Thursday, October 27, 2016

The stigma that follows self-publishing...

It's time for us to talk about the giant pink elephant in the room.

You see, we all tap dance around it. I just got back from a conference in the USA where traditionally published authors mingled with self published authors and hybrid authors and indie authors, etc etc etc...and it was a giant, convoluted mess that nobody has a clear definition for, and nobody can really put their thumb on, and everybody is hyper sensitive about it, and some are super snooty about it, and nobody knows what to call themselves, and HOLY MOTHER OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN, I'm sick of it.

Here's my definition of the aforementioned titles (whether they coincide with yours, I don't know, and I respectfully don't care, because I'm should be, too.) But here they are:

1.) Traditionally Published Authors: these are the authors who wrote books, and then queried said books, which led them to acquiring a publishing contract with a publishing house. 

(Please note: I couldn't give a rip what "house" your publishing contract is with. Whether it's Random House, MacMillion, Avon, Entangled, Ellora's Cave, Wild Rose Press, or Bob's Books <I made that last one up> It doesn't matter. If you contracted your book with a company that you yourself don't own, then personally, I consider you to be "traditionally published.")

2.) Self Published Authors: these are the authors that have forgone traditional publishing contracts, and have chosen to complete all aspects of the publishing process themselves, and not through or with the aid of a publishing company, thus putting their books out completely themselves. 

(Please note: It makes no difference to me what your motivation behind your choice to self publish is, because I am not God, nor am I the closest thing we have to a "God" in the romantic fiction genre, which is Nora Roberts. I have no bearing on anyones relevance, and so if you self published because you were struggling to get a traditional contract, then kudos to you--don't let someone else's opinion of your work drag you down and keep you from publishing. If you self published because you wanted to retain total control of your work--then high fives all around, because that was my motivation, too. It's difficult to see sub-par work being released under your name, and keeping all control is the best way to keep that from happening again. Or maybe you self published because you have awesome forethought, and you were able to see that that was the direction the industry was headed in anyway, and you wanted to be a part of the future of publishing. Props to you, smart one, because you've likely got us all beat, and for that you deserve the most success.)

3.) Hybrid Authors: This is the category I happen to fall into, and it is best defined as an author who is both traditionally published and self published.

(Please note: some authors started out as self published, but later became traditionally published. This is a difficult feat, but not at all impossible, and I consider it to be a major accomplishment. To take a book that may or may not have been ignored by agents, editors, and publishers, and sell so many copies that publishers come after you in the future? Well, that's amazing. And my hat is tipped to all who have accomplished this. Other authors start out traditionally published, but because of negative experiences with publishers, or because of the lack of income that happens with most traditional publishing contracts<major myth alert: unless you're Stephenie Meyer or JK Rowling, you won't make a lot of money in publishing until you're 15 books deep in a back list, and consistently cranking out NYT Bestselling books...there isn't much money to be made in writing. I'm talking pennies on the dollar, friends> they decide to try their hand at self publishing, because in doing so, they not only retain control of their work, but all funds that book is bringing in, big or small, are going directly to them, and not to a publisher, editor, agent, copy editor, cover artist, and publicist.

4.) Indie Authors: Yeah, this is a category I'm not especially fond of, though I know a lot of authors who bear the indie badge proudly. I just happen to not be one of them. This title is when authors are traditionally published, but not by what is known as a "Big Five" publisher. Rather, by a small press. For instance, instead of being published by Kensington or Harlequin...they're published by InkSpell or Wild Rose. 

(Please note: in my opinion, authors who have been traditionally published by one or more of the Big Five, but look down on authors who have been published by smaller presses are authors who have lost sight of themselves, and where they came from. In my experience, some of the most life altering works of fiction I have read have come from either a small press, or self publishing, and to judge an author for not having a Big Five publishing contract is both adolescent and damaging. I'm of the believe that there is a readership, a platform, and an audience for every type of book, from every type of publishing background. There are enough of us to go around, and further dividing us by adding the term "indie" vs. "traditional is like making mandarin and naval oranges battle it out for who makes the best juice.)

So now that we've got that all cleared up, can we stop the judging, maybe? Just a thought. Oh, not yet? Well, let me go on...



