How Do You Define Credibility and Legitimacy as an Author?

approved-29149_640I read an article recently where an author discussed the benefits of purchasing a review from Kirkus. He felt it lent credibility to his work. He claimed that there was no boost in sales from the paid review, so it did not help him connect with any new readers, but he thought it gave him credibility. Yes, credibility. Stay tuned, I have more; it’s been a busy month.

I attended a meeting a short while ago at a major library. The library management invited a group of local authors to participate in a think-tank and discuss how the library could connect with the self-publishing community. It was a really powerful meeting. Some of the authors were both self and traditionally published and I overhead a couple of them talk about how they felt legitimized by signing with an agent and being traditionally published. I heard the same comment when I taught a workshop recently. There were authors who felt they needed to be legitimized, and having an agent or publisher would deem it so.

Now, before I rant, I will qualify that I am indeed the guy who didn’t make the team. I was rejected over and over again by agents and publishers. So, I cannot sit on my high horse and state that I made a choice and decided to fly solo in spite of publishers knocking down my door. I did get close though. When my first book hit its highs on Amazon’s charts at the beginning of 2012 I was approached by a publisher. After a few confusing emails back and forth we decided we’d just be friends. My second close call came a few months later when I won a contest of sorts and had two fairly major agents interested in two of my books. When they asked for changes (lots of changes) to be made in a book that had already sold twenty thousand e-copies I decided to pass and continue doing my own thing. So, in fairness, when I reached the fork in the road, the sign toward Indieville was pretty clear. I knew that I had to continue doing what I’d been doing.

Writing my first book took me over three years. I disappeared. My significant other knew what I was doing but no one else did. I was actually kind of disappointed when I unveiled my masterpiece and no one had noticed that I’d been missing from time to time. But, that’s another story. When the word got out that I’d written a book, I had a friend who proclaimed, “You’re now a published author.”

I mumbled back to him, barely getting the words out, “Yes, a self-published author”.

He didn’t care. He was proud of me. It made me think though. At that point I hadn’t sold many books. I’d published, but I wasn’t comfortable calling myself an author yet. A month later due to a number of factors and one of them was being in the right place at the right time (can you say KDP Select – Feb. 2012), things changed. Readers began downloading my book. I even got into the top five overall on Amazon’s rankings. Publishers Weekly, the veritable encyclopedia of published work, mentioned me and my book. Forbes interviewed me, newspapers wrote about me, a friend in England even called to tell me my book had been mentioned on a breakfast show in the UK. And Amazon cited my self-publishing story in a press release. I don’t tell you these things to illustrate how brilliant I am, because remember there was a fortuitous aspect to my success. I tell you them because when all these amazing things were taking place I experienced a shift, a major shift.

At the time, I was vacationing with my significant other – the freckle-faced girl, and a couple of our friends in one of my favorite places – Portland, Oregon. If you need inspiration – visit Portland. It’s a great city and if you’re like me, it may whisper in your ear and tell you a story or two. While in the city that boasts that it’s the home to the world’s largest bookstore, we had dinner with a number of people we had just met. As we went around the table we told each of our new friends what we did for a living – what our vocation was. When it was my turn my friends and the freckled girl watched me, wondering. I told the table that I was an author. And, it felt okay to say it. I didn’t feel like an imposter. What was the difference? Was it the brief mention I got in Publishers Weekly? The Amazon press release? The breakfast show in Britain that discussed my book? No, I don’t believe it was any of those things. It was something much simpler, more basic.

I had credibility and felt legitimized as an author because my readers said so. And they still do, over and over again, every day. I tell stories. I tell stories and readers read the stories and pay for them. That’s all I ever wanted to do, and that’s who I wanted to be. And, that fits my definition of being an author. That’s my legitimacy, my credibility. There are ways a traditional publisher could help me; I’m not denying that. But, in terms of having credibility or being legitimized, my readers give me that. And really, that’s all I need.

Author: Martin Crosbie

Martin Crosbie is the administrator of and writer of seven published novels. His self-publishing journey has been mentioned in Publisher’s Weekly, Forbes Online Magazine, and Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. You can learn more about Martin on his Amazon author page.

43 thoughts on “How Do You Define Credibility and Legitimacy as an Author?”

  1. Marting, you nailed it. Legitimation comes from readers, not from ONE agent or ONE publisher. It is those readers who buy the novels every day and don’t ask for a refund to Amazon (or other retailers), because they thought on the other side of the pages there’s an author.

    Publishing universe is going through a (r)evolution, many realized that (and readers as well), but the majority don’t: They’d trade 500 readers a month and 5 to 10 good reviews a month for a single one person seal of approval, either an agent or a publisher. That both can lead to nothing means little to those writers: they are agented or they have a publisher (who might give them 10% royalties, and not spending a dime on promoting a low-string author.

