My wife works in programming for a public library, which means that part of her job is setting up book talks and signings with various authors. When I see a program I want to attend, I always ask Jenn the same question: “Is the book self-published?”
Whether the answer is “yes” or “no” has yet to sway me from or convince me into attending a program. But it’s still the first thing I ask because I want to know what to expect from the author, the book, or both.
I see self-publishing in a much friendlier light than many people, but there is definitely a stigma attached to self-publishing and those who choose that route for their books. Some people don’t consider self-published authors as “real” authors. And even those who are seen as legitimate have rarely made a living off of their fiction.
So I find it kind of interesting that my current (yet tentative) plan for writing involves having two self-published ebooks online by Christmas 2011. Part of that plan involved deciding whether or not I could deal with having that stigma applied to me. I realized that I can because, like everything else in life, there is not a single label that defines who I am. And if I can make a living off my writing and do it with self-publishing? Yeah, I can stand some people not taking me as seriously as traditionally published authors.
3 Kinds of Self-Published Authors
In my experience, there are three distinct categories of self-published authors. I’ve come to see these categories based on my experiences with authors and those I’ve read about.
The First Kind
This kind of writer just might think that revision is changing a few commas around, maybe putting in a few extra lines of dialogue, or changing the manuscript font to something other than Comic Sans MS (into Papyrus?). These are the authors who get rejected from a couple of agents or literary journals and Tweet “THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND MY ART!!1!!” as they upload their masterpiece into PublishAmerica’s database.
These are the authors who, in my opinion, give self-publishing its bad name. They don’t understand that writing is a business that requires work. And they don’t understand promotion. These authors think that the hard part is writing the book. (While being a daunting task and a worthy accomplishment, writing the book is only the first step along the journey to making a living from it.)
One author who spoke at my wife’s library (yes, it’s hers and hers alone!) had just a fantastic idea for a book. In fact, we have a copy of the book on our shelf at home. The author was a little awkward in front of people, but that’s okay. We had a good chat at the program, and I decided to look her up online afterward.
What I found horrified me. During the program, she talked about how she was disappointed in her sales, but when I checked the official site for the book, there were a few comments of praise, and then a single followup from the author that read something along the lines of “Oh, wow, I just saw these comments. I always forget about checking this site, but thanks for looking at the book!”
My jaw dropped. My heart sank. If that was the public persona this author was wearing when discussing her work, it’s no wonder she wasn’t selling very many copies. She didn’t take her writing or herself seriously.
The Second Kind
These authors aren’t trying to make a living from their writing. They may or may not take the writing and editing seriously, but then again, they’re not looking to make more than a few dollars or say they’ve written a book that is listed on Amazon. They don’t really promote. They might do a few signings here and there–mostly local–but for the most part, they write because they want to.
These authors are fun to talk to generally because they just love what they’re doing. They have fun talks set up, and they genuinely get happy whenever someone buys a book because it means that someone is then likely to read that book. If they get a few good or bad reviews on Amazon, then good for them either way, but their life and habits aren’t likely to change because of it.
The Third Kind
The third kind of self-published author is the kind who is making all the waves in the industry right now. We have Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking and Karen McQuestion. We have the authors who are able to make a living with their writing completely (or mostly) outside of the traditional NY publishing houses.
These authors treat writing like the job it is. They hire cover artists and editors. They don’t upload garbage; they edit their manuscripts until they are as close to perfect as they can get them. They tirelessly promote themselves (and their friends) through social media and other outlets in order to build themselves as a brand. These folks also tend to prefer the term “indie” to “self-published,” which is the topic of an upcoming post on the rhetoric of self-publishing. Stay tuned!
In other words, the main (but not only) difference between the third type of self-published author and a traditionally published author is who gets to do all the legwork and earn the right to click “upload” on Amazon.
I want, within five years, to be one of the third kind.
Now, I know that I’m vastly oversimplifying these folks into caricatures, and if you have any to add (or to critique these), please let me know.
What have your experiences with self-published authors been like? Share your story in the comments!
Continue reading “The Stigma of Self-Publishing” with Part 2.