Essay–The Indie Stigma

For some reason, I thought the world was intelligent enough to move past this. Apparently I once again put too much faith in humankind. One of the listeners of the Dead Robots’ Society posted in our facebook group this morning about how he was told “you’re not really published. Because anyone can do that.”

All right, kids. Let’s talk about this for a moment. When I first started podcasting my fiction, the first thing I was asked was “are you published?” My response was always “are you listening to it?”

Shortly after I started burning earholes on the internet, every story I wrote went through an editing process. A REAL editing process involving a REAL editor. I paid money to independent editors. I paid money to independent cover artists. I bought ISBNs. And I recorded. I started a real company that pays taxes. In other words–I became a publisher.

The Indie Stigma is really a misunderstanding of terminology and process. I’ll try and explain this without being too elitist, but it will be difficult. When the digital markets started accepting stories from everybody and their dog, a tidal wave of flotsam (including the stink-berries) hit the internet. Amazon’s free area, Smashwords, BN, you name it, were suddenly chock-full of absolute turds.

People who’d dreamed of being published suddenly were. But their stories were filled with typos, inconsistencies, terrible dialogue, awful formatting, and grammatical errors that would make any English teacher commit suicide. Why? Because being a writer is more than just typing “the end” and shoving it out there. Being a professional writer means working on a story until it’s as good as you can make it. It means sending it to other folks to read, edit, find mistakes, and tell you you’re a bad monkey until you fix them. And the vast majority of stories that ended up in the “Free” and even the “pay” areas weren’t written by folks who treated their writing as a profession.

Don’t get me wrong, there were lots of jewels lost in the tide. And when the tide finally receded a bit, they were found on the shores by happy readers who asked “where’s the next one?”

I’m a lot less of an idealist these days. Primarily because I’ve witnessed all of this. Hell, I started a publishing company back in 1991 using a BBS. If you don’t know what that is, go look it up. Trust me–you’ll be amused.

There are these things called “vanity” presses. They will publish ANYTHING, provided you pay them to do it. They are the snake-oil hawkers of literature. They prey upon desperate writers and people who desperately wish to be writers. Over the years, the lines between vanity publishing and self-publishing blurred. Without gatekeepers measuring quality, how can you possibly keep a straight face and say you’re published?

Those of us who bust our asses to write and follow the same process as a “professional publishing” company are more than “self” published. We are independently published. Our business addresses are our homes. Our business offices are in our homes or at a bar or wherever it is that we write. We have turned our dreams into a business. And for some of us, that business is thriving. Others? We still struggle.

And that’s the point, kids. I was once sneered at for chasing small presses and magazines. Why? Because if it wasn’t for a nationally renown press, paper, or zine, then what was the point of getting published at all?

We all start at zero. A few, a lucky few, find homes for their stories right off the bat. But you know why that is? Because they worked. They struggled. They rewrote and rewrote until every word was where it needed to be. And they sent it off and someone liked it enough to publish it.

Some authors, like Howey or Konrath, come to the indie game because of disillusionment with the broken mess that big publishing has become. Others find their work is too eclectic for big presses to understand, much less market. Some of us absolutely stink at writing cover letters and synopses for our stories. Others look at the tradeoffs between publishing independently or with a press and think “why am I giving these people all my money if I can do the exact same thing by myself?”

Regardless of the reasons, writers that choose to be indie CHOOSE to be indie. We’re not forced into it. It’s an economic reality imposed by the way the system works. Once upon a time, it was nearly impossible to get a novella published outside of the dreaded anthology market. Now? They are everywhere. Novelettes? Even tougher. Works less than 70k? Yeah, good luck finding a home…

But all that has changed. In reality, readers don’t give a damn if a story is published by or Severed Press or whomever if they enjoy it. All they care about is finding a good tale and something they feel was worth their cash.

But writers? Do us other indies a favor. Before you hit “publish” on Amazon, or Smashwords, or your distribution channel of choice, go through the process. I have moved on from designing my own cover art. I pay others to do that. I pay editors. Don’t have the money? Find volunteers. Ask the community. You’d be surprised the kind of help you can find. If you are one of the lucky few that can write AND design, then do so. Just make sure you use beta-readers that will be critical of your work. Again, you can find them. They’re out there.

“Self-publishing” is a misnomer. And although it sounds like semantics, Indie publishing is radically different. If you’re Indie, you’re in it for the long haul. You have lots of stories. You’re writing them. And you’re trying to make money. That means you’re a professional writer. So be one. Don’t ever let some asshole that knows nothing of the business tell you you’re not published because “anyone can do it.” Yes, “anyone can do it,” but damned few can do it right. Give the critics the finger and keep writing.

One thought on “Essay–The Indie Stigma”

  1. Good essay. I’ve only been treated as if I’m “not published” twice that I can remember: once was merely a snide comment by a distant relative, the other was by a local con. Otherwise, I’ve never had a bad experience, not with trad-pub authors, agents, editors, other cons, and certainly not with readers. In addition to what you mention (editing and cover art) some indies make a bad name for themselves with unprofessional self-promo tactics, but I won’t hijack your thread with examples. Just be professional.

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