30 Telltale Signs of a Self-Published Book

Many people believe that they can spot a self-published book by merely observing its cover. However, there are far more things on the inside of a book that may earmark it as self-published. Some of these oversights have to do with editing issues while others have to do with interior design issues. With respect to a book’s interior, how can you almost always tell that a book is self-published?

1. Inconsistency with regard to dashes

Many self-published authors commingle hyphens and dashes. Never use a hyphen when what is called for is a dash. Hyphens look like this (-) while dashes look like this (–) or, more commonly, like this (—). The shorter dash is called an en dash (the width of the capital letter N in any given font) and the longer dash is called an em dash (the width of the capital letter M in any given font). Also, with respect to book publishing, never use double hyphens (–) when what is called for is a dash.

2. Use of too many boldface words and/or too many italicized words

The overuse of these stylistic devices not only makes the text look busy but will also serve to patronize the reader.

3. Spelling and punctuation inconsistencies

An edit style sheet can ensure consistency with respect to spelling and punctuation (e.g., Web site vs. website, toward vs. towards, thank you vs. thank-you)

4. Failing to include standard information on the book’s title page

There are five pieces of information that appear on a book’s title page: the book’s title, its subtitle (if applicable), publisher’s name, author’s name, and company logo—and in that order. It is not acceptable, for example, to include only the book’s title on the title page.

Contrast this with a half-title page, which when used, comes before the title page and it should only contain the title of the book.

5. Overuse of exclamation points (!) and/or overuse of ellipsis (…)

With respect to exclamation marks, while it is common practice nowadays to liberally use exclamation marks when texting, tweeting, or emailing, it is not considered acceptable to “sprinkle” them throughout your text in formal publishing. With respect to ellipses, many self-published authors appear to use ellipses to give their writing a sense of informality. In formal writing, it is not acceptable to use ellipses to string written thoughts together; a better practice is to say what you have to say and err on the side of using standard punctuation.

6. Not controlling for orphans or widows

Orphans and widows usually refer to words and phrases that are left dangling at the bottom and tops of pages. Without getting distracted by the definitions of orphans and widows, here is a brief summary of things to avoid: 1) Do not let a paragraph end with a single word left on a separate line. That is, don’t let a single word sit at the bottom of a paragraph on a single line by itself; 2) Do not let a paragraph begin or end with a single sentence that appears on a separate page. That is, for paragraphs that continue from one page to the next page, there should be at least two sentences at the bottom of the first page and/or at least two sentences at the top of the following page.

7. Problems with hyphenation

Words that form compound adjectives are hyphenated. However, when these same words are not used as compound adjectives, they are not hyphenated. So we would write “step-by-step approach,” but would write “approach the problem step by step” (not “approach the problem step-by-step”).

8. Not writing out numbers from one to nine

Numbers from one to nine are written out and are not written as numerals (notwithstanding some subtle exceptions). Do not write “There are 2 or 3 reasons…” but rather write “There are two or three reasons…”

9. Inconsistent use of periods for information contained in lists

When bullet points are used for information contained in lists, if the information set off by a bullet point is a complete sentence, it will be followed by a period. If the information set off by a bullet point is not a complete sentence, it will not be followed by a period.

10. Use of too many different font styles and/or too many different font sizes

11. Mixing of single and double quotation marks

Use single quotation marks in some places and double quotation marks in other places. With few exceptions, double quotation marks are required in American English (or books published according to The Chicago Manual of Style).

12. Inconsistent capitalization of words in a title and putting periods at the end of titles or at the end of headers within the body of the text

13. Putting page numbers (and/or page headings or footers) on “blank” even-numbered pages

14. Use of overly large paragraph indents

15. Use of Times New Roman (serif) and/or Ariel (sans serif) as the main font in your book

These two fonts are default fonts in Microsoft Word®. It is not the case that these are “bad” fonts, technically speaking, but rather they are so overused that they are not considered acceptable for use in book publishing.

