Unexpressed Messages from the Self-Published

One of the online groups where I occasionally participate raised a question about self-publish vs traditional publishing. I know there are many people who are not on that online group so I’m also putting it here. I want to be the first to cheer when someone self-publishes a book and eventually hits it big with a traditional publishing arrangement. I’ve read the stories of John Grisham selling a self-published book from the trunk of his car. Or years ago I met Richard Evans (the author of The Christmas Box) at a book show when he had self-published his book and eventually Simon and Schuster picked up this title.  But those two much touted examples are only two books in the midst of thousands of self-published books.

As an acquisitions editor, I see a number of self-published books. Writers will send me their self-published book in hopes I will acquire it for a traditional publishing house (Howard Books is where I acquire fiction).


My first question is why did this person self-publish? Often I find the motives of the writer are pure and passionate. They want to see their words in print. It’s very easy to get a book published these days–self-published. Now when you face the question of selling that book into the hands of customers, you are looking at a completely different (yet important) question. You can easily get a printed book to tuck into your garage but that doesn’t help people. The self-published writer longs to have a printed book. Most of the self-published books that I see are poorly crafted (not story driven or well-written) nor are they well-produced. The typography is poorly done and the cover is poorly executed. The overall impression is not positive and practically screams of inexperience. There are valuable reasons to self-publish–particularly if you can sell books through your speaking ministry or another way. You will actually make more money self-publishing–provided you can sell the books.


Earlier this week I wrote about the difference in books–traditional published books and self-published books after seeing them at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. One reader questioned my statistic about the six million manuscripts which are circulating at various publishers and with literary agents. I pointed out where I got such a statistic (which is a valuable page to bookmark if you need this information). In one sense, such a number is discouraging–and in another sense it can spur your own determination to become different. Call me a wild idealist but I work in publishing every day and I believe the writer can make their writing shine and believe they can make their proposal stand out from the others in the stack. It’s not easy but entirely possible. 


Whether you self-publish or publish through a traditional press, it doesn’t matter. What matters to me is excellence–in the writing and in the book production. If you do decide to self-publish, realize you are sending unexpressed messages to the editor.

5 Responses to “Unexpressed Messages from the Self-Published”

  1. Praying for your Prodigal Says:

    Once again, you are very generous with your comments.

    Any thoughts on the new “Blook”–blogs becoming books?


  2. violet Says:

    I don’t understand what you mean by that last sentence. Are you saying that a decision to self-publish today will negatively impact your chances of getting a royalty publisher to look at future manuscripts?

    Although my experience with handling self-published books is obviously way less than yours, I haven’t seen the same inferior quality that you speak of. Many Canadians who self-publish use Essence Publishing. I’m not sure what makes a book cover good or bad, cheezy or not, but I’ve always been impressed by their cover designs and the look of their books. Of course what’s inside is another thing altogether.

    Another thing, you and other editors talk about how writers have to be willing to get involved in marketing. Apart from the ‘stigma’ of having self-published (and no royalty cheques of course), it seems like self-publishing and royalty publishing are getting closer all the time re: what a writer has to do to get their book to sell.

  3. Terry Whalin Says:


    I guess what I was trying to say in my last sentence is the anxiety, impatient message a self-published book gives to an editor–and that is definitely not what the writer wants to convey. Often these self-published books are poorly put together. I’m familiar with Essence Publishing and I’ve seen a number of their products (which do stand above most of the other self-published books).

    I don’t know if it negatively impacts your chances with a royalty publisher but it will send a negative message if it is poorly written or poorly executed.


  4. Bryan D. Catherman Says:


    Thanks for the info. With all the self-publishing companies cropping up, the impression (maybe that they’ve created) is that self-publishing is the future of the book world. Thanks for your input. It’s nice to get some balance.

  5. Terry Whalin Says:


    Thank you for the kind words. One of the distinctions between self-publishing and traditional publishing is who is driving the process. In the case of the self-publisher, the writer or client is driving everything. The self-publisher may offer the writer an editing service (for a fee) but the writer may choose not to be edited. Or the writer can ignore the counsel of that editor. The result is less than ideal for the marketplace.

    In the case of traditional publishing, the process is much more cooperative. A regular publisher contract takes the right to edit and change a writer’s words–and the writer has to work much more cooperatively for that process. It’s a key distinction–and one of the reasons from my perspective that traditionally published products (while slower to get out into the market) will always outshine any self-published book.


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