“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
– Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
So the other day, Brittany Pettegrow asked me if I would be willing to join her on a webcast this coming Saturday (8/5), to talk about the glamorous writing life. Because Brittany is awesome and amazing and hilarious, of course I said yes—even if my introverted spirit immediately began comprising a list of a hundred reasons why this is a bad idea. But, I gave my gut instinct a quick uppercut to the chin and didn’t back out.
Then I logged into Twitter this morning, as I do, and I noticed that I had been tagged in a tweet by her loveliness. Lo an behold, she had created a promotional tweet for the webcast and it turns out that she’s put together a lovely panel discussion on the topic of traditional publishing versus self-publishing. Here’s the lineup:
•Me, myself, and I will serve as the author who has been exclusively self-published.
•Rebecca Frohling, an author who has been exclusively traditionally published.
•Cori Lynn Arnold rounds out the panel as an author who has been both self- and traditionally published.
Now, as terrified as I am of cameras and sounding like a bumbling idiot on a live webcast, I am extremely excited about this topic. Why? Because I have a lot to say. Why do I have a lot to say? Because as shy as I am, I’m even more opinionated. Also, I know that this isn’t going to be an all-out attack on anyone. I’m not scared these ladies are going to tear me down. That’s just not their style.
So, Aila, why the crisis of creative faith? Because as soon as I realized the topic at hand, I knew that the vast majority of whomever watches this webcast is likely to believe that there is little merit in self-publishing. There are just a few preconceived notions out there about the indie-industry. 😉 For a nanosecond or three, that made me feel… inadequate. Like the underdog. But who doesn’t love the underdog?!
In order to prepare for this webcast, I decided to clear my head and shake off this crisis before it could get the better of me. I know my reasons for believing in myself and self-publishing, but I needed to figure out how to convey them properly, so I went to my thinking spot and did some thinking.
Without further adieu, here are some of my thoughts—the good, the bad, and the ugly—on self-publishing.
Yes, Amazon is beyond flooded with really bad Indie Books
I cannot argue that it isn’t easy for absolutely anyone to call themselves an author these days. You write a few words, you stick it on Amazon for nothing, and you slap a price tag on it. Boom. You’re an author. The truth is, this is as beautiful as it is frustrating. It might really be someone’s dream to write a book set in the Wild, Wild, Dystopian West about a zombie-Saloon girl who stumbles upon a portal to the galaxy of Ishicon-7-Alpha-Nyablar-Blue. Hell, that doesn’t sound like one book, that sounds like a series. So they write it. (That’s the beautiful part. They’ve followed their dream.) But they don’t realize that there is much more to being an author than merely writing a book. They slap together a cover on MS Paint (let’s not pretend that this doesn’t happen) and then they hit the submit button and now the whole world can get that bad boy on Kindle. It might be riddled with dangling modifiers and plot holes large enough to swallow I7ANB (for short), but their book is now available alongside yours and mine.
While it’s hard to believe that many dedicated writers out there would settle for putting out third-rate work, there is a subset of people who truly believe that cranking out a slew of titles will make them rich. They think writing is an easy way to make a quick buck, and the more titles the better. So, you get a virtual ton of books that look like a drunk second-grader wrote them during a time-out. This is very frustrating to those of us who aren’t writing for the riches, though riches would be nice, but because we have a story we want to tell…and tell it well.
Writer vs. Author
Some people debate whether someone can actually call themselves an author if their work isn’t published by an actual publishing house. After all, the aforementioned hypothetical writer shouldn’t be placed in the same league as, say, George R.R. Martin or JK Rowling, should they? You can’t deny that they wrote their book, but you don’t want to give them the same title as your favorite author. So, you just lump us into two categories: Self-Published Writers and Published Authors. I actually see the logic behind this, however, I don’t necessarily abide by it. (Truth be told, generally I use the two terms interchangeably and I think a lot of people do.)
When people think of traditionally published works, they envision that a writer sells their idea to an agent first, then the agent sells the work to a publisher and poof! the writer is now an author. The publishing house assigns an editor to polish up the manuscript before handing it off to a designer, who then hands it off to a crack team of advertisers. What does this author do now? They sit at home, counting their stacks of cash and get started on the next book.
