By Henry Mosquera
Every now and then, when I’m browsing the web for interesting articles for my blog or Twitter feed, I bump into the old “indie authors = amateurs” tripe. This is a theme that has been argued ad nauseam from both sides of the dispute. Of course, as an indie author, I take issue with the stigma that my work—and that of my peers—is somehow “less worthy” because we haven’t been graced with the blessing of a traditional publisher. Lots of nasty words have been sent our way. The establishment has called us “wannabes,” “a problem,” “a hindrance,” “unprofessional,” “untalented,” and the list goes on and on. They even go as far as to suggest that we’re not real writers. Funny, I always thought that a writer was someone wrote, the rest are just qualifiers. And that’s where I think the problem lies, in the adjectives.
Instead of writing yet another piece in pro of self-publishing, I thought it would best to try and define what an author actually is. According to the Oxford Dictionary an author is:
1 a writer of a book, article, or report.
1.1 someone who writes books as a profession.
1.2 the writings of a professional author.
1.3 an originator or creator of something, especially a plan or idea.
So an author is not necessarily defined as a profession but as someone who simply writes. I wrote a couple of books, therefore I’m an author, right? If you want to play the adjective game you can counter, “Well, you’re not a professional author.” Really? Ok. So what is a professional? Lets see what our friends at Oxford’s say:
1. of, relating to, or connected with a profession.
2. (of a person) engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.
2.1 having or showing the skill appropriate to a professional person; competent or skillful.
2.2 worthy of or appropriate to a professional person.
[I’m leaving the last exception out as it’s not pertinent to this article].
Ok, so writing has been my main occupation for a few years now. Every time somebody buys one of my books I get paid. So far one of my novels has won a few awards and even critical appraise from the indie media. And I hire professionals to help me shape up my work. Hmm, what do you know? According to the dictionary, I’m a professional author. But according to the publishing industry that’s not the case. They’re basically telling us that if someone self-publishes ten novels in a twenty year writing span, that person is not really an author. But if someone decides one summer to give the old American novel a try, and a publisher picks him up, that person is bona fide author. Does that make any sense?
At this point, some of you might have thrown you hands in the air and exclaimed in frustration, “No, no! That’s not what being a professional author is. You’re not in bookstores, you don’t really make a living as an author, the traditional media ignores you, and nobody knows who the hell are you.” And you’re partially right. As we‘ve seen above, none of those attributes describes an author, or even a professional one at that. Amazon is a bookstore (I used to be at Barnes & Noble on-line for a while), and digital bookstores are the way of the future. Most traditionally published authors don’t make a living from their writing; they have day jobs to pay the bills. Even though things are slowly changing, the conventional media is still part of the established literary industry. So they really have no economic incentive to embrace indie writers. The last point is all yours. But what the above made-up statement is defining is a “successful author,” not an author or even a professional one. See how adjectives are really the problem? In contrast, an amateur is:
1. engaging or engaged in without payment; nonprofessional.
1.1 inept or unskillful.
“Whatever! Then why are you self-published?” Good point. Humans are social creatures. We all like to be loved and accepted to some degree, even antisocial loners as myself (I’m an author after all). But the deceptive concept that breaking into the industry makes you an author is just not true. This is an idea the establishment likes to propagate and it’s unique to literature. Both film and music industries embrace independent directors and acts. Those scenes are seen as fertile ground to discover new talent. It’s even considered as a badge of honor. “Oh, I was into those guys way before they broke into the mainstream.” Not so in the publishing world.
There are a myriad of reasons why a literary agent rejects a writer. But it all boils down to “can this manuscript make money?” J. K. Rowling was rejected because, “kids don’t read.” There was no market for her young wizard’s tale. It had nothing to do with her skill as an author or the literary merit of her work. And whether you enjoy her books or not, nobody can deny that monetarily speaking, the industry was dead wrong. “But they’re the gatekeepers, making sure all the crap is kept out from the bookshelves and only backing the true gems,” you say. They’re gatekeepers alright, but if by gems you mean 50 Shades of Grey or anything by Dan Brown, then you define “good” by dollars and cents, not by skillful prose. Publishing is a business, and as such, it has a pathological aversion to gambling. And when I say business, I’m not only talking about just the publishers. Agents, writers, and the aforementioned media are very much a part of it. If they can’t position your novel you can try again, quit, or “Welcome to the exciting world of self-publishing.”
I tried to get my first novel, “Sleeper’s Run” traditionally published. When that didn’t pan out, I decided that I wasn’t about to throw away four years of my life after researching, writing, and editing my book, so I went indie. And for the sake of clarity:
1 free from outside control; not depending on another’s authority.
And that’s really the bottom line for me, freedom. I write what I like the way I like it. I put a lot of time, effort, and money in my work. And I pride myself in putting out the best work I can. For my second novel, “Status Quo,” I went straight into self-publishing. In fact, after my experience with “Sleeper’s Run,” I decided to be an indie writer and stop trying to please some literary agent. If one day, for whatever reason, they see dollar signs in my work, they’ll surely come calling. So I don’t sweat it anymore. If it happens great, if it doesn’t, that’s great too. I’ll be doing what makes me happy, creating and telling stories.