Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thoughts on The Indie Path -- c.anne.gardner

Over on Pimp my novel: Prithee Convince Me, The blog poster wants self-published authors to “convince him” that self-publishing is a viable alternative to trad publishing. Now this is not the first time this blogger has declared open season on the self-publishing industry and self-published authors, but I can't really understand why, since the blogger's bio states that he works for a traditional publisher. He's got his nice little job in the "real" publishing world, so why does he care so much about what we are doing?

This topic has generated some interesting discussion, and I decided to chime in over on Zoe Winter's blog. Why her blog and not his? Well, I will let my comment to Zoe answer that:

“Convince him?” Oh now that is rich. We will never be able to convince him or anyone in the traditional publishing industry that’s it’s a viable option, and the reason why we can’t possibly convince them is because they do not and cannot understand that “we” True Indie Publishers do not want the same things that those seeking traditional publishing want.

Our values are different, our goals, and our ideas about what success means are different than theirs, and they just can’t understand why we don’t want the same things they do.

And frankly, we’ve got better things to do than waste our time trying to convince people who are only going to mock us anyway. We are happy with what we are doing, and we don’t need to “convince” anyone.

Check please.

As an aside to that discussion, I wanted to take note that traditional publishing and authors struggling through that process need a bit of a reality check as well. It ain't all green grass over there, either. In this article, Lit Agent Julie Barer tells trad authors to keep their day jobs: “I know it’s somewhat of an unpopular opinion, but I think it’s unrealistic to expect that you can support yourself solely as a writer in this economy. Most of the writers I know teach, or have other day jobs to support themselves, so the best way to avoid eating ramen noodles is to not rely completely on your book advance to pay your bills.”

Now sure, I can agree that many self-published authors walk into the process completely delusional, with little to no knowledge of the craft and theory let alone an understanding of what being an Indie means, so yes, there is a lot of badly written, badly edited crap out there, but it's not like the traditional publishing path is delusion/crap free either.

Anyway, We shouldn't even be having this debate. Neither is viable. It's not like traditional publishing or self publishing are making millionaire authors every day. Authors are working their asses off in both industries, there is no job security, and but a rare few are making money hand over fist, let alone, writing for a career. Sure, if you want to become a mega-millionaire best selling author, your odds are better in traditional publishing, but the odds are still a long shot. Sadly, that's not even the point here. The point is that I am so tired of the “If you don’t do it like I do it then you are doing it wrong” mantra. (Our society, in general, seems to be stuck in that mindset for some reason.) That’s just insecurity talking half the time. If you know what you want, if you have educated yourself on the process, and the process and the end result make you happy, then you are not doing it wrong. Sure, there are plenty of ways to “do it wrong” but if you are putting out a professional product, well edited, well designed, well written etc. and you are happy with it and your readers are happy with it, then what’s the problem? Fact check here: There is no problem except the one certain people have created in their own minds to justify why they chose the path they chose. It’s all because they think if we are right then they must be wrong, and that’s because they don’t understand that the word “conventional” does not mean "right." It just means different. Same with unconventional; it doesn't mean "wrong."

Just because my vision is different than theirs and my methods are different than theirs doesn’t make me wrong, and it certainly doesn’t make my art less worthy or less arty than theirs. And on the flip side, if someone needs validation from a publishing house to feel they are a good writer, ok, that’s what they need, fine. Doesn't mean they are wrong either, and we all need to keep in mind that not everyone needs that, and by no means does wanting or not wanting something make someone wrong or right. Art has always been about anarchy, rule breaking, and spitting in the face of convention. If it weren’t, we would all be matching our shit to the drapes.

Happiness isn’t a best seller or a million dollar book deal. When happiness becomes about validation and monetary gain then it’s time to rethink the priorities. Success is happiness and success comes in all kinds of forms. Success is the idea. It's the job well done, and "well done" has a lot of different meanings. So, if you are happy on the Indie path, then you are successful, and if you aren’t happy, well, then try a different path. If you are not happy on the traditional publishing path for whatever reason: lack of creative control, royalty rates that are not satisfying, too much "face" time taking away from the writing, the query process is impersonal, confidence stripping, and seemingly futile, and you think you might die of old age before you ever see your manuscript in print, then maybe it's time to try a new path. If your sense of self-worth requires that you be "accepted" by anyone but yourself, then you might need a new outlook in general.

