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How to Avoid Looking Like an Amateur Author

I’m going to make a big assumption about you: you're an expert. A pro.

You love what you do, you do your absolute best for your clients, your friends, your family—and you go above and beyond to deliver delights.

In short: you show up and do the work.


Same goes for your book. By the time you’ve finished it, you’ll have poured so much of yourself in there it’ll feel like part of you.

Time, effort, tears…

So the last thing you’re gonna want is for details to let you down.

This instalment is all about how to polish your book. How to publish it like a pro—and how to avoid looking like an amateur.

Because if your book looks amateurish, your readers will assume you’re an amateur. If your book is sloppy, people will think you’re careless, too.

So let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.

This is all about the details. The little touches that make all the difference, to help lift your book from good to fabulous dahlink. If you go the traditional publishing route, your publisher will take care of this for you.

(Indeed, you’ll have little input into how your book looks—unless you’re extremely influential in your industry and in the publishing industry.)

You’ll probably go down the indie-publishing route—as most of my clients do—but that’s no reason to end up with a book that looks amateurish. Gone are the days when self-published books looked like a maniacal toddler went at them with potato stamps, cheap paper, and glue. It’s relatively easy to create a professional book yourself now.

Even if you do go down the traditional publishing route with a big publishing house, you still want to know all this stuff because you want to be able to go to an agent with a professional-looking manuscript.

Most of the people I work with, though, independently publish their books—and if you’re one of them, you’ll definitely want to pay attention here.

Quick aside: Chapter 20 in my book How the hell do you write a book goes into great detail about each of these things. Grab a copy right here.

Five Common Rookie Mistakes

The five most common layout mistakes that newbie authors make.

  1. Using ragged-right composition. Almost every book you have read uses justified composition, so the text forms a rectangle on the page, and the lines are flush at the left and right margins. Ragged-right means the edges are only flush on the left margin, and the right margin is ragged because each line is a different length. Ragged-right is difficult to read, so don’t do it.
  2. Running headers on blank pages. Blank pages are supposed to be blank. If you have a blank left-hand page, make sure there are no page numbers, no running headers, and no navigation aides.
  3. Keep an eye on your odd and even pages. This is one of the gnarliest layout mistakes you can make, especially if you’re working with lots of different documents. If you’re working in Word or Mac Pages, things can get messy. It’s a little less worrisome in Scrivener because Scrivener compiles everything for you—but keep an eye on it anyway and check everything after you’ve finished. When you open up any book, page one (an odd-numbered page) is always on the right. So all your odd-numbered pages will be right-hand pages, and all your even-numbered pages will be left-hand pages.
  4. Make sure you don’t have any blank right-hand pages. Start your chapters on right-hand pages—and if you have to, put a blank page between them. A blank right-hand page screams amateur so check carefully.
  5. Page numbers help your reader navigate, of course, but they don’t belong on every page. Take them off the copyright page, the title page, the half-title page, and any other display pages within the book like part-openers. If you’ve got part one and part two, or any advertising pages, take the page numbers out. Page 1 starts on the first right-hand page after the Table of Contents.

The Cover

Unless you are a professional book cover designer, please please please don’t design your cover yourself. Or at least, think very carefully about it.

We do judge books by their covers. We absolutely 100% do that, despite the ever-present thought-terminating cliche that tries to tell us otherwise.

Typeface + font

The typeface you choose for the interior pages of your book is super important because above all it must be easy to read. Which means thinking about your reader and their needs. Older folks will appreciate a larger font, for example. And serifs are easier to read than sans serif (unless you’re dyslexic apparently, but double check this). My fave is Baskerville, but there are plenty to choose from.

The titles and headings should stand out from the main body, and they can be a different type of font if you like. In my book, I use Roboto.

Readability, Layout, + White Space

Leave enough space between lines and paragraphs, and between elements like headers, footers, page numbers, page edges, images, and titles. Leave plenty of white space between these things so the page doesn’t look crowded—and use subheadings if you want to, to break up big chunks of text and improve skimmability.