    Legitimation and credibility come from readers first. In a writer-reader relationship there are only two credible and reliable actors: the writer, and the reader. All others are middlemen who need to prove their added value to that privileged relationship.

    1. I agree. It goes back to the very basic feelings that we had when we first wrote. We wanted our work to be read. It’s actually quite simple, isn’t it.
      Thanks for commenting, Massimo.

  2. Awesome essay.

    There was a post over on Kboards recently that basically asked: if a board of people looked at your work and basically said it’s crap, and it will never sell, and you have no chance as a writer, would you quit writing?

    Luckily, the lion’s share of responders said no – and usually for the right reasons. 😉

    But it does often surprise me. Writers seem out want to have some sort of stamp of approval, some sort of seal, from outside, saying they are good enough. We see it over and over: the gatekeepers are dead, cool, now let’s go make new gatekeepers!

    It’s kind of sad. Because the truth is, If you cannot find legitimacy from within, you will never find it from without.

    1. Yes, that’s a great thought, Kevin. And, if you’re not feeling it your words aren’t going to flow and you definitely will not connect with readers.
      Thanks for commenting.

  3. You’ve hit the nail on the head. I am a writer, and my sense of legitimacy comes from my readers. It is they who decide whether what I write resonates with them. It is they who decide if what I write passes muster.

    Sadly, those that still need that corporate seal of approval are holding back that revolution Massimo mentioned. If even we, as writers, cannot believe our legitimacy it supports the obsolete view that only trad publishers offer good books.

    1. That’s true, isn’t it, Yvonne. Maybe it even re-enforces that self-published authors have a closer relationship with their readers than trad published authors (often) do. If there is indeed a fence (which unfortunately I guess there is), I’m glad I’m on this side of it with you guys.
      Thanks for commenting.

  4. Congratulations on your success Martin. I mean that most sincerely, but I do have one bone to pick.

    I am often amazed at the level of insecurity I see on this site and in the wider community. Indeed it’s an epidemic in society at large: people seem to constantly need “legitimacy”, “validation” and all sorts of feel good pats on the back. If you want to write, then write. That vocation has nothing to do with how many books you sell, or how much recognition you receive.

    Was Van Gogh not an artist though he never sold a painting in his lifetime? (And aside from the fact that he was stark raving nuts).

    I work in a large city, so I get paid to run into burning buildings. But there are hundreds of thousands of volunteers in small towns around the world who do the same thing for free. Are they not firefighters simply because they don’t get paid?

    The list goes on and on. So suck it up, people. The world doesn’t owe you accolades, credibility or even a living just because you chose to, want to or need to write.

    1. Funny, I like this site because it’s real. I don’t see endless threads of bravado (real and imagined), and I like that. Although I may have forgotten to take my humility pill before writing the above article.
      I remember being on Twitter shortly after my book came out and I received a direct message from a lady in Japan. I was new to Twitter so it totally confused me. Without any salutations, she began asking me about one of the characters from my book. She’d found me through my website info. Around the same time readers began entering information into Shelfari about minor characters from my novel. Although I had a few books out there at the time I actually had the thought, “so people really are reading this thing”.
      I need to have that connection. I need to know that I’m making the connection with a reader. Maybe I would write anyway, in fact I probably would, but without having my work read, and knowing that it’s being read, I’m not sure this would be worth it.
      You raised an interesting point. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    2. John, point well taken. I have been writing all my life and have no intention of stopping, legitimacy aside. I’ve always thought of myself as a storyteller, and I derive great pleasure as well as knowledge from my craft.

      In regard to insecurity, what “artist” is not insecure? Right or wrong, indie authors are considered second-class citizens. Readers are quick to judge and to criticize. We have to accept that fact and move on. It helps to have a healthy dose of confidence, but it also helps to be humble about our work. How else can we improve as writers?

      1. Considered second class citizens by whom, precisely? Readers clearly don’t care anymore.

        The only people considering you a second class citizen do so because they feel threatened by you. Because you are the barbarian who’s turned their nice, exclusive club into a free-for-all. The members of the exclusive club HATE that.

        I feel bad for the folks who think indies are “second class”. Really, every time they say something to that effect, all they are doing is revealing their OWN insecurity.

  5. Great post and comments.
    Actually the whole concept of “legitimate author” is silly. What is an “illegitimate author”? It’s like somebody once said, there are no illegitimate children, just illegitimate parents. What is an “incredible author” for that matter.
    This is a concept, like “stigma” that’s been bandied about for the benefit of vanity mills… and the writing magazines they support with their ad dollars.

    1. Yes, you’re right. It’s a manipulation. Fortunately, we’re not buying into it. As I mentioned earlier, we can define author or self-published author any way we like.
      Thanks for your comments, Linton.

