Self-published writers, or ‘indie’ writers as they refer to themselves are, are a growing bunch. Many writers are now by-passing traditional publishers to do it themselves. Is this the future? Are writers becoming so disillusioned with publishers that they have to do it themselves? And what do you call a self-published person? An author? A writer?
Titles and labels mean a lot to me. I love them. In relationships, I feel safe knowing where I stand (are we a casual fling? Am I your girlfriend? Are we in an open relationship?). In life, to know my role (I’m a daughter, employee, boss, sister and many more).
In writing, I find many labels are slapped on by the person instead of given by a company or someone else. You might have noticed the use of the word ‘writer’ instead of ‘author’ above, however I can’t take claim to that.
Melbourne YA author Amra Pajalic wrote on her website “I will not refer to this writer as an author because they have not earner this title” (Pajalic had problems with a self-published writer).
I agree with Pajalic: I don’t believe self-published writers have earned their stripes; certainly not enough for them to be called ‘authors’.
Anyone with a bit of money, time and knowledge can self-publish anything they want. (Or if they don’t have the time or knowledge, they can pay someone to do it!) Sure, there are the rare exceptions of outstanding self-published work whose writers have gone on to have wonderfully successful careers in traditional publishing (Christopher Paolini, Matthew Reilly) but many end up on Amazon or Smashwords and bring in a trickle of 99 cent sales for their writers.
I’ve been called different things in relation to my website:
-author (from a classmate when having this very debate. I countered that I am a blogger, or the writer of my blog, not the author of it)
-publisher (from a publisher when I uploaded other’s opinions/articles. I couldn’t really argue with that as I do, in a literal sense, ‘publish’ what other’s write/say, but it still felt odd to be called a publisher especially coming from one))
-editor (from publicists sending me review copies. I have to admit I still get a little thrill to see “Megan Burke, Editor, Literary Life” on packages/letters)
How does one earn their tiger stripes and be allowed to call themselves an author?
I believe it’s when you’ve worked hard at your craft and a publisher deems your work outstanding enough to publish (so not any form of vanity publishing).
It’s the peer review system: someone else in the field thinks that you’re good enough (rather than paying a printing company to print your work). In this digital age of anyone claiming whatever they like, is it too easy to call yourself an author (or photographer, or artist etc) that others in the field have worked for years to achieve?
I asked other people what they thought about the title ‘author’ and when you can use it:
“I only called myself an author once it was my profession, not a hobby. I sew, but wouldn’t call myself a tailor, and last week I checked the oil in my car but I’d never call myself a mechanic. For me, ‘writer’ is what you do, ‘author’ is whether it’s your profession. But everyone’s entitled to their own definition.” Lili Wilkinson
“As long as they’ve written a book, if they’ve spent most of their time writing their book. If they’ve tried to hone their craft. I think you have to be working on your writing.” Erin Stewart
“When one has an ISBN associated with their name.” Ellen Harvey
“It’s about when you commit to it. I don’t think it has to do with being published, it’s about your personal commitment to being an author.” Sam van Zweden
“I’d use it interchangeably with ‘novelist’, having published a full book-length work. I would use ‘published’ in the ‘published by a publishing house sense’.” Tully Hansen
“With self publishing these days, anyone can get published I think it’s now measured on your commitment and love of writing. But I DO think you need to have written something before you can say it – of course.” Hayley Mills
Not directly related, but a sentiment I appreciated nonetheless:
“A self-published book is ‘independently published’ in the same way a home movie is an ‘independent film’.” Josh Christie
As traditional publishing becomes more competitive, budget straps are reining in tighter and tighter, many writers feel the only way to get their work out there is to self-publish.
I spoke to Darrell Pitt, self-published writer/author/person, on this topic:
Why did you decide to self publish?
I had been watching the developments in digital self publishing for some time. Until this new age of publishing arrived, I had the same views as most authors – self publishing equaled failure. It meant that you had been unsuccessful in finding a publisher and so you would never ‘succeed’ as an author. Of course, there are a multitude of stories that show exactly the opposite.