16. Inconsistent punctuation with regard to the abbreviations e.g., i.e., e.g. and i.e.

In American English, a comma follows the second period in these abbreviations. In British English, a comma is not used.

17. Use of hyphens when an en dash is called for. In other words, write “pages 15–17,” not “pages 15-17.”

Note that an en dash, when as used in this manner, takes the place of the word “to.” In other words, the en dash translates as “to” and we can read this as “pages 15 to 17.”

18. Indexes—avoid “strings of unanalyzed allocators”

If an entry appearing in an index contains, say, fifteen or more page references, the entry in all likelihood needs to be broken up into sub topics.

19. Using asterisks for section breaks

With the exception of ebooks, the use of asterisks (that is, ***) is best avoided in print publishing as it suggests a lazy publisher. It is best to choose among a myriad of alternative stylistic symbols that can take the place of asterisks.

20. Combining bolds, caps, and underlining

There is an unwritten rule in publishing that we should never bold text, place it in capitals, and underline it. In other words, any two of these three treatments is acceptable but not all three.

21. Placing the copyright page on an odd-numbered or right-hand page

The copyright page is placed right behind the title page. It is always a “left-hand” page and never a “right-hand” page.

22. Starting chapters on even-numbered pages (also known as left-hand pages)

With respect to nonfiction books, we typically begin chapters on odd-numbered pages (right-hand pages). With respect to fiction books, particularly commercial fiction released as mass market paperbacks, new chapters may start on either even-numbered pages or odd-numbered pages.

23. Tables: cramming text in tables and not leaving enough space around words in a table

24. Using only rounded black bullets—not varying the type of bullets in bulleted lists

25. Using straight quotations marks when curly quotation marks are called for

There are two different styles of quotation marks: straight quotes and curly quotes. Straight quotes are also known as computer quotes or typewriter quotes. Curly quotes are commonly referred to as smart quotes or typographer’s quotes. For the purpose of publishing (printed) documents, we want to make sure we always use curly quotes and avoid straight quotes. Correct: “I’m happy.” (curly quotes) Incorrect: “I’m happy.” (straight quotes)

26. Failing to use a larger inside gutter as opposed to an outside gutter

The inside gutter of a book (that is, the border that faces the spine) should be larger than the outside gutter (page margin).

27. Leaving two spaces after periods rather than one space

28. Indenting the opening paragraph that begins a chapter or a new section

29. Putting the word “by” before the author’s name

On the book’s title page, the name of the author or authors is not preceded by the word “by.”

30. Using the wrong apostrophe to represent missing letters: rock ’n’ roll vs. rock ‘n’ roll

Note that when apostrophes are used to represent omitted letters, they are always “nines” not “sixes.” This means they curl backwards not forwards.

— Brandon Royal, www.brandonroyal.com

Self-Publishing Bloopers by Brandon Royal ©2016


When do you decide to share the OUTBACK writing with others?

When do you decide to share the OUTBACK writing with others?


I waited until the OUTBACK book was half completed—about eight chapters. These chapters are rough and very general in creative language. My goal was to give a bland idea of the plot, character action, and historical content. If this was enough to inspire others to ask questions or want more, then the creative embellishments would be much easier.

For the first novel, I had my wife read it. She is very thorough and not a reader. Needless to say, she only read it once, and wasn’t excited. My next version was much more polished and the reader had decent feedback.

By the Beta Reader stage, all sixteen chapters had been edited using Fire Up Your Fiction: An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Stories, written by a colleague, Jodi Renner. Her book was a great resource for a newbie or established writer. I went chapter by chapter and was critical of what I’d written. Trimming excess really makes a difference when creating a fast reading fiction book.

