Even an untrained eye can see the obvious differences between a self-published or vanity press book when next to a professionally trade-published book. When browsing through and buying books, people do judge books by their covers, and this is where self-published books suffer. Unless the book has been recommended by someone they trust, then an online buyer will typically only buy a book because they find the cover appealing, the description is talking to their own needs, and it has good reviews. If the book they are holding is intriguing enough to hold their attention for about twenty seconds, then this is all the time that the buyer will spend in deciding whether they will purchase the book or not. The book must be packaged as best as it can to catch the attention of buyers. That means everything on the cover matters, the book description, title, sub-title, testimonials and author bio (that makes up the metadata) Even if the book has a great concept, it will be a flop if the author and the publisher do not understand the power of a book’s cover design and physical feel.
Self-published books tend to look askew in their appearance. The services that vanity presses offer are usually only simple templates that authors can use for their manuscript. Because of this, they rarely look professional. Low levels of professionalism can hurt everyone involved, from the bookstore to the author. This does not only result in low sales, but it also hurts the author’s credibility. An author with a poorly self-published book will not be taken as seriously if the cover is poor, even if the content inside is good. However, most self-published books have not been properly edited (a spelling and grammar check does not replace a professional developmental, structural, and content edit). This usually results in a book with poor flow and structure, no theme, and few take-aways for the reader.
Since self-published authors do not have the guidance of an experienced book publisher, they often make mistakes in packaging their book. Self-published books often have creative titles that often have a personal meaning to the author only (The Green Fence might be a detail included in the authors memoir but when browsing, those words hold no significance for the reader). While this works fine for an author with a known name (Stephen King can call his books whatever he wants since it is his name that is searched, not the title), it does not help Internet browsers find a book on a certain topic. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) uses key words that will lead to a book’s title or subtitle, but the SEO will not recognize creative or obscure titles when a shopper is searching key words. Therefore, it is crucial that a title contain as many key words as possible to optimize search results on a website like Amazon. Authors often do not think about marketing for their book while they are writing, but marketing has extremely specific needs, which are not recognized unless the author works with an experienced publisher.
If the book is obviously self-published in its appearance and quality, then it will be increasingly difficult to sell, and the retailer will not value it as worthy of their shelf space. The best advice I can give a first-time author is to invest in education to understand the importance of the cover design, title and sub-title and all other marketing metadata. If you are considering working with a publisher, look at their titles on their website to judge if they look professional. If you are working with a designer, beware that a creative design you like might not be the best choice for professional publishing standards (many designers make the mistake of choosing artistic fonts that are difficult to read or don’t consider the importance of the title being clear to read and not on a cluttered background).
Have you ever seen a poorly designed book on Amazon? Have you ever wondered with so many self-published books why you never see poor designs on the website? It is because Amazon will squash the SEO of poor designed self-published books. They cannot risk their reputation as the world’s largest bookseller by representing poor quality books so the only way that book will be found is if you specifically search the title or author name. It will never appear in a key word search. Amazon will encourage you to publish with them but treat their self-published books in a vastly different way to those featured by recognized publishers. Try it for yourself, do a search on a self-published book without using the author’s name or title, and see if you can find it (and it’s cheating if you search your own book from your own computer because your cookies will remember your previous searches).