Sunday, May 26, 2019

Indie Authors - Today's Illegitimate Children of Publishing

Does signing on the dotted line of a contract lift the alleged stigma of illegitimacy for an indie author?

Well into the last century, there was a certain stigma attached to being born illegitimate, supported in no small part by the insensitive moniker of “bastard”. Fast forward to today’s world of publishing and we, the indie authors, have become the illegitimate bastard children seemingly no one’s proud to acknowledge, if we believe anything Dr. Jim Taylor has to say in his article, “Are Self-Published Authors Really Authors or Even Published?”, which appeared in The Huffington Post on September 30, 2013.

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Taylor’s article:

At the same time, the self-publishing industry has allowed anyone with a computer and a small amount of money to call themselves authors. Not long ago, I read a fascinating article in the New York Times (unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find it when I did an Internet search) that questioned whether self-published authors should be called published authors. Rather, the article suggests, they are book writers who have their books printed. There is, I believe a significant difference between authors published by traditional houses and self-published books in that the latter lack the processes that we can count on to ensure a minimal level of quality, both of content and style. … And self-published book writers seem to know too. Whenever I meet someone who tells me they are an author, I always ask who their publisher is. If they hem and haw, I know they self-published because they also know that their state of authorhood lacks a certain legitimacy that comes from having a traditionally published book.

While Dr. Taylor’s article does touch upon a few self-published authors like Amanda Hocking and E.L. James, both of who have achieved phenomenal success as indie authors, he then states that they’ve gone on to sign contracts from established publishers. Reading between the lines, his comment suggests that in signing these contracts, their “authorhood” presumably attained that certain legitimacy that had thus far eluded them.

It seems that the author of that piece sorely neglected to consider that segment of the indie author population who aren’t the break-out superstars, but rather the mid-listers and below mid-listers dedicated to their craft, dedicated to increasing their presence as authors, dedicated to building a loyal readership by publishing good-quality books; those indie authors that are proud to be authors – and are reaping the rewards of their considerable efforts, both in sales and in loyal followers. Do these authors feel, in their state of “authorhood” that they lack a certain legitimacy that can only come from having a traditionally-published book? I wonder if signing a contract gave Amanda Hocking, who had sold more than 1.5 million copies of her self-published books, a certain legitimacy when her first traditionally-published book came out? Does signing on the dotted line of a contract lift the alleged stigma of illegitimacy?

Let’s examine it from another perspective. Does it matter to a reader that the book he or she has chosen is by an indie author or a “legitimate” author? Will that reader engage in the story any differently?

Weigh in, everyone. Let’s hear your views…

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7 comments on Indie Authors - Today's Illegitimate Children of Publishing

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By Randy Mitchell on October 02, 2013 at 09:28 pm

As one whose been a self-published, now traditionally published author there are differences between the two, though not nearly as much as readers think.

A lot depends on the press you sign with. In today's literary world, unless you're already a well-known name with a big name press not much will be done for you. Some of your costs will be taken of: printing, some editing, some social media marketing, but the sales efforts are essentially up to the author.

It's somewhat true that anyone with a computer and a few dollars can publish their work, and there's a lot of bad book quality out there, but those indie authors that churn out really great work have just as much an opportunity to get read as those carrying contracts.

Does it feel good to have a traditional house acknowledge your work? Absolutely. Will it make or break your sales? It all depends on the authors promotion, willingness of your presses sales team to help, and quality between the pages.

The writer of the mentioned article I don't feel understands how rare it is these days to be signed to a big name press unless you're already riding atop a huge platform. And that takes an enormous amount of time, previous success, and established readership. It's not impossible, but much tougher than in past decades before e-books and Amazon took over.

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By melanie jean juneau on October 02, 2013 at 10:51 pm

well said, Randy

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By Marta Tandori on October 03, 2013 at 07:34 am

Good feedback, Randy. Now let me ask you this? I'm offered a contract based on my substantial performance as an indie author. Then what happens once I foray into the traditional pub route? Aside from now being considered a contract-carrying "legitimate" author, what advantages do I have for opting for the traditionally published route? You've indicated that essentially, the sales efforts will still be up to the author. I'm assuming that if my performance isn't up to snuff after one or two books, there goes my contract?...

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By Randy Mitchell on October 03, 2013 at 09:43 am

I was signed this year to my first contract so my opinion is limited, however, what I hear from other authors is it all depends on the contract and individual publisher. Publishers are looking for writers to be their "business partners," not just their authors. They expect effort on your part with sales but they also do their part too. But, if sales don't go well, then your future will depend on what's written in your contract. And contracts are negotiable.

Most first-time authors aren't given an advance, if they are, it's pretty small. And lots are paid a percentage of the retail price of books sold. They'll obviously pay for printing costs, some editing, social media help, and will try and get you a contract for distribution to book stores, etc so there are many advantages. However, if it's Random House or some other big name in New York with a large marketing budget, I'm sure it's much more.

If you are offered a contract, my advice, take it. It will help establish yourself as a serious writer though that's not saying tons of indie authors aren't just as good. But for lots of savvy readers, those who read a lot and buy repeatedly, many will only purchase books with a publisher's imprint attached. After all, those are the ones they see sitting on the shelves and are placed atop the lists on Amazon, etc. That's just the way it is. For them, this means that the business side of the literary world saw enough quality in your work to invest in, and many readers know this.

I hope this helps!

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By Marta Tandori on October 03, 2013 at 10:49 am

Thanks, Randy. You've made several good points, especially from the reader's viewpoint.

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By John Nelson on October 03, 2013 at 05:37 pm

Getting my novel published by a trade press was as much about validation than anything else. Sure I could have self-published it, but I chose to spend two years looking for an agent and publisher. As it turned out I got a publisher before an agent (I still don't have an agent)....but it took a couple of years and lots of canned rejection notices by people who never even read my proposal.

I could have just self-published and did the marketing myself and the outcome probably would not have been much different. My publisher is small with a limited exposure profile and not much of a marketing budget. But somehow I thought that anyone could self-publish.... I wanted a pro to tell me it was worth publishing.

For me it was validation and a "stamp of approval" I couldn't get through self-publishing.

Getting my novel published was a hard road for sure, but I'm glad I went down that road.

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By Paul Anthony on February 02, 2014 at 12:59 pm

If you are ever offered a contract my advice would be to read it and understand it - the vast majority of contracts tie authors into 'the rights of first refusal' and various other requirements designed to bind you to the publishing company and restrict your 'long term' future. In my 20 year writing career, I've been published by a paid traditonal house and a non paid traditional house (yes there are two forms of traditonal houses) but now I choose to label myself as an independent publisher. I don't write, print and publish my books. I edit them via my own editorial company - I publish them via my own publishing imprint. I market them to shops, libraries and reading groups. I retain all distribution and marketing rights. I arrange interviews and promotion spots with local media. I write for broowaha and display my miserable writing talents here and on various other sites. I'm conscious of the fact that many well known authors are abandoning traditonal houses because they don't want to pay the 'middleman' any more, or, they don't need the 'house' anymore. You see, the historic article that inspired this particluar article is flawed. Why? It is flawed because it makes no attempt to define a self publishing author and merely labels someone as a person who gets their writing printed. Well, maybe at the birth of the ebook when sony invented the first ereader and began the revolution that might have applied. Times have changed and a lot of us have moved on ten times faster than such flawed articles would have you believe. Indeed, much faster than some 'article writers' would ever care to acknowledge....

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