Why I’m Mad About Self-Publishing Stigma

I’m mad.

What’s worse is that what I’m mad about is truly something out of my control. There’s not a thing I can do about it except keep pushing barriers. To hold my head high and keep on keepin’ on with the rest of the crowd.

You can probably guess why I’m angry thanks to the headline. Wait – no, I’m NOT mad about self-publishing. But rather the thoughts behind self-publishing and the ideas that we’re not as good or “real” as traditionally published authors.

The publishing system isn’t broken by any means, but the stigma behind “traditional” and “indie” publishing has really gotten my goat lately.

I’m independently published, or self-published. What does that mean? It means I do not have an agent or traditional publisher backing me. It means that I’m in control of my stories, my edits, my covers, my marketing, and everything else that goes along with it. It means that I bust my ass working towards a dream.

Does it make me better than traditional authors? Nope. We all work hard to earn our keep; they just have a little extra help.

Does it make me worse than traditional authors? Still no. I’m not just chucking up the first draft and waiting for rave reviews to come in.

Things are changing and it’s time for folks to get on board before they’re left behind. I work in magazines, but it’s no secret that the indie waves are crashing down and changing the book publishing landscape. You know the stories – how Amanda Hocking self-published and rocked the publishing world to its knees when she became a bestseller without the help of the Big Six. How hundreds of authors are hitting NY Times and USA Today bestseller lists thanks to their fans and friends, to the straight up hustle it takes to earn such a title.

No, I don’t have tons of research or numbers to back up my facts. There are plenty of other posts out there with that info if you wish to look it up. This, my friends, is a flat out rant to those who judge our books based on the publisher – especially if it’s by “self.”

My local media (newspaper, TV, radio) won’t review my books because they don’t have a Big 5 publisher name attached. My own alma mater told me they won’t feature my successes in their alumni magazine because I don’t have a traditional publisher. (I found this out AFTER they agreed to feature me, then retracted the offer once they realized I was self-published). Never mind that I’ve put out 5 books since graduation, touting my pride and knowledge that their English department put me on my current course. A REAPER MADE takes place on the campus, for heaven’s sake! But they won’t even think about hosting me in their bookstore or inviting me up to speak to their students – because while they won’t say it, I’m not a “real author” as I don’t have some fancy publisher to back me.

I’m not looking for your sympathy, but that freakin’ hurts. It’s hard enough getting strangers to take a chance on us, but for the college I put my heart and soul into for four years, I thought surely they’d want to spotlight the students who work to better themselves (no matter what it is). But they’re not the first to behave that way, nor will they be the last.

If you’re indie, you know the looks. The ones where people get super excited to hear you’re a writer, then when they ask who published you, and you say, “I’m self-published”, you get “the look.” You know the one. “Oh,” they say, their shoulders deflating with disappointment. “I thought you were like, famous or something.”

It irks me because they make me feel like I’m not good enough. That I’ll always be “not good enough.” That we aren’t “real writers.” It’s why it took me years to finally tell people about my books and still get shy about it even today – because I don’t want them to roll their eyes and think because I’m doing it all myself, that must mean I’m no good. And dammit, we already have enough of that to go around from critics and trolls and Negative Nancys.

Self-published authors are not desperate losers (nor were they ever, but I like to think we’re more marketable now). Those of us in it to win it are not hoping to publish one book and get rich quick. I’m not quitting my job in the hopes of writing the “Next Great Novel” (because that plan doesn’t work for me).

I don’t need to be a traditionally published author to understand what goes into my books. I put on my pants like everyone else, going through the correct steps just like traditional authors do with their work: I have an editor to check my spelling and grammar, brilliant cover designers to catch readers’ attention, and a marketing team behind me so that I’m not in it alone and completely overwhelmed.

I’m not looking to be famous, either. I’m not saving lives like my EMT sister or building kids’ foundations like my teacher husband. They’re the ones who should be in the limelight, for making a difference in people’s lives. I simply want to be allowed to follow a dream without feeling like I’m being judged for it. I want people to be able to take a chance on my writing and not worry about who published it. Why should that matter? It’s about the story, how much you fall in love with it. No matter what I write, I want to provide an escape from reality for readers.

And when a reader tells me I did just that for them, there’s not a grump in the world who can bring me down.

Indie or traditional, you gotta do what’s best for you. And in the end, that’s what truly matters. Not some raised eyebrow from stranger Jack or a rejection email from your alma mater.

So how about we indies celebrate the fact that we’re taking charge of our lives by going after our dreams? That there are just as many of us out there who will succeed (or already have) because we don’t let the jerks get us down? That even if a publisher comes along to scoop us up, we know we were already successful?

Because you’re already a winner in my book, kid. How do I know? You’re going after a dream and refuse to let anyone stand in your way.