Everything has changed very quickly for authors – and mostly it has been for the better. The main reason self published authors didn’t succeed in the pre-digital era was because of high production costs and lack of distribution. The eBook reader has turned all that on its head. Now a reader could purchase a book more cheaply and much faster than it would take to buy it from a bricks and mortar bookshop.
It’s a wonderful era for writers and I’m glad I’m here to enjoy it. Fantastic success stories are emerging every day from the world of self publishing. There are authors who are selling hundreds of thousands of books and earn a very respectable living from it. When I saw all this happening, I realized the tide had turned and I decided to take the plunge.
Do you believe you’ve earned the title ‘author’?
I suppose it’s reasonable to be called an author when someone pays money for your work. Like most self published authors, I started slowly. It didn’t take long for my sales to increase, though, and last month I sold over 1,000 books in one month on Amazon. I read recently that there are only about 1,000 authors who sell that quantity per month, so I’m quite pleased that I’ve reached that level.
When can one call themselves an author?
That’s a good question. I suppose it’s a similar question to ‘when can someone call themselves an artist’? Ultimately, writing is a creative pursuit. If you write just to make yourself happy, then that’s fine. You can probably call yourself an author, but other people may find some other names to call you!
If you write to be published then you probably need to think in terms of working hard at it and setting goals for yourself as a writer. You are running your own business – and business is always tough.
What quality control is there, not only in your work but in other self published work?
My books go through a series of readers. That includes my wife and other family members. Ultimately it would be great to have an editor, but when you’re running your own self publishing business you have to pay for everything. One day I’ll probably employ an editor. Let me sell a few more books first!
There is a lack of quality control in self published writing. Self published authors are no different to anyone else who is running a small business. If you want people to take you seriously, you have to act in a professional manner. This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but it does mean you have to take as much care as possible.
Having said that, I was chatting to someone about errors in self published books and decided to see if I could find an error in a book from a ‘professional’ publisher. I was reading The House of Silk by Anthony Horititz at the time. Lo and behold, I found an error on the very next page!
So, nobody’s perfect.
If you were to be ‘discovered’ in much the same way as Matthew Reilly or Christopher Paolini were, and you were offered a traditional publishing contract, would you take it?
Absolutely! Just as long as I can continue to self publish too! If a publisher wants to sell ten thousand copies of your book and promote you – great! They want to advertise you as a writer and make money for you! Fantastic! But I wouldn’t let a publisher take complete control of my writing career. That would be really foolish. We’ve moved beyond that era.
If I had to choose between one and the other, I believe I would have to look at what the publisher was offering me. If they were offering a really fantastic deal, I would certainly consider it. It would mean I could focus on writing and not all the other aspects of running my career. Mind you, it would have to be a pretty good deal!
The bottom line is that you have to control your own writing career. Blindly handing over the reins of your writing career to someone else can be quite disastrous and there are a multitude of stories on the net that illustrate this point. I really recommend sites such as JA Konrath’s Newbie’s Guide to Publishing and Dean Smith’s site as well. These guys are talking all the time about this brave new era of publishing.
Is this the way of the future? Is the rise of online mediums making it easier and more accessible for writer to get their work out there?
It’s hard to judge. Publishers are their most basic level are businesses, and need to make a profit in order to keep running. Times are tough; we’ve been closers of so many bookstores so who says publishers won’t be next?
I’ve heard being thrown around that as long as writers are writing, there will be a need for publishers.
But will there be? Will more and more writers decide to side-step and do it themselves?
It’s a tough question, and one I don’t have answer to.
As for me? I’ll never self-publish. If I’m deemed not good enough to be published traditionally, I’ll either cry myself to sleep or continue to work on my craft until I am good enough (or possibly both at once).
What about you? What do you think about labels? Can you call yourself an author if you self-publish? Do you think the future is in self-publishing or traditional publishing?
This post was written as a part of the Words in Winter @ Future Bookshop Residency.