There are leaders, and there are followers, so you can either get busy waiting or get busy doing. It's a choice: individual choice. Neither one nor the other is right or wrong; It's just a matter of choosing the one that is right for you. My reasons are my reasons. They are unique to me, and I don't have to convince anyone of their validity. Both methods of publishing have their place, always have had, and as long as art is free from constraint, then everyone benefits. Society benefits. I don't want my art stamped "fit for consumption" by any corporate or governmental agency. That's just me. I think it's fine for Food and Drugs, but not for art. Other authors need the stamp of approval, and that's fine too, and art lovers (readers in this case) are smart enough to decide for themselves. If they want something to match the drapes, then fine, if not, at least they have a choice. When we clutter things up too much with rules, fashion trends, and bureaucracy, we diminish it's potency, we objectify it, and take away it's freedoms. Freedom of expression and independent thought, that is. Art is subjective; let's keep it that way.

As for choosing a path: Traditional Publishing works for some people, and self-publishing works for others. Making the choice has nothing to do with anything except your own reasons for choosing one over the other, and really, you don't need to choose either. You can do both at the same time, and believe me, both take just as much hard work.

The art this week is Braque: Woman with Guitar 1913

Cheryl Anne Gardner


Brent Robison said...

Anyone who says "Convince me..." is just abusing you; they are never going to be convinced. I read that Pimp blog once long ago and knew it was not for me.

As usual, your clear thought and emotional security about this issue are refreshing, which is unfortunate because what you're saying should be so obvious. I like the way you refer so often to Art, which is one of the fundamental differences among writers... so many think of what they do not as art but as entertainment product, so they're driven to fit into the giant entertainment manufacturing machine, and measure their work against its entirely inconsistent, market-driven output. To self-identify as an artist is a valuable step toward feeling independent of fashions and toward making your own way, defining success by the work itself, not by the market value of its product.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Exactly, that's probably why I have so much trouble with the "rules." Not the grammatical rules, but the other completely arbitrary rules. Art has very few rules, and the what it does have can be bent at will if one knows what one is doing.

And I know I sell a "product" when I sell my books, but I think the difference is that the stories weren't created from a product viewpoint even though they wind up one in the end.

And I am in it only for the art, so that's why you don't see me post too much on the marketing or the business end of self-publishing. It doesn't interest me as much as it is just a necessary evil of a sort.

Kristine said...

Thanks for that, seriously.

I love being an Indie. I'm enjoying success, more and more with each new release. I love the freedom, the independence, the complete creative license from inception to cover art. I love story telling and getting better and stronger with each new novel. I love swimming up stream with a smile on my face.

I love the ART of it all.

Then just yesterday I get an email from an acquaintance who says he's lost his love of the written word - he's completely demoralized by constant failure and rejection, and no longer has the spark with which to write . . . so, always the helpful doofus, I suggest to him, very mildly, that he give the Indie world a spin.

Just a try, really. Stick a toe in, see if you find it fun, see if it returns or provides the kick you need to get that love back. Nothing permanent, he can always go back to querying, waiting and hoping any time.

I should have known better. His response was the standard writer-forum doctrine of going Indie means you're a "failure" "Cop-out" "gave up" "couldn't hack it" You know the routine. It's always the same ignorant chant that starts with "i know you meant well but.." and ends with "fine for you, maybe, but..."

It shouldn't have pissed me off. I'm happy, I'm writing all the time, I have readers, I sell books, I've achieved everything I've ever wanted and then some by going Indie. It shouldn't have frustrated me, but it did. When you run up against that kind of ignorance and know for a fact they're only spewing back what they've been told is the truth - with no thought whatsoever, no openmindedness, when you see they're closed off and aren't even hearing what they're saying - -

Well, suffice it to say, your post has restored my inner calm :) And I've wisely decided not to reply to him. It would be a waste of my time and effort.

