Can You Be too Professional?

Pro Am


There are many ways that a book or author may be perceived as amateurish.

Many of these correspond to doing what seems intuitive or convenient:

  • Commenting on reviews.
  • Not realizing that the cover is a visual representation of what quality to expect.
  • Including the word “by” before your name.
  • Using the default settings in Microsoft Word.
  • Creating indents with the spacebar or using the Enter key to pagebreak.

Others are more subtle:

  • Not seeking editorial reviews to earn buyer confidence.
  • Typing two spaces after a period.
  • Poor font selection.
  • Not using Word’s style functions and First Line Indent from the Paragraph menu.
  • Getting a free site instead of buying a domain or using .org.

Add to this at least 90% of the things done in the name of “marketing.”

Too Far?

If it’s not professional, does that make it amateurish?

Unfortunately, I see comments about other books and authors of the sort:

  • “That’s so amateurish!”
  • “You need to enroll in Publishing 101.”
  • “What a newbie!”
  • “Nothing says ‘amateur’ like Times New Roman.”
  • “Didn’t you preview your book first?”
  • “That book is in bad need of editing help.”

In a moment, I will come to an alternative to professional and amateurish.

First, let’s consider some of these points:

  • If there is something reasonable that you can do to improve the formatting of your book, you should do it. A better-formatted book makes a better impression. It’s certainly harder for readers who enjoy a story to recommend a poorly formatted book. A better-looking Look Inside is more likely to close the sale. However, once the book looks pretty good, for most buyers who support indie publishing, there will come a point where the formatting is good enough to earn the sale.
  • Some of the people who are avidly complaining about grammar, spelling, and writing style, and who are pointing out editing issues, are themselves editors. They want to advertise the importance of editing to drum up business. If they love editing books, naturally editing will be quite important to them. But it’s also important to readers. Frequent mistakes will lose reader interest. Not just in spelling and grammar, but using a vocabulary and style that suits the audience, having the book flow well, even improving the storyline and characterization. There are many different kinds of editors, and all editing is important. However, like formatting, customers who support indie books have some degree of tolerance. The important thing is to be on the safe side of where this line is drawn for the majority of your target audience.
  • A lousy cover suggests a lack of effort. Who wants to read a book where little effort was put into it? If the cover reflects much effort, the cover should, too. The cover is also a valuable visual tool. Customers searching on Amazon see the thumbnail among many others before deciding which books to check out. Most of the thumbnails don’t receive any attention. The cover is also a valuable branding tool. An effective cover makes the genre and content immediately clear to strangers in the target audience and appeals to the target audience. In nonfiction, sometimes large keywords can be effective with little imagery. If you interact with people personally, this can offset not having a great cover. But a fantastic cover opens many doors, and is a must for selling fiction through discovery online.

Option 3

If not professional nor amateurish, what else?

Stephen King is a professional author. Sold millions of books, traditionally published, famous.

You don’t expect to see Stephen King use his children’s school artwork for his cover. You don’t expect to see him commenting on many of his reviews. You expect his books to be professionally edited and formatted. You probably have really high expectations for the quality of his stories. Stephen King can easily get a ton of editorial reviews, famous authors to write forewords, professional book reviews, etc. His author site is, which looks very professional.

You’re not Stephen King. (If you were, why on earth would you be reading this blog?)

But you don’t need to be.

In fact, you can do some things that you wouldn’t expect Stephen King to do. (I’m not saying he doesn’t do them, just thinking what average expectations are.)


It’s your asset. You can interact with your fans, your target audience. Stephen King can interact personally with fans, too, and probably does. You can easily interact personally with a much larger percentage of your fan base. By the sheer numbers, Stephen King is pretty limited percentage-wise.

The Personal Touch

I see some authors with an website without a blog. I’ve even see a few authors switch from the free WordPress .com site to .org, and I’ve seen the Likes and Follows disappear to be replaced by Facebook and Twitter options only.

I perceive this as an attempt to appear more professional (and .org may also offer more flexibility, although .com has everything I feel that I need). Also, displaying a tally of views, likes, and follows might show that a website isn’t too popular, so perhaps some aim to hide this data.

But it seems less personal.

In addition to personalization, humility may be another factor.

We like to discover the small guy, with a humble book that tells a great story, that we can support.

By the way, is huge and may help, rather than hurt, with search engine traffic compared to .org. See here: There is a lot of helpful info there; for this point, look at the end of the first paragraph under “Keyword Use in Branding.” I have .com (with the WordPress extension in it) and draw in over 100 views per day from search engines, so .com seems to work well for me.

