A common part of many book proposals is a “competitive works” section. I recently researched competitive titles for one of my book proposals. What I saw enlightened me.
Traditionally Published Books
To research competitive titles, I first looked at books from traditional publishers. They gave me pause. I had to think a bit to determine how my book was different and how it would stand out. This challenged me, but it was good exercise.
Each book was impressive: an attractive cover, nice title, a great concept or theme where the content flowed nicely, and professional editing and formatting. However, I didn’t think about any of these qualities at first. I expected these characteristics. Since they met my expectations, I gave these traits no thought—until I looked at some indie-published books.
Indie-Published Print Books
Next, in my competitive titles research, I looked at some print books that were indie-published. At first glance, the covers were of similar quality and the titles were almost as good.
The content, however, was not the same. The concept of these books was lacking and their execution, disappointing. Also, the writing wasn’t nearly as good. One didn’t even appear to have been edited, with sloppy formatting and missing words—and that from reading less than one page. The fault in all this is not is a tool they used to publish the book. It is the author. If you put garbage into the tool, you get garbage out of it.
Last, in my competitive titles research, I considered a pair of indie-published e-books. They offered no print options.
These suffered even more. Their covers weren’t as good, and their concept was questionable. As far as the writing, the interior layout was so bad that I couldn’t force myself to read it. I didn’t include them in my “competitive works” section because I didn’t view them as competition, merely a distraction.
From all this, I’m reminded, once again, that indie-publishing (self-publishing) is an attractive option and an affordable solution when traditional publishers take a pass on our books. While this could be for reasons outside of our control, it might also be that our content is ill-conceived or our book still needs work. Sometimes this is hard to determine, especially after we’ve poured ourselves into writing it.
Regardless, if we choose to indie-publish, we need to keep in mind that our finished product must look like a traditionally published book if we hope for folks to take it seriously.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.