A few other things to keep in mind—mostly these are personal choice, but I do think they add a touch of professionalism:

  • Generally the first page of a chapter doesn’t have headers, footers, or page numbers, and the first paragraph has no indent. You can choose to have a page number on the first page of a chapter if you like; there are no real rules, just guidelines.
  • Indent the first line of each paragraph because it makes reading easier. Your reader can easily see where to go to start the next paragraph.
  • Leave enough space between your lines—at least 1.2 line spacing, and a couple of millimetres after each paragraph.
  • Leave a little space before and after numbered and bulleted lists, so they don’t look crowded.
  • Whatever writing program you use to design your book’s interior—Scrivener, Word, Pages, Indesign, Vellum—turn off the hyphenation function, or you could find words split over pages. Some authors don’t mind hyphenation, but I think it looks messy and it makes it harder for me to read what’s on the page.

Numbers, Headers, + Footers

I like to use running headers and footers when I’m designing my books to help reader navigation. If you do that—and I recommend you do, to make your reader’s life easier—pop the book title on the left-page header, and the chapter title on the right-page header. Leave plenty of space beneath the headers before the main text begins.

Where you put your page numbers is up to you: at the top or bottom, in the centre, or in a corner. Leave plenty of space above the page number, so it isn’t crowded.


You don’t have to have one, but an index can help readers if they might want to refer back to parts of your book often.

If you decide to include an index, find a professional indexer. It’s a skill in and of itself, and you’ll find it tough to do yourself. Also, it will take you forever and likely make you want to set fire to the world. Leave plenty of time for this, because a good indexer will read the manuscript several times. The indexer I work with is a treasure because she also points out typos and grammatical oddities if she finds them.

The best place to find information about indexing is the Society of Indexers at www.indexers.org.uk.

Paper + Printing

Use the best paper stock you can afford, or you risk your book feeling and looking cheap. I recommend using cream, off-white, or natural paper. I think it looks better and more professional than white—and, crucially, it’s easier on the eye and more comfortable to read because of the lower contrast.

Use high-opacity paper, or you risk being able to see through to the print on the other side—which is the classic hallmark of a cheap book. You want at least 80gsm for a black-and-white book and at least 100gsm for colour, so you don’t get bleed-through. Use uncoated paper for a matte finish, and coated for high-art or photography book.

Your paperback cover should be at least 250 gsm, or it’ll feel flimsy and cheap. You can choose a matte or gloss finish, it’s up to you.

Fact Checking + References

Every time you make a claim, include a statistic, or state a fact, check it. Are you correct? In the first edition of Business For Superheroes, I forgot to check one “fact” and found out later it was nonsense.

I’m still embarrassed by it, but at least it’s no longer mocking me in the second edition or the Kindle edition. Check your facts and figures. Dig up evidence to reinforce what you’re saying—which may be scientific research, stories from other experts, or testimonials from your clients.

Make a List—and check it twice!

Over the years, I’ve made mistakes. I’ve learned from every one of them, and from those mistakes has emerged one of the most essential weapons in my book project box: my Final Checklists.

Once all the writing, editing, proofreading, and designing has happened, and you have a proof copy in your hands, you’ll want to send your book to print. But wait! Now is not the time to rush.

I know the last thing you want to do is delay your print run, but trust me—spend a couple of days running through some final checks. Stuff like, is the ISBN correct? Does it match the barcode? Are there any errors on the cover? On the title pages?

There’s a lot to think about, so I wrote it all down. You can grab my free checklist here.

Do what I do: do not press “go” on your book printing until you’ve checked and ticked off everything on your list, then signed it and dated it. Yes, I know you’re not doing this for a client, but act as if you are your own client. Check it. Sign it. Date it. Then send it to print.

Got all that?

Smashing. Now you won’t look like an amateur—which is brilliant because you’re not an amateur. You’re awesome. And you’re writing a wonderful book.


Psst: did you know you can book a 90 minute Book Breakthrough Jam session with me to get your book started? If you’re stuck and would like my help to get going on your book again, click the button below and book a slot.

Notes in the Margin

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About the Author Vicky Fraser