Readers who want a professional, impersonal reading experience can already find that with traditional publishing. One of the advantages of self-publishing is the opportunity to provide a more personal experience to a larger percentage of readers. There are disadvantages, too, so it’s important to take advantage of the benefits.

Readers can also choose a personal experience, with a perhaps more humble book and author. I’m not saying to not worry about being professional. Get the formatting, editing, and cover to look as good as you can. Marketing-wise, think personal. That’s your advantage.

An interactive blog, where it’s easy to interact and follow however the fan prefers (WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Pinterest, email, etc.), with the convenient option of commenting from WordPress without having to sign into Facebook or Twitter, encourages participation. A simple Like while logged into WordPress offers a quick and easy show of support.

Think of ways to find and interact with your target audience. Readers who personally interact with an author, online or in person, and who enjoy the experience are more likely to buy the book, and to recommend the book to others if they enjoy it.

Many of the ways that books are bought are inaccessible to new authors: bestseller lists, showing up high in a category, professional reviews, name recognition, etc. But one of the big ways that books are purchased is following personal interaction with the author. Every indie author has this opportunity.

How about editorial reviews and advance review copies? This is very common among traditionally published books. Should indie authors be copying what traditional publishers do? I know, there are some incentives to reviews, as some sites that promote indie books set a bar to reach.

Some customers don’t like to see numerous reviews show up shortly after a book is published: It can create buyer suspicion. Some disregard all those quotes of how wonderful a book is. At the same time, customers want to see an assortment of neutral opinions. Ah, what is neutral? Are all those glowing remarks inside a top-selling book really “neutral”?

Is it possible for a humble book with a personal touch, along with a possible personal experience, to have more appeal than a book that seems “too” professional? Food for thought, perhaps.

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

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

15 comments on “Can You Be too Professional?

  1. I’m one of those professional editors who carps on about badly edited MSS, but I do say, you don’t have to use me, just make sure you use someone, and that doesn’t mean your partner and your best mates.
    I read a book at the weekend and I was tearing my hair out. It was indie and didn’t have major faults. But every missing full point, misplaced comma/full point, missing quotation marks just piled on the agony. Instead of remembering the story, I’m left thinking, why didn’t they get this edited? Or if they did, they need to change editors.
    A good cover is a must. I’ve just commented on a draft one. While good editing is necessary, the cover is the window that draws you inside. The two together are essential.

  2. Some excellent points, although I use a free wordpress blog with my own domain name. To be honest, I just see it like this. If someone read my books, would they be able to tell I’d published them myself. If the answer to that is ‘yes’ then I’m doing it wrong. Likewise, if I behave like an arse it’s unprofessional, There are books I would have trouble reading, simply because of the behaviour of their authors.



    • That’s a good point. I have a domain with my name and a few other domain names that I use, but this one with WordPress in the name is by far my most popular. There are millions of readers supporting self-publishing, so for those readers it’s okay to appear self-published… provided that the book still strikes them as reasonably professional. Similarly, I’ve bought ISBN’s and used my own imprints with highly professional books, yet my most successful books have CreateSpace for the publisher. What it really comes down to is whether your specific target audience is looking for. For some kinds of books, you’re absolutely right, those readers want it not to look self-published (but it’s tough to crack, as they often choose big publishers). A great thing for indies is that there are many kinds of books where readers are happy to knowingly support self-publishing. But still it has to meet some level of professionalism. You’re right about the author’s behavior being vital, especially since many indie books get discovered from author interactions. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. πŸ™‚

      • It’s a pleasure, thanks for replying. I always hope that it’s just a book that’s why, in an ideal world, I don’t want people who buy my books to notice who the publisher is I just want them to look at the story. However, you’re right, there is a big pro indie movement out there, as well as the inevitable backlash. Interestingly, so far, I’ve found indie book shops to be some of the staunchest supporters of the traditional system. For some reason I thought they’d be a lot more into the independent publishing scene. Some have been really nice but the majority couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. πŸ˜‰ I guess it might just be the ones I’ve chosen.



      • That is crazy. It’s surprising and frustrating when indie authors with professional books get dismissed out of hand at indie bookstores. I think some indie stores are upset with Amazon, but this practice seems to be shooting themselves in the feet.

      • It does seem odd, but I’ll see how it goes as I work my way down the list. McOther reckons that I should use census data. He reckons that it’s no good going for the shops in posh towns because they’ll be looking for ‘proper grown up literature’ – the kind of stuff that wins the Mann Booker but doesn’t sell so easily, whereas he reckons the shops in the more blue collar areas will be looking for a good story.because their readers will be looking for plot, characterisation etc rather than literary merit. I’ll be interested to see what happens once I reach the end of my list.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s