Sunday, June 26, 2011

Self-Publish: Is it a Dirty Word?

I'm new to the self-publishing world. It was a long and dirty fight for me to get to this place (mostly I was fighting with myself). What I want you to understand is that I'm proud to be an indie author. I know there are other authors in my position who have felt the same triumphs and disappointments I have over this tumultuous journey, and they're struggling with something that slowly eats away at a writer's delicate soul: self-esteem. It could also be called ego. All writers have issues with this. I don't care who you are. Whether you've sold millions of copies or one. Writers are needy creatures. We need to be reassured. We need pats on the back and words of praise. A bad review can spiral us into the darkest depression, while a complimenting fan can make us sit down behind the keyboard with enthusiasm.

I had another author respond to that statement on another thread with derision. He said he didn't have an ego or need pats on the back. He was only writing for the money. My response to that was, WTF? It took me by surprise because I've never met anyone before who said, "I'm going to start a business and get rich. What should I do? Oh, I know, I'll be a writer." It's absurd. Writers write because they love it. It's too hard of a profession to just take up on a whim. So if anyone else falls into the camp of the guy above, just know you're in the minority and good luck with your business.

That being said, I have a confession to make.

I was wrong... (I know, it's hard to narrow this statement down. I'm wrong a lot. Mostly about haircuts and infomercials, but that's another blog topic).

I'll gladly admit my attitude has changed since I joined the ranks of indie authors who seem to be popping up like proverbial daisies on the Interwebs. There are more than 700,000 self-pubbed authors out there, folks. And most of them don't sell more that a single book a month. But they're doing it, and they have hope.

There seems to be a negativity that follows indie authors around. Maybe you've felt it. I've certainly felt it on more than one occasion--that I might as well have a scarlet letter of shame tattooed on my forehead (Insert inappropriate comments here).

Let me explain...

I finished my first book almost almost seven years ago. I was 24 years old. The idea of ebooks taking over the industry was laughable. New York agents and editors were at the top of their game. Publishing houses turned their noses up at the idea of anything being better than print copies. I was bound and determined to see my book sitting on the shelves at a "real" bookstore. Nothing else would do. And it didn't help that the organizations I was involved in seemed to separate themselves from authors who chose a different path. Loyalties were divided. Arguments were had. Many arguments.

I fell into the camp of thinking that ebooks were an inferior product. Once again, I was wrong, so hear me out. I listened to my published friends. I listened to my various writing groups. At the time, that thinking was the majority. I was on my first agent (the first of three I've had in my career), and I was sure the next big contract was going to be mine. But as the rejections came, and I moved from agent to agent, my thinking changed somewhere along the way.

Ebooks exploded onto the market. Print publishing became antiquated overnight and New York was left twiddling their thumbs, wondering what to do or where they went wrong. Some of them are still twiddling their thumbs. It'll be interesting to see who's still standing over the next few years when all is said and done. My agents became nervous. I'm currently repped at a huge agency with a star-studded list of NYT's bestsellers. My agent's list of clients is one of the most impressive. But she's still worried. Her clients are worried.

So somewhere along the way of where I was seven years ago to today, my thinking started to change. I don't know if it was maturity (I was rather young when I started all this) or the fact that I finally became confident enough in myself. But I made the change. I had to ask myself a really hard question.

What was the point of my writing? My writing. Not anyone else's.

Was I writing for money? Hell, no. If I was I'd be destitute and living on the streets. Was I doing it for fame? Was I doing it to brag? To be better than my friends who were already published? The answer to all of those questions was ultimately, No.

I write because I have to. Period. It's my soul. I'm absolutely insufferable to live with when I'm between books and not writing every day. So then I had to ask myself another question. What was wrong with ebooks? What was wrong with the people who were self-publishing? The answer to that was easy. Not a damned thing. The publishing business is hard. It's even harder now. Publishers aren't taking chances on good writers like they would have years ago. And those good writers are getting out there on their own without the powerhouses of publishing behind them. I've been reading them. Some of them are really good. As good as any of the print books I've read. These authors are careful about the product they put out there--they edit, have good covers and a catchy blurb. And they're making a shitload of money doing it. Even though I'd be writing whether I made money or not, it's still nice to see the sales pile up.

So to all the writers out there who had the foresight to see what was coming and go after what you wanted, I apologize. Sometimes I'm a little slow.

But here's the problem: The stigma that goes along with being a self-published author is still out there. It's not as bad, but it still exists. I've felt it numerous times since putting my books out there. I've felt it from my friends (though they would never say so to my face). It's more of that pitying look that tells you they think you've given up on being a "real" author. Anyone else ever get that? It was bad enough when I first "came out of the indie closet" that I didn't tell anyone in my local chapter of writers. I'm glad to say that's changed, but it took me awhile to face those pitying stares. Remember the self-esteem issue of writers? But no worries, I'm all good now and ready to shout it from the rooftops.

So how do we as indie authors change, not our readers' thinking, but the thinking of other writers? All we can do is keep writing good books. Keep your focus, your determination, your heart, and your need to write all about what you want. Not about what others are whispering. Someday they'll realize what they missed out on.


  1. It's a path a lot of us have trod. My mistake was slightly (but only slightly) different than yours. I have been convinced for a long time that eBooks were the wave of the future--as in FUTURE... like in 25 years say. Until then worrying about eBooks was silly.

    Yeah. I don't buy infomercials but I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

  2. I think there are a lot of us in that category, but the word is spreading.

  3. Terrific post. I love being an indie author. I think that if you are proud of being one, people will pick up on that! I've made more than a few converts to the new world order of publishing among my friends.

  4. Great post! Very succinct and a lot more tactful than I can be at times.

  5. I've been thinking about self-publishing. I will be thinking about it harder and more seriously now. Thanks.

  6. I agree with you. Money is only part of the validation. The love of the art drives me. I'm inspired by good writing and aim to make each one of my books, blogs, travel articles, even letters to the editor better and more to the point aka focused and effective.

    Good post.
    Julie Eberhart Painter
    Mortal Coil, Tangled Web and soon Kill Fee
    and a few self pubs