Read the full OUTBACK: Bothers & Sinisters, Conversation with the Author

Meet Candace Ruffin: “Eli’s Balloon”

Candace Ruffin is a native of East Cleveland, Ohio where, as a young girl, she first discovered her love of writing. After teaching in public schools for several years, she eventually decided to leave the classroom and pursue her passion for writing. Drawing on her personal and professional experiences with children, she was inspired to write stories for children of all ages to enjoy.

Candace Ruffin currently lives in Central Florida with her husband, two sons, and their pet rabbit, Smokey. Eli’s Balloon is her first picture book.

Are Editors an Illustrator’s Friend?

Professional editors are much like professional illustrators. Each wants a book to reflect his/her personal style and attention to detail. Working as a team from start to finish, creates a cohesive project. Illustrators must acknowledge editors input as the reader’s perspective.
A professional editor has his/her own pricing structure and should commit from first edit to press proofing. Editors assist with: page count, layout recommendations, proofing, and of course text edits. Professional editing services are well worth the investment!
As an illustrator, demand the final edit before beginning illustrations. Have authors write a brief description of how they envision each page. Illustrators write a description of how you envision each page. From these written ideas a storyboard is created through words, rather than hours of drawing time. Thus minimizing sketch time and optimizing illustration time.
One of my favorite professional editors to date is Jennifer Thomas, Beyond Words Editing. We have worked on numerous award-winning books together. Other professional editors I’ve worked with are: Beth Mansbridge, Candace M. Ruffin—The Writing Cane, Jill Ronsley—Sun Edit Write, and more.

Publishing Cheat Sheet

Managing the publishing process for the first time can be intimidating. A cheat sheet would be great! Below is a quick checklist of items you’ll need along the way. It’s the same list I use to stay on point.

Business Plan

A business plan creates a realistic budget and project direction. A business plan requires little money to create, but also time. Research multiple printers, illustrators, editors, and distributors to determine a competitive team for your business model.

Professional Editing

A professional editor is essential! Each has his/her own pricing structure and should commit from first edit to press proofing. Editors assist with: page count, layout recommendations, proofing, plagiarism issues, and of course editing. Professional editing services are well worth the investment!


One of the most common questions is how to obtain a copyright. Contact the copyright offices or fill out the form online. The average cost is around $45, well worth the investment. Barcode, ISBN setup, ISBN Metadata, and Library of Congress submissions are separate from the copyright process. ISBN standards require multiple ISBN numbers for printed and digital versions.

Copyrighting can be done in the final stage of publishing to include additions in text and illustrations. The publisher or author can submit based on their agreement. The publisher is also responsible for the ISBN and Barcode costs.


Printers need several items to quote a project: page count, binding style, paper stock, dimensions, deadlines, packaging requirements, and shipping destination. Printing options range from Print On Demand, “Green”, United States, overseas, award-winning, and eBooks. Production times vary from on-demand to three months, depending on the printer selected.

E-book conversion into e-readers, such as the Amazon Kindle or the Apple iPad is separate from printing expenses. These are sold online through places like iTunes or the iBookstore. A good business plan should include this income stream when projecting sales or negotiating illustration contracts.



Illustrators require the printer and graphic designer guidelines as well as the final edited story. Artists are liberal with time, however a professional illustrator creates according to timelines and budgets. Require communication throughout the illustration approval process using digital proofing. Digital proofing allows remote viewing for the author, editor, printer, graphic designer, and artist.

Three basic illustration contracts are: Purchase Contract, Copyright Contract, or Royalty Contract. A Royalty Contract usually offers unlimited use of the art. Each contract is based on the number of illustrations, artistic style, scanning, manipulation, and digital clean up.

Graphic Design

A Graphic Designer requires clean artwork along, the printer guidelines, additional book content, and the editor’s final edit. Graphic Designers provide scanning services, logos, professional layouts, and press ready production files. These services can be preformed by some professional illustrators. A fee and talent are required for this service as well. Samples should be provided.

As new resources are added and updated, this cheat sheet will be updated. Bookmark this page for future reference, I have.