Why do people feel the need to pick apart an author's career, in order to validate it in their own minds? This happens all the time, to every author. At that conference, I heard some authors saying "She's not traditional, she published with a small press!" and "I'm not going to waste my time with her, she's self pubbed. What can she do for me?" and "I've got to get some face time in with her, she's with Kensington, and she was on the NYT bestseller list!"

You said it, Katy.

And in my personal life, I hear things like this: "Wait, so who did you publish with?" and "I've never heard of that publishing house, guess I'll have to look them up." and "Oh, you self publish? I see. Well, good for you!" and "Oh, you self published? Interesting. Well, no wonder I haven't heard of you, I usually only read what I find in actual book stores." (usually followed with a consolatory pat on the back.)


So an author's importance and relevance hinges on whether or not he/she has hit the NYT list, or whether or not she publishes with a Big Five? As a fellow author, you don't think you have anything to learn from someone who pubbed with a small press? And when you social network, you don't lower yourself to rub elbows with someone who self pubbed, because they don't have an in for you to finagle? Are you serious?

And in every day relevancy as a publish author is dependent on my ability to get a contract with a publishing house you've actually heard of? So you, a non author, despite having never written or published a book, and having never worked within the publishing industry at all, are basing my capabilities on whether or not you can recall the name of my publisher, when you couldn't list the Big Five off the top of your head if I asked that of you right now? And you consider the fact that I'm self published as a step down, or a consolation, because I couldn't get, or remain, traditionally published?

So let me clarify a few things for the masses: some of the most important and poignant workshops I went to at this most recent conference were taught by self published authors. Most of the agents and editors at said conference spoke highly and respectfully of self published authors. Some of the authors I read the most often are self published and/or small press authors. Some of the authors that I admire and emulate the most often are self published/small press authors. Some of them have reached amazing heights: best sellers, awards, being pursued by agents and editors after having self published great works. These are the authors I have learned the most from. These are the authors I want to rub elbows with, and who you should be rubbing elbows with as well. THIS. This is the real deal, folks. Not the people who self publish because they can't be published elsewhere. 

***Sure, there are some of those. And you'll know them when you read their work. But for every piece of bunk, there's a priceless work of art, you just have to be willing to weed through them, and decide for yourself--and for the love of heaven, don't wait until freaking Oprah Winfrey tells you to read it. Yeesh.

As an author, you should never consider a fellow author beneath you, or unable to teach you something. Every author has something to teach, some connection to make, or some way to enlighten others. The minute we start thinking we've learned all there is to learn, or that someone isn't worth our time or attention, is the minute we need to close our laptops, stop writing books, and become a podiatrist. We don't deserve to be authors when we think that way.

Judging an author on their self-published title, or whether or not you recognize the name of their publishing house is elitist and self limiting. A person's job is their job, whether you deem them worthy of your respect or not. To insinuate that the work of a freelance photographer or a freelance journalist isn't as relevant as that of Annie Leibowitz or Cameron Crowe would be a douche move. So why do it to an author? For all you can tell, they could be a NYT best seller, but what would you know, because you can't connect their name to Oprah's Book Club or Reese Witherspoon's latest Instagram post. Hell, you could be speaking to an author who will one day reach Stephen King status, or will be walking the red carpet with Meryl Streep one day, because their self published book was finally noticed and made into a movie...but you were too busy trying to place the name of their small press in your "not-at-all-familiar-with-publishing" mind to notice the talented author you were talking to.

My journey as an author began with a four book contract with a traditional publishing house that was just opening. I was to be one of their debut novels, and my three book trilogy was scheduled to come out a year later, and to say I was over the moon would be an understatement. When the contract was first offered to me over the phone, I hung up and went into my bathroom to vomit. I couldn't believe it was happening. I'd been rejected--for four different books--over a hundred and thirty times. When my book debuted, I was ecstatic and proud. My next books with them were eventually (at my request) condensed into one book, and I signed a 1 book contract with a different small press during that process. The first publishing company that I signed with eventually grew much bigger, and are now rivaling Big Five houses, while the second one has remained small and tight knit. The third publishing company I signed with was a small, digital only press, that I believe is still going, though because my experience with them was so negative, I've retained my rights to the book I originally published with them, and re-published it as a self-pub. My first three books, and one short story, remain available through the first two houses I signed with, but my subsequent books have all been self published. Despite being occasionally approached by publishers, I've remained loyal to my decision to self publish, because I prefer having total control over my books, and because I like to make money off of my work. Some of my publishing experiences were negative, some were positive, but I've not once regretted my choice to become a hybrid author.

