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Faculty & Staff: Purchasing Books in the Age of AI

Navigating Self-Published Works

image of an open book with a fantasy image on the pages

Navigating Self-Published Works

Self-published books?  They get a bad rap.  It may stem from the knowledge that anyone can self-publish now with the help of platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing and Draft2Digital that offer an easy process with a low barrier of entry.  Self-published authors often put up their work without the benefits afforded to traditional authors such as editors, proofreaders, publicists or art directors.  And sometimes quality suffers without them.  As subject materials purchasers, we only want to buy the best quality books for our students and patrons. On the following tabs you can explore different ways to identify self-published authors including what to look for and what to avoid!

Clues to identify a self-published author:

  • The publisher is the author’s name
  • The publisher details include the word "Independent" or list a pay/vanity publisher:
    • Independently published
    • Lulu Publishing service (This is a Print on Demand service. Print on demand doesn't PRE-print books; a book is printed after a purchase.  PODs are typically free for the author.)
    • Createspace Independent Publishing” (POD by Amazon)
    • BookBaby
    • iUniverse
    • Xlibris Publishing
    • AuthorHouse Publishing
  • You cannot find any information about the publisher following the methods on the "Navigating Traditional Publishers" page under the "Traditional Publishers" tab, or you discover the publisher is a pay/vanity publisher.

Carnoy, David. “Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know.”, 13 June, 2012, Accessed 21 June 2023.

Anyone who loves Harry Potter may or may not know that J.K. Rowling’s manuscript was rejected 12 times before Bloomsbury accepted it.*  Just getting your work seen by a publisher can take months, if not years.  More and more authors are making use of self-publishing to get their material out into the world.  And while this is a good thing for them, it can make the hunt for quality material that much harder for collection development librarians.  But there are ways to sort through the never-ending sea of choices if you are curious about works by self-published authors.

  • Check for Profiles or Bios online. Check out the profiles and bios of the author on sites like Goodreads and Amazon.  These profiles often include biographies, book summaries and reviews.
  • Check out the Author’s Website.  Visit the author’s official website, if there is one.  Some self-published authors maintain websites that provide information about themselves, their work and their books. 
  • Look at an Author’s Previous Works.  What other works has the author previously written?  Look for books, short stories or articles to get a sense of their writing style, themes and storytelling approach.  What are their strengths or recurring styles.
  • Explore the Author’s Social Media.  Many authors are on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter) and Threads.  Look over their posts to get a sense of the persona they create online.  You may find insights into their writing process or book promotions and events.
  • Look for Author Interview and Q&As.  These can be found online in book blogs, podcasts or even YouTube channels.  Interviews allow you to see into an author’s inspirations, writing techniques and their perspective.  It will allow you a broader view of the author that may shine a light on the publishing method.
  • Investigate Awards and Accolades.  Has the author won any awards or nominations?  There are a few awards for self-published authors.  See the following tab, “Awards,” for a short list! **

*Millington, Alison. “The Original Synopsis of Harry Potter That J.K. Rowling Sent to Publishers Has Been Revealed - Here’s the First Page.” Business Insider, 26 Oct. 2017,  Accessed 21 June 2023.

**“Research the Author.” Reading Rockets, 24 July 2013, Accessed 21 June 2023.

Because self-published authors by-pass the vetting process, the vetting process now falls on you, the purchaser!  Self-published authors often sell via ebook and offer a Look inside” preview.  Typically this includes the first few pages, table of contents and maybe even a chapter or two. 

Take advantage of this feature and read as much as you can of the book because you may be able to get a feel for the author’s writing style, narrative voice and storytelling ability.  This preview provides a look inside an author’s ability to engage readers, establish a captivating narrative or show expertise in a field of study.  A preview may also show you the author’s command of the language and whether or not they’ve checked for grammatical errors or have proofread thoroughly.  If you are purchasing non-fiction for an academic library, seek collaborative help from your subject specialists and fellow instructors.

Remember editors are important!  Self-published authors can hire them, too.  Is one listed in the preview?  By “looking inside” a purchaser can find a lot of valuable information (or lack thereof) and make an informed decision about whether or not a book meets their quality standards.

Editing & Proofreading

When looking at a sample, potential purchasers can get a good look at an author's use of editing and proofreading.  Good editing is essential to ensure that the written materials you purchase are error-free, grammatically correct and effectively convey their intended message.  Here are some things to consider when evaluating a self-published book:

  • Grammar and Language: A well-edited and proofread work should use proper grammar, correct spelling and appropriate punctuation.  Look for consistent sentence structure, verb tense and subject/verb agreement. 
  • Clarity and Readability: A well-edited work should be easy to understand in the intended language.  It should use clear and concise language, avoiding unnecessary repetition.
  • Consistency: Consistency is key in good editing.  Look for consistent formatting, appropriate spacing, indentation, capitalization, punctuation and spelling choices.  Look for consistency in style, terminology, and use of abbreviations or acronyms.
  • Attention to detail:  A good editor pays attention to small details like typos, missing or extra words, consistent use of formatting on things such as headings, lists or citations, footnotes, endnotes and reference lists.*
  • Accuracy and Fact-checking: Excellent editing includes fact-checking in the process and ensures that all information presented is accurate (at least at the time of publication.)  Ask your subject specialists to read sample pages.**

