Friday, May 08, 2009

I Write; Therefore, I am ... What? by c.anne.gardner

This is going to be a long one today, so settle in, but don’t have that bran muffin just yet!

This week I ran across two interesting and heated discussions: one over on Nathan Bransford’s site and the other over on Writer Beware. Both caused a mêlée in the comments section, but for me, the whole situation only had me shoving a pencil up my nose to scratch my brain in confusion.

Now I don’t think Nathan was trying to draw a line between who is a writer and who isn’t. I believe his point had more to do with crossing the line: when a writer’s obsession becomes more about the title, or label, than the act of writing in itself. On Writers Beware, we take that a bit further as the post there seems to be all about assigning and defining titles/labels, which digressed, yet again, into the arguing of semantics when it comes to who exactly is self-published/Independent or not.

My point with all this is: Why on earth does anyone give a frosty crap what we call ourselves? Indie, starving artist, delusional idiot, misfit, anarchist, sucker born this minute, masochist, drinker with a writing problem ... Why on earth do people friggin’ care so much how we define ourselves as authors?

So I am wondering, who does it actually affect in the long run??? It certainly doesn’t affect most of those discussing the issue with such fervour. So whom does it affect then? Well, it affects us: The Indie, self-published, subsidiary/vanity published authors; the authors not published by a traditional press in the traditional way with the traditional business model; the authors who are just trying to do what we love and are just trying to do it the way we want to.

The traditional business of publishing will go on with or without us, so we are told, and I actually believe that, which leads me to my next idiotic question: If we are insignificant and don’t really affect anything or anyone, why would anyone else care what we call ourselves? Why do these discussions take place at all, and what purpose do they serve? Are we eroding some label law that I wasn’t aware of? Are we some sort of infectious waste that must be labelled to protect the public? Makes you wonder, eh?

I guess it’s good to clarify the semantics for authors who are thinking of going Indie, or whatever, and have no general knowledge of the industry’s legal subtleties. I can accept that, if that truly is the intent of such discussion: to educate, not to ridicule. If not, then I don’t see the point really. So, for the sake of semantics, I will clarify my own opinion.

In my personal opinion, and this is based upon my own twisted logic, Independent Author (not press) equals Self-Published Author. Allow me to elaborate:

Independent, according to the dictionary, has many varied meanings, but for the purpose of this discussion we can use two all inclusive points: 1. An entity (author) not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc.; thinking or acting for oneself. 2. Executed or originating outside a given unit, agency, business, etc. In this case, an author who operates outside of the established publishing business model. We all know what the established business model is: some label that Traditional Publishing.

Self-Published authors are Independent because the burden of responsibility falls entirely upon the Author's shoulders. Now I am not talking financial burden exclusively here, I am speaking of the Decision Making Burden. The Self-Published Author makes all the decisions, every step of the way, including these top 10:

1. You, the author, decide how, when, and where to outsource, meaning what third party providers to pay or not to pay for whatever services they happen to offer. This includes the choice of Venue -- be it Subsidiary/Vanity Press, DIY site, or the creation of one's own imprint -- and it also includes what services you choose to pay for such as editing, cover design, marketing, PR, web hosting, distribution, ISBNs, etc., or what software you choose to invest in to do it all yourself.
2. You decide what research to do or not to do on any of the above.
3. You decide what rights to sign over or not: ignorantly, naively, savvy or otherwise.
4. You decide how to market your title.
5. You decide how to represent yourself, i.e. your brand or public image.
6. You decide how, when, and where to interact with your readers.
7. You decide the level of monetary investment and where that money comes from.
8. You decide the level of time investment.
9. You decide the level of sweat investment.
10. You decide the level of angst and shame you wish to be burdened with for the mistakes you make along the way.

So, to recap, if you, the author, publish your book following the definitions of Independent listed above, and you, exclusively, made every single one of those 10 listed decisions when it came to down the publishing process, then you are an Indie Author.

Some argue that authors who do everything themselves from imprint to back cover are somehow the true Independents and those who pay for services are not. I don’t see it that way at all. Unfortunately, unless you have a printing company in your basement and a legion of elves who just happen to be qualified PR and Marketing reps, every Independent author has to pay someone for something, whether it’s an upfront payment or a cut of the profit on the backend: It’s called outsourcing, and it’s a viable business decision. Some authors just don’t have the skill set to get “in it” up to their eyeballs, but that doesn’t make them any less Independent or any less passionate about what they are doing. 100% cotton or a blend, it doesn’t really matter, unless you have allergies.

