by Kassandra Lamb
Please note that this is not a post about the pros and cons of indie vs. traditional publishing per se (I will cover those in a later post). Rather this post is about the “between a rock and a hard place” spot where new writers often find themselves as they explore how to get their words in front of readers’ eyes.
The indie vs. traditional publishing controversy was resurrected in December, 2016, by a Huffington Post article with the rather obnoxious title, Self-Publishing: An Insult To The Written Word? by Laurie Gough.
Quite a few indie authors immediately responded with some eloquent replies. And then the Alliance of Independent Authors published their New Year’s post: Successful Indie Authors 2016: Part One.
These two posts, along with the responding comments, represent the two sides of this controversy, but I noted that one thing was missing from the discussion. Indeed, I have never heard this point made during debates about the issue.
Creatives are, by definition, sensitive souls.
It’s a cliché really—the tortured artistic poet/painter/musician/actor/author who drinks too much, uses drugs, suffers for their art with an angst-filled life, etc.
But like all clichés, this one has a kernel of truth at its core.
So why would we require that these sensitive souls endure months or years of rejection before they are allowed to show their work to the world?
The author of the Huff Post article calls literary agents and traditional publishers the “gatekeepers” of the written word. Indeed, that term is bandied about a lot in the world of trad publishing. The implication is that they are saving the unwashed masses of readers from bad literature by carefully vetting new works of fiction.
In addition to the implied insult to readers, the reality is that all too often these days agents and publishers are not always as concerned about the quality of a story as they are about whether or not they think it will sell.
That’s not just my perspective; I’ve heard agents say this at conferences. With regret in their voices, because they know good stories are being rejected and good writers are being discouraged by those rejections.
No one deals well with rejection. And the more important an achievement or some aspect of ourselves is to us, the greater the blow to our spirits if it is rejected.
During my twenty-year career as a psychotherapist, I wrote and published multiple professional articles. I had more than one editor tell me that my ability to string words together in a coherent and interesting way was well above average. (I mention this only to point out that I had good reason to believe I was a good writer.)
During that same time period, I wrote the beginnings of several novels, plus quite a few shorter stories, all of which ended up in a box labeled “fiction” when I retired and moved to Florida.
I’d considered trying to get my fiction work published many times during those twenty years. What stopped me was not doubt in my abilities as a writer. No, each time I was stopped by the reality of how much rejection I would have to endure before I managed to find a publisher.
For writers, our works are our children. We build them from scratch, their bones leaching sleep and sanity from us as surely as a growing babe in the womb leaches nutrients from his mother’s system. Then we spend weeks, sometimes months, putting flesh on those bones—editing and fine-tuning every scene, paragraph and sentence.
And then we are expected to send these innocent babes out to strangers, requesting that they please, please let our children live?
And when those children are beaten with a club and sent back to us, we are expected to dust them off and send them out again to even more strangers.
I’m sure this gauntlet of rejection has kept many a good writer besides myself from even trying to get their work published. Having our “children” abused and tossed out into the cold again and again is often more than we can even stand to think about.
I’m also sure that many agents and publishers are trying to be good gatekeepers, but when I think of the traditional publishing industry as a whole today, the image that comes to mind is not of someone standing beside a gate, checking the quality of the work produced by those who wish to pass through it.
Rather I see a dam, an artificial barrier stopping up the flow of creativity, allowing only a limited trickle of new authors’ works to pass through.
Five years into my retirement, I had finally finished one of my novels and polished it to the best of my ability (with the help of many beta readers and a professional editor).
I took a deep breath (several actually) and sent out my first batch of query emails. And then ran to the bathroom to throw up. The thought of the inevitable round of rejections literally made me sick.
This was the summer of 2011. After I had rinsed out my mouth and stumbled back to my computer, I asked myself why I was going through this. Life was too short, especially at my age, to intentionally torture my soul this way.
That summer, I started checking out this new trend of self-publishing ebooks that seemed to be getting a foothold in the publishing industry. That summer, I also met Shannon Esposito at a writers’ conference, and while other authors were schmoozing with the agents and editors at the obligatory after-conference cocktail party, she and I were huddled in a corner conspiring.
I’ve never looked back.
The end result of that conspiring was misterio press, an indie press that operates as an author cooperative. Today, my sister authors at misterio and I are each others’ gatekeepers. After each author’s work has gone through the beta readers, editing, etc. process, we read and critique each others’ stories to make sure we are producing the best quality mysteries we possibly can.
Misterio press is the best of both worlds for our authors, and we believe for our readers as well. They get top quality mysteries at indie prices.
Ironically, several of our authors have been approached by traditional publishers, and two of them are now “hybrid” authors. I haven’t been approached and I’m not sure what I would do if I were.
I suspect I would turn them down.
Those traditionally-published authors who look down their noses* at indies often imply (or outright say) that we are taking the lazy way out or that we lack the courage to submit our work to the “gatekeepers.”
Do not judge until you have walked a mile in our shoes. I have never worked harder in my life! And believe me, it takes a lot of courage to go it on one’s own. We sink or swim on the merits of our writing, and our final judges are the readers.
(*Note: This is not the majority of trad-pubbed authors. And if you are an author who has taken the traditional path, I’m rooting for your success! Each of us has to choose the way that works best for us.)
Book publishing today has essentially gone the same route as the music industry, toward empowering artists to reach out to their listeners/readers directly rather than having the control over their careers resting with big companies.
It’s a brave new world for authors and I am glad to be a part of it!
Your thoughts on the indie publishing revolution?
Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.
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