Indie News Beat: The Angst of Acceptance

One day, I’m sure this is going to happen: I’ll be standing around chit-chatting at some fashionable soiree talking about writing, and a nervous-looking gentleman next to me will admit, with a slightly embarrassed cough, that his books are ‘traditionally’ published.

In response, I shall look down my nose at him with measured sympathy and say: “Don’t worry, old chap. Not everyone’s cut out for the hard graft of publishing their books themselves. It takes a wide range of skills that not every author can be expected to possess. Why, some of the most famous authors used to be traditionally published.” Then, I shall pause, wave my wine glass airily around his lowered head, and with condescension ask: “I suppose twelve per cent royalties are better than nothing… Aren’t they?”

Of course I’d never be that cruel. Probably. In any case, although that day is still some way off, it won’t stop me noting those stories which crop up from time to time to indicate how far the acceptance of self-publishing is progressing. In the UK’s Telegraph, author Mark Bastable writes a similar kind of thing in a column called “How I overcame snobbery to self-publish an e-book”.

He starts off recalling Steve Jobs’ notorious ‘people don’t read anymore’ quote when Amazon launched the Kindle in 2008, then moves on to admitting his snobbery by believing that “the e-book revolution would be a chaotic orgy of vanity publishing.” Not quite, despite the mainstreams’ efforts to make the general reading public believe it is, while simultaneously doing their level best to cheat as many unsuspecting Independent Authors as possible into paying the mainstreams’ little vanity-publishing offshoots as much as possible.

But now, Bastable is a little shocked to find that “e-reader devices have since become acceptable, even hip, like screwtop wine,” before trotting out the familiar mid-lister’s complaint that their mainstreams don’t deliver the marketing they promise. From there, it’s a short step to realising all of those things which self-publishing obliges the author to do him/herself, like editing, proof-reading, cover design, and even – gulp! – getting a website.

To be fair, Bastable does come up with a nice analogy: “Someone remarked that publishing a book was like dropping a rose petal into the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo,” which he runs with in a way that will have most authors nodding and smiling. In addition, his concluding advice to anyone thinking of self-publishing an e-book is very sound and nicely put.

Elsewhere, I’ve noticed another comparison which seems to gaining currency and playing an important role in the acceptance of Independent Authors: that if musicians can produce their own music; if playwrights can mount their own productions; and if artists can hang their own art shows, why can’t authors publish their own books?

This comparison turned up again recently in this story, about the Writers’ Union of Canada and its decision to vote on whether to allow self-published authors to join its ranks. The vote, to take place at the end of this month, seems to be provoking a healthy discussion, in which traditionally published authors are smarting because they feel they ‘earned’ their publication with a traditional publisher, while others worry what will happen if the WUC doesn’t expand its membership. The issue is best summed up in this quote from author Armin Wiebe: “I have no objection to self-published authors joining the WUC as such… My problem with most of the self-published books I have read or tried to read is a serious lack of editing, both substantive and copy editing. Those are services that a good publisher will invest money in, so if you self-publish you should invest in it too.”

This is a fair point of which many Indies are already well aware. But organisations like the WUC now find themselves forced to answer some difficult questions: are they a special club to which only ‘proven’ authors can belong? If they allow self-published authors entry, will the conditions rest on sales, or their own verification of writing quality? How justifiable is the fear of letting in the great unwashed masses, and how great the potential benefits?

It will be interesting to see how the WUC and other author organisations handle this. In the meantime, Independent Authors can take some comfort that the long road to acceptance is slowly being travelled.


Author: Chris James

Chris James is an English author who lives in Warsaw, Poland, with his wife and three children. He has published three full-length science fiction novels and is currently writing a series of short story volumes inspired by characters in songs from the rock band Genesis. For more information, please visit his website or Amazon author page.

21 thoughts on “Indie News Beat: The Angst of Acceptance”

  1. I’ll be very curious about the outcome of that vote. The Writer’s Union of Canada is a VERY snobbish group. I was at one of their workshops three years ago and only one person would give me the time of day. If they vote ‘yes’ it will really upset their applecart.

