All Books Are Not the Same

I’m always interested to look at the books when I speak or attend a writer’s conference. Each conference is distinct about how they handle this aspect.  Some conferences have huge tables of books and allow anyone at the conference to bring and sell their products. Books and Company, a local Dayton, Ohio bookstore, ran this aspect at The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.  The only books sold at the conference were from the speakers and I was thrilled to be included and have Book Proposals That Sell available to the participants.  This conference occurs every other year and sold out in a matter of weeks.

As a reader of books and someone involved in writing books and creating books, I’ve learned that all books are not the same. I’m an unusual consumer in that I look at the content but also the packaging of the book. Who is the publisher? How does the book appear in typography and is that type easy to read? How attractive is the cover design and does it draw me to purchase the book or make me hesitant to purchase the book?

Several speakers at this workshop were promoting self-publishing. Their workshops encouraged participants to walk down this possibility for publishing their manuscripts. I understand there are a variety of opinions in this area. Writers are frustrated with the estimated six million manuscripts and proposals in circulation at traditional publishers.  Publishers (and even literary agents) often take a long time to provide answers about these manuscripts.  Some writers grow impatient with this process and turn to self-publishers for their book. This decision gains them another set of opportunities (or problems) to reach their intended audience.  In general, bookstores don’t carry self-published books and it’s difficult to sell books if they aren’t in a traditional selling environment.

As I carefully looked over some of these books, it reminded me why I’ve written for traditional publishers. If you put the product side by side, you can see an instant difference. The cover design of these self-produced products looked more amateurish and almost instantly I spotted problems in the typography.  Sometimes even the name of the publishing house (author created in a self-publishing situation) struck me as purely corny.    I don’t want to come across as an elitist or book snob but when I’ve written a book, I want to be confident of every detail of the book.  I’m eager for my books to be available in every possible bookstore outlet.

At the same time, I understand how the publishing process is a purification of ideas. Traditional publishing involves finding a champion for an editor or an agent—who carries that process throughout the house and into the bookstore.  Not every proposal or every idea will find that place. Yes, it takes persistence from the author to write an excellent proposal and sample then locate a publisher.  Just looking at some of the books during the conference reminded me not to rush this process.

10 Responses to “All Books Are Not the Same”

  1. Gina Holmes Says:

    Thanks for the post Terry. I’m running into some authors now who are either self-published or have published with a POD company who are a bit aggravated with me because I don’t want to review their book or interview them. Every self-published title I’ve read so far with an open mind has disappointed me, usually editorial wise. I’ve given up and now won’t accept these books for possible review.

    I think unless you’re exceptionally motivated or a speaker in high demand traditional is worth the years it takes to get a contract.

  2. relevantgirl Says:

    I agree with you, Terry, and Gina as well. You can absolutely tell the difference between a self-published book (usually cheesy covers and poor editing, sometimes poor writing)and a traditionally published one.

    There is no shortcut in this business. To get published, you have to “pay your dues” so to speak. You need to become obsessive about the craft. You need to network. You need to listen to criticism. You need to write, write, write.

    I started writing 14 years ago. My first book was published last year. I shudder to think of what kind of book I would’ve produced in the infancy of my career. I’m thankful I knew nothing of self-publishing so I wouldn’t be tempted to hand something in before it was ready or I was ready.

  3. relevantgirl Says:

    Oh, and BTW, Terry, you’ll like my redesign of my blog. Run on over and you’ll see what I mean.

  4. Terry Whalin Says:


    Thank you for the affirmation of my observation about self-published books.


    My appreciation for your comment. The redesigned blog is fantastic. How did you know I struggle to read on a black background (the previous rendition). The pink is attractive and yet inviting. Keep up the good work.


  5. michelleu Says:

    Where do you come up with the 6 million figure for proposals floating out there? Is this an ironic, joking number, or something based on reality? I read proposals nearly every day and a figure that large is very discouraging!

  6. Terry Whalin Says:


    I didn’t create that six million proposal number in my post. It came from Jerry Jenkins and is on a page of statistics which Dan Poytner maintains at:

    My point of bringing it to focus was not to bring discouragement. I read proposals every day as well. I receive them from many people who are clueless about how to create a good one or one that stands out from the pile. It is possible–but it takes more work than most people want to put into it. In general, I’ve found that writers (like the rest of the human race) tend to take the easy way out. I’m pushing for something different and excellent in our proposals. And I find a tiny bit of it changing as people use tools like Book Proposals That Sell.


  7. Donna J. Shepherd Says:

    Yes, when you threw out that 6 million number in your session at the Erma conference, jaws dropped. You said, “Iā€™m an unusual consumer in that I look at the content but also the packaging of the book.” While you may overtly check out the packaging, I think everyone does so subconsciously, don’t you?

  8. michelleu Says:

    Very interesting statistics. Thanks for sharing this link. I’m still appalled . . . I read 150 queries last week and feel like I’m drowning. But I sure have learned a lot about querying and proposing my own projects! šŸ™‚

  9. barb in florida Says:

    Terry — I don’t disagree with your comments about self-publishing, but from the consumer end, I pick up lots of traditionally-published books and wish I hadn’t spent the money. That’s when I wonder how the game is really played.

  10. Sam Pakan Says:

    Excellent points, all. I might add from a writer’s perspective, that I NEED a more objective perusal of my work than I’m able to generate.

    I have a manuscript that I thought finished two years ago. With each new reader, however, I am learning it was nowhere near ready. I’m simply not able to distinguish intent from accomplishment. Submitting my work to an editor provides me with a more objective evaluation of what’s actually been accomplished.

    Experiencing that is neither comfortable nor enjoyable, but it is necessary. A self-published writer, I would think, might be tempted to skip that difficult process.

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