C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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How to deal with the stigma of self-publishing

In the last week, the self-publishing stigma has reared up for me twice. An e-newsletter publicized one of my books (hurray!), but there was something in the text I hadn’t expected. The guy behind the newsletter added “(self-published)” to the news that my book was out. As grateful as I am for any publicity, I stared at that for some time and I wondered what the term meant to him. I suspect  that either he, or his readers, will jump to conclusions about my books based on that little parenthetical. It struck me as odd that Newsletter Guy added that detail. Was that a conscious wink and a nod to his readers? A warning? Or am I being overly sensitive and paranoid? Possibly, but then I ran into someone at a party whose first question about my book—his only question, come to think of it—was whether I’d self-published. In that case, the guy was in front of me. I can read body language just fine so I know his estimation of my books went down with the news that my books are not traditionally published.

I didn’t get into all the great reasons to be a self-publisher. I just moved on. I’m not begging anyone to read my books, especially when I sense I’ve already been dismissed. That way madness lies. Always move on quickly to the people who get what you’re doing. The 80/20 rule is crucial to your sanity as well as your success in whatever you do.

But the term “self-publishing” makes it sound like I do it all on my own, without checks and balances. It’s not like I’m a fresh-faced noob at this. I’ve worked for several publishers in various positions. I trained in traditional publishing, worked in it and have written and edited profitably for years. I hired a graphic artist, a formatter and proofreaders. I have beta-readers. Yes, I’ve found two minor typos since the publication of one of my books. But I can probably find typos in most any traditionally published book you throw my way. If a couple of typos cranks you up that much, don’t read anything. I don’t begrudge traditional publishers a few mistakes. They can extend me the same grace (especially since their books are much more expensive) and I’ll put my ebooks’ quality up against anything similar sold in any bookstore. That’s not knocking the traditionally published, by the way. I read and love many authors, indie and non. I’m just saying traditional publishers don’t have a magic potion to achieve good books. Their special (and rapidly diminishing) value is in a legacy of distribution, not a monopoly on quality.

It irritates me when people make judgments about my books (my babies!) sight unseen. Publishers generally don’t have brands. One of my previous employers, Harlequin, is a noted exception. With them, you know what you get every time across all their lines. They are incredibly consistent in their offerings to a devoted fan base. However, most publishers’ lists, even within genres, are unique. People don’t buy books based on which publisher put out the books. No one goes into a bookstore and says, “I want a book by Harper Collins.” They do ask for specific authors.

But I’ve been here before. I know what to do. It’s time to gird my loins and get tough and ignore any jibes or perceived jibes. Occasional rudeness shouldn’t be tolerated but, if you live in this world, you can pretty much expect it occasionally. When I started in massage therapy, I heard a lot of inappropriate jokes that pissed me off. An uneducated public made assumptions about me and what I did as a therapist that offended  me. In my first year or so working as a massage therapist, I often thought about quitting because I pictured an entire career of defending my reputation against every idiotic stranger ready with a quick and uninformed opinion.

While naysayers and doubters questioned my work, I started reaching my public. I began to help people with serious injuries and diseases. I rehabilitated difficult health problems that had stymied other practitioners, sometimes with even miraculous results. With time, I found I rarely had to defend myself against remarks by ignorant people. I grew my fan base and those became the people with whom I spent my time. (There’s that useful 80/20 rule again.) I went on to work as a therapist for almost twenty years.

I’ve battled prejudice before.

I’ll do it again.

Just watch me.

I’m coming.

Self-publishers need confidence bordering on arrogance to do what we do. The decision to believe in our art will carry us through the work ahead. We don’t have time for negativity. We’re too busy making our dreams happen. Maybe one day we won’t call ourselves self-publishers at all. Maybe “independent publisher” is a better term (just as I and my fellow therapists once debated whether we should abandon the word “massage” because of its past negative connotations.) Self-publishing has a bad rep for a reason, but I’m not part of the problem. Eventually, the market, not gatekeepers in New York, will vindicate me. With time and patience, word about my words will spread. The people who like my work will share the good news with others.

If you’ve already helped me by buying my books, telling a friend, writing a review or retweeting my tiny presence on the literary scene, thank you very much!

I’m focussed on you, the believers.

Filed under: Books, getting it done, grammar, My fiction, Publicity & Promotion, What about Chazz?, writing tips

2 Responses

  1. inkspeare says:

    This is something I am pondering right now, which road to take. I finished my first novel, put it aside and then started the second one (first draft almost done) because I needed to make sure that I go with the right path for me. There is much to consider, many of the things that you mention and other personal issues as well as likes/dislikes about traditional and self-publishing venues. I have not decide yet. Maybe for you it was much easier to make the decision since you knew the inside world of publishing but people on the outside may not know the nuts and bolts of it. In the end I agree with you – your books will be found by the readers who are meant to find them and appreciate them for what they are. Let the ignorants follow the trends and miss many good books in the process.

  2. Well written article. I finally made the leap into self-publishing and have had to learn to ignore the stigma. I do believe, however, that over (a long) time this stigma will lessen. Human behaviour & prejudices change very slowly though, so I figure I’ve got to learn to live with the closed minds and celebrate those open minded souls who are willing to explore beyond conventional boundaries.

    Will RT this article!
    Judy, South Africa

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