In the previous two posts on this topic, I first offered examples of why even traditionally published authors are opting to also self-publish, and then I went on to explain the personal responsibility necessary to pull this off successfully, practically as well as commercially speaking, since it all reflects back on your public professional persona.
The main problem, of course, is that, despite reports to the contrary, which I have relayed in this space before, self-publishing still suffers from a nearly debilitating stigma, especially amongst industry establishment figures. They are clinging to their roles as the ultimate arbiters of contemporary literature.
Most publishers, whether big “legacy” companies or even smaller but discerning operations, still consider DIY work beneath their dignity. Of course, self-publishing should no longer be considered beneath anyone’s dignity. It has earned its place as a viable alternative not just for writers, but also for readers that appreciate stories conceived "outside the box."
But many if not most publishers, editors, agents and book reviewers do not share this view. Part of it can be explained by a conservative reluctance to embrace an innovative trend that threatens the status quo, a cultural conflict supported by historical precedent, in all fields, but perhaps especially the arts.
I get it. Editors want click bait, not pointless puff pieces that serve no lucrative purpose, unless they're altruists. But I don’t personally share this institutional bias against "lone wolves" that refuse to run with a pack (mentality), since I am a self-publisher as well as a small press guy, not that there’s much logistical distinction between the two, only a gap in public perception.
Let Me Tell You a True Story...
Just last week, I was forwarded a confidential email explaining why a major interview with yours truly for a prominent online magazine had been cancelled at the last minute, right before the planned publication, even though the piece had already been pitched by the interviewer and accepted by one of the editors.
Naturally I was devastated, as if I'd been emotionally broadsided. Being a primarily one-man show, I am in charge of generating my own publicity. This particular article would’ve introduced me to a wider audience, beyond the scope of my own social network. And it wasn’t even my idea. The interview was solicited by a freelance journalist that read one of my novels and liked it so much, he decided to expand it into a more comprehensive profile piece. I was quite honored and flattered, and once he got the green light on the project, we worked hard at putting together something we could both be proud of.
At the risk of being too “Julian Assange,” I am sharing a crucial excerpt from the anonymously sourced “leaked internal memo” to illustrate a much larger truth about the ongoing obstructionist policies facing all indie authors, despite our collective market gains:
I'm uncomfortable with a number of aspects including but not limited to the fact that the books are self-published and that Mr. Viharo comes of (sic) as overly egotistical and very self serving. I feel that this article will do nothing for us but only give him another "journalistic notch" to justify what he does.
Naturally, no publisher is obligated to run any article that makes he or she “uncomfortable,” even though in this case, the piece had already been pre-approved. You can probably smell my sour grapes from where you’re sitting, but actually, I’m kind of glad this happened, because it confirms suspicions I’ve held for a long time, and this information can benefit not just me, but anyone else wearing similar shoes, pounding the same beat.
Ignore the logical argument that any interview subject – in fact anyone that ever posts a simple Facebook status update about what they had for lunch, as if anyone really cares – could be accused of being “overly egotistical” and “self serving.” Also gloss over the fact that this assessment is not only grossly unfair, but also highly inaccurate, since the books in focus were not self-published.
Regardless, they were still “tainted” by the fact that my other books were – and even those titles had been previously published by a small press that went under, so once the rights reverted to me, I simply reissued them under my own imprint. This is actually an increasingly common occurrence. But unfortunately, it’s also a frequent deal breaker.
For the purposes of this blog, what really stands out in that isolated quote is the final line: I feel that this article will do nothing for us but only give him another "journalistic notch" to justify what he does.
I’ve enjoyed more than my share of press in my time, as well as blunt rejection by the boatload, but that’s still pretty brutal, by any measure.
My personal pain aside, this revealing statement – which makes me out as some sort of vigilante as opposed to just another writer trying to get a leg up on a crowded ladder - sums up what any indie author will be up against when he or she begins promoting his or her own DIY book on the global marketplace.
Even though “professional” writers still have to do most of their own publicity these days, if you are self-published, you will often be written off as an opportunistic narcissist, an uninvited interloper crashing a party without the proper credentials. To see why this is egregiously unfair, look at any author’s website, Twitter account or Facebook page and you’ll most likely find an endless assortment of “look at me!” review quotes and chest-thumping boasts along with a list of published credits and maybe even merchandise links.
Nothing at all wrong with any of this. It's part of the gig. And now people can simply go into business for themselves without waiting for someone to hire them.
Now these self-appointed gatekeepers have been overwhelmed by the forces of technological progress enabling individual ambitions formerly ostracized from "the system," providing millions of voices free public platforms. But despite their contrarian efforts, they can no longer control the sacred gates to literary glory now being flooded by the masses, including the "untalented" and the “undeserving.” For better or worse, it’s a wide-open field now.
The Password Is No Longer a Secret...
Think of the literary establishment as a fancy nightclub where the bouncer gets to choose who enters and who doesn’t. Seems totally random, right? But it isn’t. It’s all totally strategic and impersonal. This age-old but crumbling power structure is all about enhancing its own elitist image by only admitting the most glamorous and attractive hipsters standing on line in the cold, hoping to get the nod so they can claim they’re one of the “cool kids.”
To me, the definition of “cool” – a subjectively subverted term that has lost touch with its roots in jazz slang - is someone that does his or her own thing, for the sake of his or her own agenda, without conforming to the standards of an increasingly cloned, profit-driven culture.
In short, when it comes to transforming creative expression into a commodity, it’s always about “ego.” Any time you expect someone to pay for the privilege of enjoying your product, it requires a certain degree of hubris. Nothing wrong with that. But it shouldn’t mean you’re automatically excluded from participating on the big playground, either, since everyone there always suffers from the same affliction: “human nature.”
Self-reliance is often misinterpreted as self-indulgence. If you’re self-published, this will be the popular assumption, even if it remains unspoken as a matter of politeness or dishonesty. In short, most mainstream media generally balks at "legitimizing" self-publishers with recognition, unless they're a commercial success. Even then it's regarded as a fluke, and statistically speaking, it is - partly due to the lack of attention outside of the author's own social networks).
If you don’t believe me, try getting your self-published book reviewed, on any site, even a minor blog. Then try getting it stocked in your local bookstore, even if it’s an independently owned and operated business just like yours.
Then tell your peers and friends you just self-published a book. More often than not you will be greeted with a supportive if unenthused pat on the back, like you finally potty trained your puppy, whereas if you brag your book was just formally accepted for "official" publication by a separate entity, even it's only a small press run out of the back of a truck equipped only with a laptop and Wi-Fi, you’ll be toasted and celebrated and hailed as the next Stephen King. Potentially, anyway.
Everyone will want to be your pal if you go the conventional route. If not, you're basically a social pariah, at least within the literary community. Trust me. I know the distinction all too well.
Next time I’ll speculate, with substantive evidence, exactly why the status quo feels so threatened by the self-publishing boom that they perpetuate the myth of their own diminishing prowess, even in the face of an unstoppable tide.