It's nice to be able to say to the skeptics that I was at one time a traditionally published author, and I think for my family it's a source of pride. I've got relatives who have unsuccessfully tried to get traditionally published, so for me, being able to say been there, done that feeds my tenacious nature. I remember being told by someone that "getting published is really hard" and that "a lot of people think they can do it, when they really aren't meant to".....and my saying back to them:

You. Just. Watch. Me.

For me, getting traditionally published was my way of flipping off the naysayers. The quitters. The wusses who didn't think I could handle rejection. The folks who teased me about being another mormon housewife trying to write the next Twilight. The people who assumed that because I'd not finished college, and wasn't the most well-versed woman in the world, I was destined to spent the rest of my life a "wannabe." The jerks who poo-poo at the romance genre. The literary snobs.

Go ahead. Doubt me. I dare you.

But once the newness of being traditionally published wore off, and the dust from my first release settled, and the checks came rolling in........I learned very quickly that putting a thousand hours into a work of literature does not equal a decent paycheck. My first royalty check, which covered a quarter was for less than $200. (I wasn't exaggerating: you make pennies on the dollar. It became clear to me that if I was going to continue this career, I needed to find a way to make some money, otherwise I was just wasting my time...and my husband's hard earned money trying to pursue a career that was more like a glorified hobby.

That. That was what drove me to self publish. It wasn't being rejected by publishing houses--I'd already been accepted by three, and I'm confident enough in my romance writing skills that I could easily be signed for more if I tried again! be judged wrongfully for being a self published author is insulting to my credibility and validity, and I strongly resent that. If anything, it proves that I am a strong, smart woman, a woman with children to raise and inspire, and one who has a family to help support. By self publishing, I am declaring to the world that my income and having control over my own product is infinitely more important than my social status as a traditionally published author.

Because yeah, being able to say I was traditionally published first is a stroke to my ego...

But stroking my ego won't pay the bills. And stroking my ego won't insure decent cover art or good content. And stroking my ego won't teach my children that when you put 1000+ hours into a job, getting paid pennies on the dollar is unacceptable. 

Most of the traditionally published authors I know are pretty awesome. They're smart and savvy and give credit where it is due, even if that means giving kudos to an up and coming self published author. Most traditionally published authors know that there are enough readers to go around, and that there is a place for each of us. The ones I associate with are good people. Talented people. Savvy people. That doesn't mean they're more talented or savvy than I am, it just means they're talented and savvy in a slightly different playing field than I. And that's okay.

There are the occasional bad apples, though...and they can make it tough to hold your head up and be proud. They're the ones who make you feel like being a self pub or hybrid author is something to look down on. The ones who treat you like you're super special, but not special enough to to speak to you like you're their equal like you deserve. It's important to remember that they're in the minority, and that they count for very little in a field that's so incredibly vast. Most authors I know aren't butt-heads. Most authors I know are good people, just trying to make it in a crazy, ever-changing, competitive field--just like me.

Remember: the butt-heads will get theirs someday. Bad karma begats bad karma, you know?

And as far as the non-author folks who are confused by, or turned off by certain titles, like Indie, hybrid, self pub....just let it all go. Walk away from those folks, until they learn to stop trying to define the authors they meet. Until they realize that they're missing out on an entire WORLD of amazing fiction out there to read, all because they're too busy waiting to read the next big thing, or whatever Big Five book is being made into a movie for the summer of 2018. Encourage those elitists to buy your freaking books.There's no better way to judge whether or not an author is any good, than to drop a buck or two, and freaking read their work. 

I can almost promise you that you'll be blown away by at least 75% of what you read. Stop depending on Oprah to tell you who to read next. Read an unknown. Read a hybrid. Read a self published author's first book. Throw someone a bone! You might surprise yourself once you let pretension go, and actually lose yourself in a random cheap book! Like I said, some of the most moving stuff I've read, and most meaningful teaching I've received has come from self published authors... 

Titles (traditional, indie, self, hybrid) mean very little anymore. Especially in the publishing world. Stop focusing on the labels. Just read.

This. THIS is what matters.