Despite the growing popularity of self-publishing, the low cost of bringing a book to market, and the expansion of opportunities to distribute, promote, and share ideas with audiences larger and more diverse than ever before, self-publishers still have a tough job to do.
Most of it, honestly, takes place right between the ears long before a novel ever comes to market. Should I self-publish? Is it worth it? How much work will I have to do? Will I be forgotten in a sea of earnest but tragic attempts to be the next best thing? Am I using self-publishing as a way to avoid or deny my anger at being shut out of the traditional publishing world? Will people think I’m a failure because I’m publishing my work myself? Will they automatically think it’s no good? Do I need their approval? How much whisky do I need to drink in order to convince myself I don’t care?
While the answers to these questions are unique for each individual, there’s no denying that self-publishing takes guts. Jumping into the murky pool of a growing, shifting, changing industry is both exciting and nerve-wracking, especially if you’re not quite sure when you’re allowed to call yourself an author.
Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, wants to help. In a blog post this month, he published “The Indie Author Manifesto,” a set of ten principles that attempt to define what a self-publisher – or “indie” publisher – really is, and how she should feel about herself as she’s churning out content.
Now, lest you think that I’m going to be totally beating up on Smashwords again, I’ll say right off the top that some of these (click the image to enlarge the list) are great. Number one is probably unobjectionable. Number two is true of most of us, to some degree. Numbers four and five are important principles of creative control, and numbers eight and ten are things that we all aspire to.
But – and of course there’s going to be a but – I think the rest of these items still smack of that desperation for validation that self-pubbers are having a hard time escaping.
I have a right to publish. My writing is valuable and important. Sales don’t matter. They really don’t. Honest. People just can’t appreciate a good thing if it bites them in the ass. I’m not beholden to no stinkin’ publisher with its stinkin’ rules and oppressive contracts and cash advances and fast-talking Madison Avenue fat cats. No, sir. Not me. Big publishers are bad and evil by nature, but I’m a free spirit, and I like it that way. Really. I do. That giant pile of rejection letters in the basement just proves how committed I am to sticking it to the man.
Should all this anxious defiance really form the core of our guiding principles as a burgeoning industry? Do we really still need to define ourselves as in opposition to traditional publishing? Do we really want to incorporate these litanies of hollow self-comfort into the way we do business? Being strong and confident is great, but I don’t need to be standing in front of the mirror reminding myself that I’m allowed to say whatever I want to say to whomever is willing to listen.
So here’s my own manifesto. I am an author. Period. I am a person who has answered my doubts to my own satisfaction, taken time to understand my options, and moved forward to pursue what I want out of my publishing career. I respect the choices of others, and I respect the traditional publishing industry for what it has to offer the readers of books, who are my audience, my customers, and my friends. I am an author, and I love what I do. The end.