How to Decide Whether to Read a Self-Published Book

Good news: self-publishing means that there are many books to read.

Bad news: self-publishing means there are many books to read.

Life is short, money is finite, and brain cells are a terrible thing to waste, so what’s an avid, open-minded indie reader to do?

Life is not fair sometimes, and we often make snap judgments about whether we want to help, trust, or even date a person by first impressions: how they smile, shake hands, or dress. The same is true of books. Here are ways to decide whether to read a self-published book.

Cover. A book’s cover is its face. While it is inaccurate to say that every book with a crappy cover is not worth reading and every book with a nice cover is worth reading, the cover is the first data point. It should look like a professional designer created it with cool fonts (not Times, Arial, or Helvetica) and without a $2.00 stock photo that could just as well be in an ad for office supplies.

Blurbs. An excessive amount of blurbs is a sign of poor quality. This is ironic—the author thinks, “The more people who say the book is good, the better the book must be.” Sophisticated readers, however, think, “This author doth promote too much.” The ideal number of blurbs is three to six. Granted, if you get J.K Rowling, Isabel Allende, Barry Eisler, Lee Child, Tom Clancy, James Patterson, Gillian Flynn, Janet Evanovich, E. L. James, and Nora Roberts, I would be tempted to include them all too, but let’s cross that bridge if we come to it.

Name of publisher. A bad sign is when the author has named the publishing company after himself or herself. For example, A Click in the Night by Jane Schmoe of Schmoe Press. This screams, “I have no imagination! I couldn’t even name my publishing company after my street, a mythological figure, or my dog.” Think about it: If an author cannot come up with a more clever name for his company than his last name, how imaginative and intriguing could his novel be?

Front matter. According to The Chicago Manual of Style, the first few pages should contain the following information:

Book half title i Main title, no subtitle.
Series title, frontispiece, or blank ii Title, volume, name of general editor, and titles of previous works in the series. Blank if not part of a series.
Title page iii Full title, name of author, name and location of publisher.
Copyright page iv Bio of author, publisher’s address, copyright notice, “All Rights Reserved” clause, publication date and history, country of printing (unless POD printed in multiple countries), number and year of current printing, ISBN, ISSN (if applicable), Library of Congress (LCCN) data, permissions, and other credits.

Check to see if the book more or less follows this format. It’s not crucial that it’s exactly this information and order, but at least you can determine if the author cared enough to find out what the front matter of a book should contain.

Copyediting. The absolute worst place for an author to do-it-yourself is copyediting. This is a very specialized and highly technical skill that requires a real professional. Read the first few pages of the book and if you see more than three spelling mistakes or instances of poor grammar, take the book out of your online shopping cart and save yourself a few bucks.

Fonts. As in cover design, the use of Times, Arial, and Helvetica is a bad sign. It means that the author paid little attention to the aesthetics of the interior design. This is like walking into an open house and seeing orange shag carpeting. You could rip up the carpet and put in a new one (as you could change the font in Kindle’s settings), but what does it say about the owner of the house and author of the book?

Website. If you’re browsing online, take a quick look at the author’s website because a website is a window into her soul. Does it look like an infomercial or literary art? Is the emphasis on price, discounts, and closing a sale, or is it on educating, entertaining, and inspiring you? Gillian Flynn’s website is an example of a good website—admittedly, she is not self-published, but a beautiful website is more the result of good taste than money. I’ll put my website up against anybody’s, and it’s “just a WordPress template.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for discovering diamonds in the rough, but a good self-publisher will put her best foot forward and try to equal or surpass the look and feel of a traditional publisher. With a modicum of effort and expense, a self-publisher can achieve this, and you, the reader, deserve it, so keep your standards high while you peruse the infinite selection of indie books.


About Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki is the co-author of APE: Author, Publisher, EntrepreneurHow to Publish a Book (ISBN 978-0-9885231-1-1) with Shawn Welch. The book’s thesis is powerful yet simple: filling the roles of author, publisher and entrepreneur yields results that rival traditional publishing.  See what people think of his self-published book and how many blurbs he uses.


3 replies
  1. Kathie Nelson
    Kathie Nelson says:


    Thank you for putting this all in one place. I’ve self published, used an indie publisher, and investigated many quick print on demand options. I am a speaker, consultant, and author. Publishing, editing and formatting are NOT my area of specialty.

    I am bookmarking and sharing with my peeps.

    Kathie Nelson
    Business & Leadership Strategist, “Your Biggest Cheerleader”
    “Your capacity for growth lies in your areas of strength. Developing your weaknesses only leads to competence, never brilliance. The world needs your brilliance now, more than ever. Pursue releasing more of YOU.”

  2. Duncan Long
    Duncan Long says:

    Yes, readers do judge a book by its cover. A trite saying with great importance these days.

    Other excellent advice as well.

    I’ll start sending my clients to read this before we start on new projects :o)

    Keep up the good work.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *