The Lines That Divide Published Authors

2012-May-18 -> from the whats-on-my-mind department Tags: opinion writing 

Human nature, it seems, drives us to draw lines between ourselves. Race, religion, social standing, sexual orientation, size, shape, appearance, education. We divide, categorize, label and pen people up into nifty little minorities. Often we don't even mean to do it.

A new line has formed over the last few months. It's a line between self-published or "indie" authors and traditionally published authors. I don't think we really meant to draw this line, it just happened. It's in our nature.

I have a great many friends in the publishing industry. Many are authors. Some are traditional, others are indie. We all use our vast imaginations, our experiences, and large amounts of our time to create stories we hope people will enjoy. We really aren't that different when you boil it right down to basics.

Traditional authors get their stories published through a tried and tested publisher. If they're lucky, it's one of the big 6. Many of these authors have spent a good number of years writing books, querying these books, and dealing with hundreds or even thousands of rejections before finally catching the attention of just the right editor at just the right time. They get passed through what's usually referred to as a "gatekeeper" to the publishing world. Traditionally published authors are almost guaranteed space on bookshelves in brick and mortar stores, have marketing teams and publicists behind them, and editors to make sure their work is free of dreaded typos and many other writing mistakes. But they work hard for this, and I have the utmost respect and admiration for these authors. Some of my best writerly friends are now traditionally published authors.

Indie authors bypass the "gatekeepers" and publish their work directly to the distrbutors, either electronically (through Amazon KDP, KoboBooks, Smashwords, etc,) or through Print-On-Demand services (like CreateSpace, Lightning Source, etc.). This seems at first glance like the easy road. I assure you, it's far from it. Indie authors are responsible for putting up all financial backing for their books. They take all the risk, but typically take home a greater reward as well. Indie authors must write, edit, format, illustrate, market, print and distribute all of their own books, all by themselves, or pay for such services out-of-pocket. This is a tremendous amount of work, and it's ongoing.

The line between indie and traditional authors has been drawn by one phrase I think, and it's one that bugs me any time I see it: "Paying your dues". In the publishing industry, the process of submitting your work and dealing with the countless rejections is referred to as "paying your dues" to the publishing industry. There are some authors out there who feel that if you haven't paid your dues, then you are not a "real" author, thus the line drawn between indie and traditional authors.

I'm on the indie side of that line. The Time Weaver is self-published by me under the imprint DragonWing Publishing. I didn't turn to the indie side of the line out of frustration, but out of choice. I've never submitted a single query to a traditional publisher. Not because I don't think my book is right for them, but because I don't think I am right for the traditional process.

There have been many times that I've doubted myself for the choice I made, but recently I had some validation. I attended a convention recently, the London Rogues Sci-Fi/Fantasy Convention 6, to do a book signing. I had hoped to sell more books than I did, but what I took home from this convention was so much more: acceptance. Many of the people I talked to were very supportive of the indie route I chose, even commending me for the immense amount of work involved in publishing my own book. I shouldn't be surprised by this; the sci-fi/fantasy industry has always been more open to independent work.

I'd love to wipe the line away. To have indie and traditionally published authors coexist in a friendly atmosphere. I have great respect for both sides of the line, and if confronted by a traditional contract from a publisher, would likely have no qualms with taking that contract if the terms were right. I chose my path because I felt it was right for me. I fully expect each person to do the same. At the end of the day, I know I made the right choice.


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7 Comments:


By Dwight Okita on Sat 19 May 2012 12:34:28 pm [ Reply ] Good essay, Thomas. I have author colleagues who are traditionally published, indie published, and some do both! Personally I don't feel tension with them. Though I do sense tension in the world. Maybe it's in traditional authors who don't personally know indie authors? Like a straight person who doesn't have gay friendsr. It's a leap but you know what I'm getting at. Maybe the hostility is from readers, agents, publishers, bloggers, editors, critics? I've seen one critic in town totally dismiss the indie movement on the basis of a handful of books. There are people whose way of life and thinking is being threatened. What I do agree with is that there doesn't need to be an us vs. them mentality. All authors have similar goals/struggles though we may choose different paths. Thank goodness for choices!

By Karen Robiscoe on Sat 19 May 2012 01:13:53 pm [ Reply ] Very thoughtful piece, Thomas. You're pulling the old paciderm in the room out of the shadows with this one. I am on the fence myself regarding my manuscript--querying but dreaming of IPPY's...Have you thought about entering your work for an IPPY? To sum up: I think both sides of the coin have merit.

By Marianne Sheldon on Sat 19 May 2012 04:17:18 pm [ Reply ] Great piece, Thomas, but I'd say that the tension between indie and traditionally published writers is lessening all the time. Both the crossover success of some indie writers and the fact that many traditionally published writers are turning to self-publishing have contributed to that.

By Jacky Gray on Sat 19 May 2012 05:36:29 pm [ Reply ] Hi Thomas, You have my utmost respect for having the courage to make that choice. I grovelled after 23 literary agents before deciding that I couldn't stand any more questions about why my novel uses modern-ish language despite the fact that it opens with a joust, has sword and buckler fights and an archery contest. The poor queried-out agents obviously didn't get to the bit where it said Archer is set in a modern-day alternate universe. As you said, there is a lot of resistance when you are a newbie without a nano-second of media coverage.
Almost three years on, I have sold over 600 copies via the self-pubbed route and have in the past week had three separate people (two of whom I met at book signings at Renaissance Fayres) asking for the fourth book in the series. As it is still at draft, I have gained a couple of beta readers. My little heart is bursting with pride - there are people out there who want to read my stuff. I almost feel inspired to go back and try the lit. agents again - they have to be looking for the next big thing after the dystopian flavor reaches saturation ...
Good Luck, and keep up the good work.

By Jenny Milchman on Sun 20 May 2012 08:53:05 pm [ Reply ] There are advantages and disadvantages to both ways--and you add an important point, Thomas. Most authors will find one or the other right for them and their book at a certain time. There really is a choice now.

By Tim Moon on Tue 22 May 2012 01:13:14 am [ Reply ] Great piece, Thomas.

One thing I think is odd is that book publishing is the only industry where taking the initiative is looked down on. We don't see musicians or bands belittled when they self publish an album. Nor do we belittle artists and crafters who use Etsy or their own sites to sell their work.

It's a silly argument in a society that supposedly applauds self-starters and entrepreneurs. Hypocritical, really. To me it seems like traditionally published authors who look down on indie authors do so to defend their ego and protect the status quo.

If anything, traditionally published authors should be happy because every author who goes independent is one less they have to elbow out of the way for a contract.

By Thomas A. Knight on Tue 22 May 2012 04:47:22 pm [ Reply ] Thank you, everyone, for your wonderful comments. :) I want, more than anything, for this line to go away. For Indie and traditional authors to coexist and for there to be no more name calling or finger pointing. We are all authors.

Jenny: Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to read and comment. You are one of the most unbiased author supporters out there, cheering on all authors and celebrating all successes. Thank you.

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