That to me is the definition of an Independent Author. It's about who makes the decisions, nothing more. It's all you baby, and that includes what to call yourself, so choose wisely. From now on, I think I will label myself a literary turnip, but if it doesn't look good on my business cards, I'll change it. In the end, label yourself; no one else has the right to do it for you. Ironically, Indie authors are not Pod People.

FYI: Irish Writer Brendan Behan was, to quote: “The drinker with the writing problem.”

Cheryl Anne Gardner


Mrs Giggles said...

I have the same reaction when I was reading the entry on Author's Beware. What's the point? We're not supposed to use "traditional publishing", self-published authors can't call themselves "indie"... so? Like you, I wonder, why do these non-indie/self-pubbed/whatever authors care so much over a matter of labeling and semantics?

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I have a theory on that, but I won't utter it in public for fear of being strung up by my toes, stripped of my flesh, and the set on fire for heresy.

MCM said...

I'm guessing "indie author" is an attempt (consciously or not) by self-publishers to distance themselves from the negative connotations of their label. I've used it a few times myself (without even thinking about it), but I can appreciate why it bothers some people so much. It's like you're trying to deny your heritage, making yourself out be better than those that came before. It's silly, in the end, because they're largely synonymous.

I think I will call myself a "literary turnip" on my new business cards. It has a nice ring to it...

Henry Baum said...

Thanks for this. Victoria Strauss shows a continual contempt for self-publishers and I think it's because she wants to believe that she's been stamped a better writer because she's made it through the gate. I really think it's a power trip.

Seriously, this issue doesn't matter. I think self-published writer's calling themselves "published author" is pretty weak, but with self-publishing's stigma fading, it really is becoming a new type of independent publishing.

Chris Gerrib said...

I think Victoria's point is that certain POD outfits appear to be deliberately misleading their authors.

I also think, and I see it in some of the review requests we get here, that many "indie" authors aren't very clued into the whole self-published thing.

Henry Baum said...

I'm of the opinion if an author is so ignorant to not understand that self-publishing is self-publishing then that's their problem, not the service's. I mean, who goes to Lulu and thinks that they're actually being traditionally published? It's naive to the extreme.

Chris Gerrib said...

Henry Baum - Lulu isn't the problem. Publish America is (allegedly) the problem.

Henry Baum said...

I know P.A. sucks - but they're one place. And the criticism is that all subsidy publishers are scamming people out of their money.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I agree MCM. If an author is trying to hide behind the "Indie" title, they are really just fooling themselves, as Indie is synonymous with Self-Publishing.

Independent is Independent no matter what you call it. I might own my own imprint and do everything except, print, warehouse, and distribute my books, but even if I paid for more services, I would still be Independent from the Established Publishing Business Model.

And yes, Chris, Subsidiary presses who scam their authors into thinking they are an Established Traditional Publisher are nothing more than preditors.

If you are Independent, be out and proud about it. Indie is Indie for a reason.

Zoe Winters said...

Hey Cheryl, awesome post! Totally agreed, independent is pretty easy to define, IMO.

IMO the reason people get so up in arms about the indie author label (and maybe I shouldn't say it, but you know me... so you know I will...) is because it makes us all look less like dog turds.

Self-published has come to be about equivalent to just about any derogatory term you can think of. I read a book published by Avon recently that I hated, but I didn't throw it down in disgust and say: "I'm never reading another Avon book again!" No, I just decided not to read that "author" anymore.

Why *I* as an indie author should be judged on the merit of anybody else's work but my own, I'll never know.

But I do feel that the more cachet we have based on 'indie author' and the more of us putting out work that isn't like a polished dog turd, the more threatening "some" trad published authors find it. (Though certainly not all of them, and likely not even most of them.)

For some reason I think "some" trad pubbed authors or more usually "some" unpubbed writers who want to be trad pubbed think me choosing to go indie is somehow a judgment against what they're doing as if it's invalid.

I think trad publishing is totally valid, and hard as hell to succeed in. If you get a NY publishing contract that is great! But I'm just not doing it that way. And when a lot of people stand up and say that, some find that threatening, especially when we have a cooler label for ourselves.

It was okay as long as people could call us "vanity published" or even "self published" but when we started standing up and saying: "No, I don't believe I like that label, I'm an indie... that's when the fallout started."

Because we forgot our place.

Silly us.

Henry Baum said...

There are no dates on these comments, but reading back (on Dec. 5, 09) I come across as being kind of bratty. Victoria Strauss has been a lot more self-publishing friendly over time. And her transformation is one of the major signals to me that self-publishing is gaining legitimacy and here to stay.