    1. I think that’s the bugbear for those groups: they dislike that Indies haven’t “qualified”, but can see their membership dropping in the future if they don’t change their rules.
      Can’t say I feel that sorry for them, to be honest 🙂

    1. Thanks, Al. I like that article you’ve linked to, as well. It makes me smile when people get metaphysical – it’s not a “real” book. Oh boy, how long could such a discussion go on for? 🙂

      1. “How long could such a discussion go on for?”

        Potentially a long time, but if it is with me there is a good chance I’ll tell them that a book isn’t the container, but the content and if they don’t understand why they’re an … . Then I’d walk away.

        At least that’s how I’d hope it would go. 😀

  2. Here in New Zealand the NZ Society of Authors is worriedly discussing the necessity of accepting indie authors – which is a huge step forward for them. Our literary scene is VERY small and VERY snobbish, heavily focused on the higher levels of literary art. Genre fiction is regarded with the same disdain as farting in the bath. I look forward to the day when all writers are recognised for their work irrespective of how it reaches the reader.

    1. Hey, bevrobitai, that’s a very good comment – the literati tend to be snobbish in each of their enclaves, hiding behind “art” as an excuse not to be able to tell a good story. And I bet they can’t fart in the bath as well as Indies, either 🙂

  3. An excellent article, Chris, and very relevant in the current literary climate; right on the money. I especially like the, “I suppose twelve per cent royalties are better than nothing… Aren’t they?”

  4. Great article, Chris, thank you! That tipping point is getting closer and closer. I think, though, that the US National Writers Guild will let all in. As long as you pay the membership fee.

    1. If you’re talking The Author’s Guild, Laurie (the organization Scott Turow heads up) they have some kind of sales requirement for indies as well as being willing to pay the membership fee.

      1. I think I read about that somewhere too, Al. If an Indie shift x 000s of copies, they can join the club. The trad-published author doesn’t have to shift any copies. Grrrr

  5. Your post cheered me up Chris. Recently I’ve been rather depressed by some of the anti-indie sentiment I’ve found on Goodreads. To be fair, those readers were complaining about the lack of quality, and that’s something we are all aware needs to change. But still, I needed a pick-me-up so thank you. 🙂

    1. You’re very welcome, acflory. I think the scene came to my head to cheer myself up, too. I just thought, “Wouldn’t be nice if trad-published authors were embarrassed to mention the fact…” 🙂

  6. Love the first analogy! Won’t that be a hoot when that day comes? But it’s true that while the lack of any gatekeeper gives us this enormous freedom, it also provides a conduit for the poorest excuses for writing, as well. Face it, we’re in the Outland of publishing, and there’s no law in sight. I would like to recommend, tho,, which has set up a means by which indie books are evaluated for basic spelling, grammar, and formatting and passing books get their seal of approval. It’s a small start but it is a start for establishing some basic standards, and their next project is to send their catalog of quality books to libraries across the country. I think it’s a great idea to raise the bar while still allowing the unbridled freedom that we all enjoy.

    1. Thank you, Melissa, That sounds interesting – certainly quality control needs addressing. I like “Outland of publishing”, too 🙂

  7. Until I become a marketing genius, I’m still sitting on the fence as to what path to publication will be the right one for my novel. The snobbery some people and groups hold toward indies just shows how insecure and resistant to change they are.

    1. Hey Jeri. I think that’s a good attitude – the more you find out, the better informed decision you’ll be able to make, but hopefully things will keep changing for Indies for the better.

  8. Good post Chris; Indies have always been part of the literary scene, but regarded as the eccentric relatives which maintained their status as curios and their output as a trickle. Today the trickle is a flood and the criticism of the Indie almost always falls against a technical criteria – proofreading, editing, or whatever, elements the traditionally published writer hands over to someone else to do!
    Nobody ever said we are bad at storytelling,

    I read the piece in the comment above about the things that Indie authors do well, enjoyed it and found it interesting, especially the part that self-published authors take responsibility, If my plan for literary domination of the world goes awry (in jest) I can’t kick the “Traditional publisher” dog or cat for letting me down,

    I take my hat off to all self-published writers, everyone of you who has taken the independent way, I admire and respect your guts and determination. Chris; your story will happen and it may be sooner than any of us realise.

    Thanks for a brilliant piece. It gave me a boost.

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