While their social status has definitely been elevated over the past five years or so, in tandem with the evolution of entrepreneurial technologies, respect for self-publishers still has a long way to go, for reasons that make less sense as the marketplace continues to evolve with the times.
Despite making major commercial inroads over the past several years, there remains a stubborn and sometimes patronizing stigma regarding self-publishing within the industry, preventing many indie authors from getting reviewed or interviewed in print or online journals that perpetuate this increasingly senseless bias.
But the fact of the matter is, a writer publishing his or her own books is no different than a sculptor or painter selling his or her work in a gallery, or even a musician renting out a recording studio to produce his or her own CDs.
The latter, actually, is still suffering a similar lack of credibility, at least within the music business. So why are music and literature considered formats that should be “vetted” before public release, whereas art is deemed the sole propriety of its creator?
Simple: there is no “art industry” comparable to the music and literature establishment. Painting has always been considered a solo gig, not something meant for mass production or an assembly line. The connection between creator and consumer is direct and personal. Sure, most prominent professional artists (including commercial illustrators) these days have agents, but if they don’t, nobody considers them any less worthy of success. In fact, painters than can score their own shows often command even more kudos than those that rely on the usual channels.
In short: nobody feels threatened by the success of a solo painter. But if a writer or musician starts selling his or her work outside the traditional boundaries of the corporate mainstream, then somebody is going to lose a job, at least eventually. They’ve always been considered collaborative processes.
And they still are. It’s just now you can be your own boss and hire whomever you so choose, as opposed to relying on a chain of command, in which you are merely just another weak link.
Now that the basic mechanical tools of publishing are directly accessible to the author, the “middle men” are being cut out of the equation. And by and large, readers just don’t care. This matters because ultimately, they are the final arbiters of popular culture, since consumers determine the market, not the other way around. If the book is good, they don’t care who published it.
Therein lies the problem for the establishment – and the challenge for those brave enough to go it alone.
Rules of Engagement
If you are publishing a single book, or you have decided to start your own imprint for the sake of not only your work but that of others, you will still need to conform to certain industry standards in order to satisfy consumers of this product that are accustomed to a certain level of professionalism.
This means you subcontract cover art, interior design, and editorial – basically, the same services a traditional publisher would provide in-house as part of your contract (which restricts your artistic input while increasing your market outreach), but an independent author or publisher has to do on a freelance basis, unless you can afford to hire your own employees.
If you bypass these essential measures during production, your audience will notice the slip-shod approach to publishing and soon your reputation will be worthless. And it will all be your fault. You earn all the credit for your success, but you also deserve all the blame for your failures.
But the point is, this is no different any other small business. Those that can compete with major companies by supplying quality products at reasonable rates will survive. Those that can’t won’t.
The difference is self-publishers are still treated like interlopers and vigilantes, especially by the old guard. That barrier is breaking due to sheer force of numbers, but sometimes the pieces of that ancient wall fall the wrong way, and squash the struggling independent pursuing his or her own unique vision.
Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going. Unlike a lot of small businesses, you don’t have to pay rent for a physical storefront. All of your commodities are produced electronically, and promoted via an online product page that costs you nothing to maintain. As long as both you and your target audience have Internet capability, you’re still in business.
Providing you give the people what they want. That’s the nature of capitalism. Even for artists. At least those that expect to turn a profit.
Law of the Jungle
When it comes to promoting your product, indie writers are going to hit the same walls any small businessperson would, since you’re competing in a vast, crowded marketplace populated by talented professionals equipped with way more experience and resources than you have, at least initially. Since by the time you’ve shelled out for book design and editing you don’t have enough left in your budget to hire a publicist, you will need to do it yourself. It’s not only a matter of cash and creativity, but savvy and stamina.
Thanks to the advent of social media, just about any type of small business has free access to free advertising via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, etc. We have it so much easier than our ancestors, even those from the previous century.
But it still requires a lot of hard work and financial investment, and not all of it is guaranteed to pay off, especially not right away.
Writers that publish their own work are going to run up against a system that is trying to prevent them from succeeding, whether it’s reviewers or publishers or brick-and-mortar booksellers, since they resent being circumvented. It’s a threat to their survival. But that doesn’t make independent authors any less “legitimate” as viable commercial entities that are rightfully competing for the same audience, in the same field.
It’s not personal. It’s just business.