Something about pearls, and swine . . . :D

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I am glad I could help, glad I could be a voice of support and reason. That's why I do what I do. I think Advocacy has a lot to do with keeping the faith, faith in something you love.

If he was so quick to write you off like that, maybe he just doesn't have the faith in the word that he needs to be a writer. Well, at least he can blame the traditional publishing industry for his failure and wallow in self-pity if that's what he wants to do. He will have to reevaluate his ideals; you can't help with that.

This is what I love about Indies: they are so Zen about their art. They know what happiness is because their passion is based on genuine love. If fame and fortune come as a result, well, it's nice and all that, but they don't actually need it to do what they do. How awesome is that.

Zoe Winters said...

Brilliant post! And thanks for the shout out! You and I have a very similar outlook on all this. Art is about anarchy and defiance. It's not about obedience. I cringe at those who believe that it is.

I think it's funny that you say "neither path is viable." hahaha

On the topic of traditional publishing being the better path for riches and fame. I'm not sure if that's necessarily true. Considering that it's such a long shot anyway, I figure anyone who really has enough "it" (whatever "it" is) to be "big" will become so either way. Because if they've gone indie, there is some kind of spark about them and their writing that will help them grow the kind of audience that would make larger publishing sit up and take notice either way.

So I don't think someone should worry that they're closing some door on riches and fame if they go indie. If they were going to be rich and famous, they will be anyway. That luck, riches, and fame will find them if they keep on keeping on.

Granted, I think it's such a long shot either way that no one should "expect" such a thing to happen, but I definitely think most authors secretly want to be rich and famous, even if they won't admit it. (Granted some don't. You may not, and while I think it would be cool, I think there would be downsides to it as well.) But I think a great many people are waiting for a NY publisher to draw their number out of a big hat and say:

"Yes Sally Author, YOU, yes we said YOU are the NEXT big uber famous author, please come to the white courtesy phone."

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I saw a statistic yesterday that said 3-5% of writers make a living at it. Now this was all writers including journalists and such, even so, them's a very small percentage.

As for fame and fortune, I know for a fact it would ruin my life. I can't even imagine the grief it would cause me. I can't imagine having to be "on" all the time, being under scrutiny all the time and not just for the writing, for every aspect of my life. No, you can't pay me enough for that shit. It would ruin art for me too. But all this is just me. For other people, being in the limelight works. In another life, I probably lived in cave and wrote on the walls with animal feces.

And that's another thing I hate, speaking of fecal matter: Self-publishing isn't going to ruin your writing career. That sort of fear mongering mentality really really pisses me off. If anything, it might give a writer a little more perspective.

DED said...

And frankly, we’ve got better things to do than waste our time trying to convince people who are only going to mock us anyway. We are happy with what we are doing, and we don’t need to “convince” anyone.

That hits the proverbial nail right on the head.

Kait Nolan said...

That's so well said! Thank you for this post.

As somebody who was staunchly on the traditional path when I met Zoe, I've done a complete about face (and Zoe is delighted she's "corrupted" me). For me, the writing is something I love, something I have to do. If traditional publishing is not likely to allow me to support myself doing it, then I might as well build a grassroots following self publishing quality work that will be a perpetual passive income stream. Maybe I won't make an exclusive living on that either, but I'll never have to worry about it going out of print or stressing over unreasonable deadlines while juggling my multiple day jobs. And who knows, maybe someday I'll get a traditional contract and between the advance and royalties from that and the money I make off my indie published stuff, and I'll finally be able to quit all my evil day jobs (I have 3). Hope springs eternal.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Absolutely Kate. That is the right attitude and the right way to do it. It's never an all or nothing situation, and anyone who thinks they have to choose just one path is bound to be a very unhappy person.

I think that "pick a side" attitude will change as more traditional authors start dipping their toes in the SP arena for various projects. The definition of what it means to be a writer has to change as well. It's not about the task itself with respect to a career as much as it is about the passion behind the task.