  6. Martin, this is great stuff. There are so many measuring sticks out there, some self-proclaimed and very self-important, but it all boils down exactly as you say–it’s the readers. We are story-tellers; if we connect with those who read/hear and enjoy our stories, our job is done. None of the middlemen matter a whit at the end of the day. Thanks very much for sharing this. It’s such a simple, yet infinitely important, reminder.

  7. Congratulations, Martin! Yours is truly an “indie success story.” I’m glad that I love to write; most of the time, that’s my only reward. Credibility? From a published author’s standpoint, I haven’t achieved that yet. Your post gives me hope that it might yet someday happen!

  8. What has legitimacy got to do with anything? If you write, you’re an author. It doesn’t matter whether you’re published or not, you’re still an author.
    You don’t even have to write your stuff down to qualify. Yesterday I went to the funeral of a fellow author, who was also my oldest fan. She was almost 99 and had attended all my book launches and several of my other events, reading and commenting on all my books. She also composed poems and stories of her own. Some of these she wrote down in order to send them to friends, but mostly she remembered them. Even forty years after they were written she could recite them faultlessly. And yet she never published. Rhencie Dawe was still an author, and one for whom I had tremendous respect for the quality and vibrancy of her words and the exceptional quality of her stories.
    Is anyone going to dare to tell me it’s not legitimate to call her an author?

  9. We are writers, we are authors, we are story tellers, poets and entertainers. At Indies Unlimited we are independent thinkers who, for one reason or another, have embraced independence as authors and we are proud of it. We validate ourselves and each other, Martin; “viva the validation.”

    Excellent article, my friend.

  10. We’re all insecure, and we all need positive feedback, but you’re right Martin, getting that feedback from readers is the only true validation.

  11. Even though your friends would have a hard time telling you anything other than positive things about your writing, I still feel legitimized as an author when they go out of their way to pay a compliment. The hardest part is that when you know you’ve created a good book, getting enough people to find it is daunting.

    1. You know, with my first book all of my friends gave it a positive review. With the books that came afterward some did, but some didn’t like it as much as the first one. I came to the conclusion that with the first one some of them weren’t saying it’s a great book. They were actually saying “it’s great that you wrote a book”. I think. Either way, I’ll take it. The support and the connection is what I’m looking for.
      Thanks for commenting, Nathan.

  12. I, too, paid for a review by Kirkus last fall of my murder mystery, THE BUTTERFLY AFFAIR. It helped me two ways. First, I was able to slap “will keep readers turning pages” across the top of the cover by a company that readers trust. Second, it gave me a chance to address the only weakness pointed out…that I had not provided enough spadework regarding the identity of the serial killer. The reviewer was simply too surprised. So I planted more information during the next eight months and made it a better book. I chose the self-published route because I could say what I wanted, how I wanted. And my decision to publish through CreateSpace and KDP has been validated, if you will, by a co-owner of the shop voted Best Bookstore in Atlanta who has just placed the novel on her personal shelf of recommendations. This from a bookstore that rarely carries indies. Times, they are a-changing. Kudos to the library for reaching out to self-published authors…perceptive.

    1. Thanks Robin. I have nothing against Kirkus, it just isn’t for me. I utilize a ton of beta readers, then it goes to my editor. Then back to betas. And, if there have been more changes it goes to editing (different editor), once again. That process has worked well for me. Then, I submit to review sites and to Amazon’s top reviewers and of course some reviews just happen. It’s enough to give my books traction.
      Thanks for commenting.

  13. Martin – I’m interested in your process and the number of stages you go through. It prompts a number of questions that might be of interest to a lot of us:
    How many initial edits do you do yourself before passing it to the first round of beta readers?
    Which review sites do you favour, and are they genre biased?
    I note also that you submit your manuscript to Amazon’s top reviewers. Who are these people, and how do you find and contact them? Do they charge?
    Do you always get a review, and does this appear on Amazon once the book is released?

    1. Ian, there’s a tab on my website that will give you the contact info for Amazon’s top reviewers.
      And IU has a great resource also
      I have one trusted beta who reads my work while I’m writing and others who I wouldn’t dare give an unedited copy to. They’re all different and I add new readers each time.
      Yes, I only submit my book to sites that are interested in my genre. The best source of obtaining reviews right now is to run a free promo. But, that’s another discussion.
      Beta readers do not charge. There are Facebook groups that beta readers/authors have formed. I’ve also found them through LinkedIn, or they contact me.
      Unfortunately, it would take a series of articles to properly address all your questions, Ian. At the risk of appearing to shamelessly plug my work, I did write a book that may help you.

        1. Thanks KS. I have a good group of beta readers at present, but one never knows when people may drop out, so this is a useful source to know about. Others out there may also be looking for hep, so perhaps this link will assist some of them.

      1. Thanks Martin. That answers my question and I don’t see giving the link to a book you have written which may give me more detail as shameless plugging. Rather it is offering a source of further insight, for which I am grateful. That’s what exchanges like this are fore, isn’t it?

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