But that isn’t exactly the case. First, it can take years and years for someone to even get an agent, and then the wait begins to get a publisher. Book advances for new writers are not usually enough to live off of (though, generally more than most Indie-Authors will make from a single title), and then once the book does go to publication, the author (and their agent, I’m sure) have to do most of the grunt work to promote the book. The author is still responsible for managing their blogs, social media, website, etc. And then they also have to hope and pray they sell enough to pay back their advance so they can get royalties. (It’s called an advance for a reason, kids.) Why do they hope to get to royalties? Because they’ve likely spent most of their advance on promoting the book.
This is where I see a difference in Indie Writers vs. Indie Authors. Maybe I’ll be put on blast for this, but this is my blog…so my opinion. We’ve established that anyone can put together some words and submit their first-draft as a completed work on Amazon then go on to writing the next, then the next, then the next. I think we cross that line from Indie Writer to Indie Author when we start wearing the additional hats. We can’t just write. We have to edit, rewrite, design, publish, promote, get the coffee, market, advertise, get the coffee, schedule events, run a website/blog, get the coffee, etc. When writing becomes more akin to running a small business, I think that it is safe to say we’ve arrived at authordom.
Indie Authors are pretty freakin’ hardcore
Pretty much every day, we face an onslaught of negativity from all directions. Many times our loved ones don’t take us seriously, the writing community might not take us seriously, and it can be difficult to get readers to take us seriously. But, we tell ourselves that it’s okay. We will smile and offer up whatever spiel we’ve worked out, try our best to present our work, and hope to change your minds. For the Indie who takes this industry seriously, we’re only putting out work that we believe to be high-quality. Is it always perfect? No, but I’ve picked up books on the shelves at B&N and found missing words, misplaced commas, and smudged ink. But, though our battle is always uphill, we still try and reach readers every day.
Of all the various forms of entertainment, our writing Indie sect has it the roughest, I believe. Think about it. Sure someone might make a sly comment about an indie band not being good enough to get a label, but they’ll still listen to a song and often times their opinions will change because the band is really good. Indie films have cult followings. Perhaps an even better medium to think of in today’s society is YouTube. Anyone can have a YouTube channel these days, the vast majority of which would be considered Indie. Not all content being published on YouTube is quality, but when the presenters put in the time and effort, they can produce network-quality shows with huge, money-making audiences.
For an Indie Author, though, we have to go through a lot of hoops in the hope that someone will simply read a sample of our work because reading is perceived to be more of an investment of time than listening to a song or watching a video. (Granted, most traditionally-published authors find themselves jumping through these same hoops.)
Many authors, myself not included, create YouTube channels as a means of connecting with an audience. Potential readers may have to watch hours and hours of content before spending 3.99 on an ebook. We go to a great length to find and engage our readers, to a degree that I don’t think indies of other mediums find necessary.
Indie Authors have a genuine interest in the success of other Indies
This is the part I love the most, I think. The Indie Author community has a great stake in the success of everyone in it. We share our trade secrets all the time. I think of Joshua Edward Smith who just wrote a really great rant, as he calls them, on how to correctly insert text messages into novels. Texts are such a integral part of modern day society, they’re bound to show up in novels more and more, and there are some really confusing ways writers have been writing them. Joshua writes them very well, and he could have easily kept his method to himself, letting other writers continue to trip all over it and make a mess on the page—but because he did share, WriterEtte PensBrooke’s debut novel will read much more cleanly and will be well-received now. Joshua is helping to legitimize Self-Publishing, one piece of advice at a time. (Not to mention the stellar novels he’s self-released!)
And most Indie Authors are trying to do the same thing. When I tweeted not long ago that my fellow writers’ hard work is valid, and that I want to see them become successful in their writing endeavors, I meant that wholeheartedly. (Whether they self- or traditionally publish) I love that we live in a time when it is easy to share our stories, even if it means we have to tread some really murky waters to find the true gems.
There will always be really terrible books on Amazon, just as there will always be really terrible books on the shelves at your local B&N. The fact remains that a lot of Indie Authors are working just as hard on their books as their traditional counterparts. Don’t be so quick to write us off. (See what I did there?) Publishing house or not, there are some really great authors out there. We’re just hard to find sometimes.
Until next time my loves, keep writing, polishing, and hustling!