
  • Note the font of the first line of the sample.
  • If you have other books, you also can list them in the front matter.
  • The title page matches the cover but in black and white, yet not exactly the same as the cover.
  • The first word of each chapter has a special font.
  • This book begins with a numbered list to try to grab attention.
  • Look at the stars with the chapter header, which match the cover design.

Bombshell by Catherine Coulter


  • Note that the cover looks like a bomb blast, not a female “bombshell.”
  • I’m looking at the Kindle edition.
  • There is a second image much different from the cover, in black and white.
  • Notice the horizontal black bars for headers.
  • There are logos on the copyright page.
  • Many traditionally published books include Library of Congress info.
  • Observe the Pearson division line at end of the page on this eBook.
  • See the image at the beginning of each chapter.

You can find many other examples of ways to make a professional look inside. Little design touches can make a huge difference (but they need to fit the genre and content – e.g. you don’t want romantic swirls on a suspenseful detective story).

Border Thin JPEG

Here are a couple of other things that you can include on the copyright page, to make up for things like the printer number or Library of Congress info that an indie book may be lacking:

  • Author information, such as your website, blog, a special email that you will check (but not your main email account), social media info, etc. One advantage self-publishing has is more potential for personal interaction with the author.
  • Information and/or website for your editor, cover designer, etc.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

13 comments on “A Look Inside that Sells

  1. Your points about the copyright page are important because that IS one of the first pages a reader sees in a sample or “Look Inside.” Self-publishing authors can also include a bio page at the end of the book instead of filling the copyright page (which looks amateurish). A separate page also allows more space for website info, other books, and even an author photo.

    • You’re right that the author info would fit in better with the author page. Traditional publishers generally won’t list the author’s websites on the copyright page (but they will have very detailed copyright pages in the print editions).

  2. Thanks for this excellent info! I’m just creating my copyright page and front matter at the moment, and this reminded me of a few things I MUST do to make it look pro. I agree with you about wearing the indie badge with pride (and I do!) but I also agree that it’s vital we look as pro as the traditional publishers. It’s my aim to BE pro – to sell books, so I need to look it!🙂

    • Looks are important for a good first impression. Traditionally published paperbacks sitting on your shelf can give you some good ideas. Check out the Look Inside for Valerie Alexander’s paperback edition of Happiness as a Second Language; she did an excellent job with the formatting of her book. It has a few small design touches that make it look professional, without distracting the reader or being overdone. Good luck with your book.🙂

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