Self Publishing: Giving up on the dream?

I was catching up with a friend the other night, talking about random life stuff and family, and we stumbled across the subject of publishing. My friend was telling me about her older sister who wants to be an author, but believes that to be a “real” writer you have to have a Masters in English and Fine Arts, and have to be published by one of the big publishing houses. If not, then you’re not a “real” author and your creations have no merit. This struck me as such an antiquated point of view, but at the same time I had to wonder, does going the self publishing route as I’ve done mean giving up on a dream?

I’ve known that I wanted to be an author since I was ten years old. I’d envision what it would be like to walk into Barnes and Noble or Tattered Cover, and there, smack dab in the middle of the store, would be a display with my latest release on it. People would gather around it excitedly, snatching up the freshly printed copies of my new masterpiece, jumping up and down and squealing with glee, and I would look on like a Queen surveying her domain. Pretty grandiose dreams, right?

Some people might say that those dreams were a little unrealistic, but to those people I say “Hey! Quit peeing on my parade!” and “Ew, quit doing that you weirdo!”

Truthfully though, I did scale back my dreams a little as I got older. I’d happily settle for simply seeing my book on the shelves rather than having people mob me at the door, begging for my autograph as if I was some Hollywood starlet. Back then, I felt like if my work wasn’t in print I hadn’t really made it. This of course, was all before the explosion of the Kindle and eBooks, before the bookstores started to die off, replaced by digital books that could live on into infinity.

It took me a long time to shift my opinions and realize that being published, being a “real” author as my friend’s sister would say, didn’t depend on being in print anymore, didn’t mean that you had to pimp yourself out to the big publishing houses and pray to whatever powers might be that one of them would deem you worthy of being elevated to the status of author (cue chorus of angels here). The publishing world was revolutionized by the advent of the Kindle and other ereaders, and pioneers like Konrath. But it still took a long time for me to let go of those preconceived ideas of what being an author meant, and realize that being an author isn’t dependent on what medium your story is presented in, all that matters is that you’re telling the story.

Eventually I came to understand that readers don’t care if you’re published by Random House, or if you got your mate Gary to make a cover for you and you did the formatting yourself. All readers care about is the story, and whether or not it’s engaging. (To be fair though, having a professional looking cover and good formatting are a big help too) People like my friend’s sister, who believe that to be successful you have to receive the stamp of approval from a publishing house, are really just doing themselves a great injustice. They are robbing themselves of the opportunity to experience the joy of knowing that others are reading, and hopefully enjoying, the story you have put forth.

So my advice to any burgeoning authors like myself is this: don’t worry about seeking approval from a publishing house, just focus on telling your story and making it the best damn story you can. Published is published, it doesn’t matter how you get there. After all, all eBooks look the same on a screen.

3 thoughts on “Self Publishing: Giving up on the dream?

  1. Hear, hear. As an editor and former bookseller, I can testify that much excellent work is published by the big trade publishers, but much excellent work isn’t. If a well-known trade house buys your work, it usually means they think they can make money on it. “Marketable” in their terms is not the same as “good.” And as plenty of authors published by those houses will attest, you often end up doing most of your own marketing anyway. For the rest — well, Marge Piercy put it well in her “For the Young Who Want To”: “The real writer is one / who really writes.” Here’s the whole thing. Learn it by heart, or tack it to your wall and read it often.

  2. I was glad to meet you last night at BB4. I found a link to this article called the 7k Report by Hugh Howey in my email this morning. He amassed a lot of data on eBooks with some interesting and hopefully beneficial results.
    I agree that the MFA isn’t required to write a good story. I’ve heard many still consider that if a work of fiction is not literary fiction, it isn’t worthy of consideration. The sales show otherwise.

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