I like writers. That's no secret. I like publishing their stories on this little blog, helping my clients bring their books into the world, protecting them from getting taken advantage of, and giving unagented/unpublished writers advice. Writers are my people. Which is why it makes me sad that there's a civil war happening in publishing right now when it should be the time we're all celebrating together.
Author Chuck Wendig just posted about this very topic, and even though I may not add a different opinion than his, self-publishing "ego," as Chuck puts it, is still a subject I think needs discussing. (By the way, if you aren't reading Chuck's blog, Terrible Minds, then what are you doing with your life?)
The continued "us vs. them" mentality with self-publishing makes me, for lack of a better word, disappointed. Self-publishing, 15 years ago, was by and large made up of people who just wanted to see their manuscript bound in book-form to give to their family and friends. Not exactly the stuff long-lasting careers are made of., but that's OK because they weren't looking for that anyway. They didn't know they could look for that in self-publishing. At least not until about five years ago. After the digital wave hit, there were not only more outlets to get your work out to readers, but the opportunities for self-promotion increased too. Now, self-publishing really can be the way toward a career in writing, albeit a modest one.
Most self-published writers still think of self-publishing as the "alternative" to traditional publishing and not as its own viable option. When I attend conferences, the number of people with self-published books in their hands is staggering. They tell me they got tired of waiting, so they "went ahead and self-published," as if going ahead with the decision wasn't a big deal that could impact their future career as an author. Further, they ask me "what I can do for them," while handing me their books, not realizing they've already chosen a path that doesn't include me.
And writers, there's nothing wrong with not using an agent. You can self-publish! It's OK! The time is perfect for self-published books to be taken seriously. The only thing holding them back is you.
It's true, there is still a stigma. And here's why: The number of writers self-publishing out of impatience outweighs the number of writers who self-pub because they're making it a career. Which means the overall quality of work being produced through self-publishing is too low to have credibility.
There are so many self-published authors who've spent just as much time researching and planning as they would have if they chose the traditional route. They treat self-publishing with respect and don't just see it as a way to avoid the "shackles" of traditional publishing. To the self-published authors who are doing it right, thank you. You give me hope that publishing's civil war will soon come to an end.
Because the thing is, most of the traditional publishing world has moved on and we've stopped thinking about you. We'd rather focus on ourselves. Frankly, we think you should go and do your thing if that's what you want to do. More power to you. This town is big enough for the two of us. We promise.
The self-pub vs. traditional pub war reminds me of the pre-2003 Yankees/Red Sox "rivalry." I use the term in air quotes because, let's face it, before 2003 the rivalry was pretty one-sided. Before they "got good," the Red Sox felt the need to prove they weren't just equal to, but better, than the Yankees. The Yankees had the power and the money and the World Series rings that the Red Sox thought they deserved.
So Red Sox Nation had their "Yankees Sucks" chants and relished in anti-Yankee sentiment and convinced themselves that despite their team's many losses, they were better. Meanwhile, during this pre-2003 era, the Yankees would pat the heads of the little kids throwing rocks at them before riding off in their fancy cars with their supermodel girlfriends.
Then came 2003. It was like a switch was flipped and people started paying closer attention to them. Even more significantly, then came 2004 - when the Red Sox finally beat the Yankees in the playoffs. This, I'd wager, meant more to them than winning the actual World Series.
Since then, the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry has been meaningful for both sides. No, the Yankees didn't suddenly decide to humor them. It's because the Red Sox pulled together a team that the Yankees could no longer ignore. They got good and they started winning and before the Yankees knew it, they were real competition. And honestly, it's been way more fun ever since.
As a Yankee fan, it pains me to say this, but self-published authors need to be more like the Red Sox if they want to be taken seriously. Right now, self-published authors are the pre-2003 Red Sox - an emerging force that has what it takes to be a bona fide equal - but unless they get it together and make the impatient, the bitter, and the amateurs the minority, they'll never make it to 2004.
So, self-publishing community, for being called "self," you're not very autonomous. If you want to convince traditional publishing you're its equal, stop drawing comparisons and start recognizing yourselves as your own entity. Self-publishing is not an offshoot of traditional publishing, and it's not a gateway to traditional publishing. You're something new. We traditional folks won't be mad, hurt, or think you're foolish if you choose to self-publish. Like I said before, we're not even thinking of you at all. Go write an awesome book, take your trade seriously, and treat self-publishing the way you would any other career path.
AND STOP CALLING YOURSELVES INDIE. You're not that either. Using "indie" interchangeably with "self" only confuses people who want to self-publish and pisses off actual independent publishers. There is a clear difference between publishing with a small press ("indie") and using a vendor ("self"). Misusing/stealing pre-existing terms doesn't give you credibility; it makes you look unprofessional.
If you feel the need to run away from a label just because it has a stigma, ask yourself why the stigma exists and how you can make a difference. The Red Sox didn't start calling themselves the Pinstriped Sox to hide from their losses. Instead, they embraced their history of being a losing team. They changed their stigma from the inside by working together, and if self-publishing can do the same, I bet it'll be way more fun.