Why Does Independence Become Different in Publishing?

The other day, I caught a post by Natalie Whipple: “A Formal Apology to All Self-Published Authors, and her post and apology are so sincere I forgive not only her behaviors in general but even her use of “self-published.” I’m a Taurus very often so set in my ways as to be frustratingly so–just ask my wife–so I know how difficult it can be to not only publicly admit you’re wrong but to do so after reversing on an opinion. It seems that Whipple was set in a mindset too common among the corporate publishing industry–that being an indie author is somehow lesser. That the only real point of uploading a novel to Kindle Direct Publishing is to hope that one day it might gain you the attention of a corporate publisher who might offer you a real, live deal and make yours a real, live book–even one that’s got no pages.

I complimented Natalie’s post via Twitter. I’m glad she came around.

I wish others would.

She mentions that she understands why indie authors might feel a bit defensive. Me, I’m not sure “a bit” covers it. It sucks to be defensive, but what sucks worse is what Natalie is apologizing for, which is engaging in behaviors and possessing attitudes that are, unfortunately, not uncommon in the corporate publishing world.

It seems odd, because the beliefs about indie publishing or “self-publishing” held by the publishing industry is so different from those held by other industries. Musicians who press a few hundred copies of their CDs to sell out of their trunks while they play dark bars for a cut of the door and all the merch fees are seen as hardworking and paying their dues. Sure, many do so in the hope of being discovered by some attending A&R guy, but many more just keep writing new songs, cutting new tracks, selling new CDs and tee shirts.

The musicians who “made” it? Who signed up with labels and got big advances and huge tour budgets? Their managers? Their accountants?

They don’t tend to look down on that first group. Oftentimes they remember that they were there, too, once upon a time. Sometimes they even respect that first group more, making the music they love, damn the “man” and the industry and the label.

I’m thinking of films, too. We know the Hollywood industry. We hear so much about the suits and their notes to directors. But we also hear about the films made outside that studio system. The low-budget or no-budget flicks that play to smaller audiences in a handful of theaters. The ones that squeak their budgets back (sometimes barely).

Directors and casting agents and talent managers don’t look down on those flicks. They don’t think those movies are worth less than the ones with big-name stars and huge budgets. And, in fact, those studio movies with big stars and giant budgets often compete against those tiny movies when it comes to awards seasons. Alternate means of distributions and release are adopted and embraced with terrific frequency; just consider that Netflix’s House of Cards is already competing for Golden Globe awards against shows that have appeared on television.

Maybe it’s really just a matter of time. Maybe indie publishing will become something that everyone has done, at some point, and will stop being regarded as the bastard stepchild of publishing. It’s nice that the major awards are already open to them; the Pulitzer committee doesn’t care who published a book, and the National Book Critics Circle already recognized Dave Eggers for one of his novels (published by McSweeney’s, a company Eggers founded and runs. Indie publishing at its best). Sometimes I have the feeling that major media’s books and reviews sections will die long before they start covering indie titles, but then, maybe reviews are moving away from periodicals anyway. The mostly highly regarded among them, the New York Times, cited an indie non-fiction book as one of its best last year, which is definite progress. I don’t even remember if they noted that it was “self-published,” and that’ll be the most progress of all. And maybe the “self-publishing success stories” the media reports will expand to cover not just the authors who sold a bunch of books and signed with a corporation, but other stories and other successes, as well.

I’d like to see more authors, agents, and editors read Whipple’s post. Maybe it won’t change their minds completely, but at least it furthers the progress.

And Natalie, if you read this, I can’t speak for all indie authors, but I forgive you and wish you the best with your own novel, and I thank you for being so candid and sincere.


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