Thursday, March 03, 2011

Thoughts on Being an Indie Author -- c.anne.gardner

Why I have never been and will never be a rah rah Indie:

First off, for those who don't really know me, I have never been a very vocal defender of the self-publishing movement, and the reason why is because it's just not the right movement for everyone. I don't like to play up the stats on super successful self-published authors because for most of the writers wandering about the Lulu and the Createspace discussion forums, that reality just isn't going to happen. Successful Indie authors are a varied bunch, and the definition of success is just as varied as the authors are. I, myself, am a miserable excuse, and just as there are many definitions, there are many variables when it comes to success, as well. "The writing is about the writing, but publishing is about the timing." That my friends is from The World According to Garp and is just as true now as it was when Garp was complaining about his mother's success.

But even so, that really isn't why my vocalizations about the subject have had the tendency to be rather subdued. First off, I am not anti traditional publishing; it has its merits, so I could never pick a side to rail against. Secondly, I don't think all commercial fiction is crap. Shit, I read and review a lot of mainstream stuff because I like a lot of mainstream stuff. Third, I am not all that into validation, so I don't worry about the gatekeeper nonsense because I can't be bothered with it. For my purposes, all the claptrap about it just doesn't concern the type of writer I am. I don't and have never needed to be accepted or validated; I am confident enough to work through my own mistakes, and I am not a wait and see type of person. I am a make-it-happen person, and I don't ever feel the need to defend my reasoning. I am an anarchist, and to me, Self-publishing and Indie publishing are about freedom of expression. It is and always has been about the craft, the artistic implications of it, and lately, I have become disenchanted with the idea of self-publishing because, frankly, it's becoming in vogue, which to me is passé. Successful self-published authors are on the rise. Konrath profiles a list just about every friggin’ week, and all manner of traditionally published authors are jumping on the bandwagon now.

Sure, this is helping to eliminate the stigma, but maybe, just maybe, some of us die-hard anarchist self-publishers actually enjoyed the stigma. For us it was all about experimentation and rule breaking. It was about the writing: writing for niche markets, or writing in a style no longer in favour with the mainstream. Writing fucked up obscure shit in a flowery dance of overdone poetic language. It was about being minimalist, or exhibitionist, or expositionist, or sexist, gory, offensive, implausible and/or ridiculous to the nth degree. It was about being transgressive, subversive, and assertive. It was about taking chances, come what may. It was about rolling your sleeves up and getting your knees bloody. It was about art and freedom and control not royalties and stats and media coverage.

Now I am not saying that all the self-publishing success stories out there aren't worth anything. The Pod People have read a lot of books and have seen a great many of those authors become successful in a variety of ways, and they all should be commended, not for the writing necessarily [because we know literary merit is subjective], but for their bravery, because when they started down this road, self-publishing wasn't what it is now. It wasn't about having the cash flash to outsource for a hot sexy book cover, or blurbs, or a fancy website. It was all down in the trenches, making due with what you had and making greasy backroom deals for what you didn't. That was part of the joy of it, but now things are changing. The whole publishing industry is changing, and traditional ideas are slipping in and the anarchy is slipping away.

So that's why I don't rah rah rah every time an Indie/Self-published author gets a traditional book deal or meets with some other sort of mass media success. I am just not about that and never have been. I don't have anything to prove, so I don't see the point in taking sides or making a "see, we don't all suck" stink fist about it. It all takes up too much of my energy, energy better spent on reviewing excellent self-published books and working relentlessly on my own artistic anarchy. To me, the work is what matters. I know a few other Indie activists out there who feel much the same as I do and have pretty much gone silent to work on other projects they feel passionate about. I probably won't go totally silent, because I believe the anarchist spirit can still thrive in the self-publishing arena, but I will have to change my focus a little, which means more ranting about the art and less blathering on about the industry, because let's face it, there are already enough mouthpieces for the industry out there, and I really don't have the lungs for it.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

The Art this week is an untitled piece by Beksinski, and to me, it really illustrates how I used to feel about the divide between Traditional Publishing and the Indie. Quite the frightening adventure, and I liked it that way.


Julia March said...

I have posted a response to this at

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I don't know if "cool" is the right word. I never got into this because I thought it was cool, just different. I could go my own way, do my own thing, and everyone who was "in it" accepted that sort of mindset. We talked about the process and the art of it. Now it seems every conversation has dollar signs attached to it, and it's all about staring down your Amazon rank or some shit or another. I used to see more art-house and experimental type stuff in the review queries, but now not so much.

Jim Murdoch said...

I have mixed feelings about the whole traditional route for publishing. I’ve really not pursued it at all which means I’ve only sold a small number of books but the thing about those books (a handful of typos aside) is that they are exactly the way I think they should be done. I keep reading about writers getting deals and then being asked (told?) to change what they’ve done, to rewrite it to suit what their publisher considers the book’s demographic is going to be and I wouldn’t like that. My wife does edit my books and we squabble (although not as much as we used to) about minor details but a book is a big project and you definitely need a second pair of eyes. But she would never ask me to tag on a happy ending or anything daft like that. I look at my latest book and a part of me thinks that it has the potential to be marketed to a much wider audience than my other books but I could definitely see a traditional publisher wanting me to ‘fix’ it before they’d take it. It’s structured like a mystery novel but it’s a mystery novel where we find out next to nothing and are left wondering and that’s not how people expect their mysteries to go but it works. It’s a book about loss and it has to stay unresolved; that’s the whole point of the book.