Cover Design

Self-published authors have to do everything themselves and that also includes finding book cover art.  With AI-generated images becoming more sophisticated and more accessible, designing good book covers is getting easier so identifying self-published works will become harder.  But for now, another way to identify self-published works is examining the quality of the book cover design.  Check for these elements:

  • Originality and Creativity: Does the design stand out from others in the same genre?  Does it capture your attention with a fresh and unique approach?  Have you seen the images on royalty-free sites like Creative Commons, Pixabay or Canva?  Good cover art avoids cliched or generic design elements.
  • Quality of Artwork or Imagery: To evaluate the quality of the visuals look at the level of detail, clarity and professionalism used in any illustrations, photographs or graphic elements included.*
  • Relevance to the Content: Does the cover design reflect the book’s theme?  Think about whether or not it communicates the genre, tone or subject matter.
  • Branding and Author Recognition: Is this book in a series?  Is the cover art consist across the series?  Decide whether the design effectively communicates the author’s brand or sense of recognition.
  • Visual Impact: A good book cover design should grab your attention immediately and have a strong visual impact.  Is the design eye-catching and stand out on a shelf?  Does it look good in a thumbnail?  Think about its use of color, imagery, typography and overall visual appeal.
  • Clear and Legible Typography: The words and font should be clear and legible and appropriate to the book’s genre and target audience.  Think about font choice, size, spacing and readability.
  • Balance and Composition: A well-designed book cover has a balanced composition.  Look at the placement and arrangement of visual elements like images, illustrations, titles and author names.
  • Target Audience Appeal: Does the book cover design appeal to the audience the book targets?  Consider whether or not the design aligns with the expectations of target audience of the genre or category.***

*Hoy, Angela. “Top Signs a Book Is Self-Published.” WritersWeekly.Com, 28 Sept. 2011, Accessed 21 June 2023.

**Editing and Proofreading.” The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Accessed 21 June 2023.

***Hampton, Sarah. "Importance of a Good Book Cover Design: Grabbing Attention and Enhancing Sales." LinkedIn, 3 July 2023, Accessed 21 June 2023.

Both traditional publishers and self-published books have awards.  Here are some, but certainly not all, notable awards that can help you discover quality books from self-published authors:

Clemmer, Amanda. “Top 20 Award Contests for Self-Published Authors.” Pen and Glory, 3 May 2022, Accessed 21 June 2023.

Although self-published authors bypass the traditional publishing route, many self-publishing authors are worth the effort to seek out.  Where can you go to find these authors?  Below are several websites that read and promote self-published authors who deserve to be discovered.

  • Publishers Weekly’s Book Life:  BookLife is the reviews section for independently-published books at Publishers Weekly. 
    • BookLife Reviews:  Publishers Weekly also offers a section where self-published authors can pay to be showcased.  PW professional assesses authors who submit their books.
    • BookLife Prize Winners:  Publishers Weekly conducts an annual writing competition complete with prize money for independent authors.  Past winners can be found here.
  • Independent Book Review:  Celebrates Indie press and self-published books.  IBR publishes reviews and book lists and celebrates indie bookstores with city-roundups.
  • Kirkus Reviews’ Indie Best Books List:  Each year Kirkus Reviews publishes the best of independent books.  You can search this annual list and also monthly book lists for new Indie titles.
  • IndieReader: This book review site offers reviewers who are “tough, but fair” and grades books on a point scale.  They also offer a writing contest and list past winners here.*

Book reviews can play a role in helping potential buyers judge the value and worthiness of self-published books.  Here are some ways book reviews can assist you:

  • Objective Evaluation: Book readers who’ve read the content will provide an authentic, often candid or objective evaluation of the book’s strengths, weaknesses and overall quality.  Look for reviews tagged as a "verified purchase."
  • Plot Summary and Genre Indication: Reviews will often include a brief summary of the book’s plot or subject matter, which may offer additional clues than the listed description.
  • Critical Analysis: Reviews may include a critical analysis of the book’s themes, writing style, character development, pacing and other literary elements.
  • Diverse Perspectives: Reviews are written by a range of readers with their own tastes and preferences. By reading many reviews, you may get a broader understanding of the book’s appeal to different audiences.

Reading multiple reviews and considering the overall consensus will allow a purchaser to make more informed decisions about whether a self-published book is valuable and aligns with their collection development goals.**

*Cerézo, Arvyn. "How do you find good self-published books?," Book Riot, 29 Aug. 2022, Accessed 19 June 2023.

**“Book Reviews.” The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Accessed 21 June 2023.