3 S.R. Johannes: The Stigma of Self Pubbing (by Lisa Nowak)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Stigma of Self Pubbing (by Lisa Nowak)

Upon the release of my third book, Driven, I want to talk about the stigma of self-publishing, but first I need to tell you a little about my publishing journey. Like Shelli, I pursued the traditional route for years. I studied hard, worked my butt off, and did everything “by the book.” I sought feedback and revised. I queried time and again, never letting the rejections stop me—never giving up. After five years, I finally found an agent. But she couldn’t sell my book.

In many ways, I don’t regret the arduous process I went through because it helped me develop the skills I need to publish my own books. By the time they get to my editors, they’re already in great shape. My copy editors tend to comment that I didn’t leave them anything to correct, or that if they were charging by the error, they’d only make a few bucks. But what I do resent is how the traditional publishing community led me to believe it was a lack of skill and talent that kept me from being published (mostly by saying nothing at all), when in fact it was about marketing. It’s only through my experience witnessing what gets accepted and what gets rejected—and my effort to market my own books—that I’ve become enlightened. An author can have a perfectly crafted manuscript, and if it’s not marketable in New York’s eyes, you’re not going to get a book deal. Many writers out there would be doing themselves a favor to recognize that and stop beating themselves up. The traditional publishing model is a business. Businesses survive by making money. It’s a simple, brutal fact that often has nothing to do with the human element.

So after all those years, I came to the decision to publish my books on my own. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will say it was a lot like losing your religion. At first you’re sure you’re going straight to hell. But that feeling goes away, and the sense of empowerment gets stronger until you wonder why you were ever afraid to begin with. At first I worried I was making the wrong choice. Fifteen months later, I can say I haven’t regretted it for a second. It’s been a total rush.

Which brings me back to stigma. This is something indies encounter a lot, and some of them get angry or depressed or let themselves get bogged down in it. I don’t have time for that nonsense. If someone disses me, I just don’t associate with them. I’m living my dream and running a business. Why would I care what ignorant people think?

But I do find it amusing. Case in point—I got a gig teaching a self-publishing class at the Oregon SCBWI Spring Conference. As an indie author, I’m not allowed to sell my books at the event. I’m not PAL, after all. Since I’m self-published, my books are bound to be crap, right? Forget the fact that excerpts of them have won awards. The irony is, before I decided to go indie, I was part of the team that founded Puddletown Publishing Group. My first book, Running Wide Open, was scheduled to be one of Puddletown’s first releases. I parted ways with the publisher and they went on to become PAL certified. Had I stayed with Puddletown, I’d be Published and Listed now. And my book would be of lesser quality for it. Why? Because I wanted it to go through one more round of editing, so I paid a professional New York editor to read my manuscript. Then I got another copy edit. And yes, these editors caught several things that would have otherwise wound up in the book. When you look at the irony of this, the sheer whimsy of the way the PAL rules work (simply because they have a blanket approach, rather than being decided on a case-by-case basis), you realize it’s ridiculous to take offense. This is not about skill. It’s about an organization having a simplistic system that’s easy to implement.

Though some indies have a problem with traditional publishing, I don’t. An individual’s publishing journey is a personal thing, and it’s up to them to make a choice based on their strengths and desires. Each of us has to do what brings us the most satisfaction. But I would like to leave all writers with this one bit of advice: don’t beat yourself up over whether or not you get an agent or sell a book. Don’t get down on yourself because of arbitrary rules set to make things cut and dried for an organization. Businesses and organizations have a purpose, and it’s not to feed your ego or let you down easy. Keep that in mind, and the whole publication process will be a lot less stressful.

About the book:

The last thing on 16-year-old Jess DeLand’s wish list is a boyfriend. She’d have to be crazy to think any guy would look twice at her. Besides, there are more important things to hope for, like a job working on cars and an end to her mom’s drinking. Foster care is a constant threat, and Jess is willing to sacrifice anything to stay out of the system. When luck hands her the chance to work on a race car, she finds herself rushing full throttle into a world of opportunities—including a boy who doesn’t mind the grease under her fingernails. The question is, can a girl who keeps herself locked up tighter than Richard Petty’s racing secrets open up enough to risk friendship and her first romance?

“The first romance is captured beautifully—just the right combination of natural and awkward, of eager and scared.”
 ~ Bob Martin, writing professor, Pacific Northwest College of Art

About the author

In addition to being a YA author, Lisa Nowak is a retired amateur stock car racer, an accomplished cat whisperer, and a professional smartass. Though offered two deals by a small presses in 2011, she turned them down to go indie. She writes coming-of-age books about kids in hard luck situations who learn to appreciate their own value after finding mentors who love them for who they are. She enjoys dark chocolate and stout beer and constantly works toward employing wei wu wei in her life, all the while realizing that the struggle itself is an oxymoron.

Lisa has no spare time, but if she did she’d use it to tend to her expansive perennial garden, watch medical dramas, take long walks after dark, and teach her cats to play poker. For those of you who might be wondering, she is not, and has never been, a diaper-wearing astronaut. She lives in Milwaukie, Oregon, with her husband, four feline companions, and two giant sequoias.


Greg Pincus said...

I think the stigma will continue to lessen over time, though there will always be the self-publishing contingent that publishes simply because they can. The idea of rebranding as indie authors will work for a bit, but unless it actually means something different from self-publishing, over time the distinction won't hold. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, though like you, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about it. There are bigger issues!

What will have to happen, though, is a re-evaluation by organizations like SCBWI and others that serve writers as to how they handle situations like the one you're describing. Simple, universal policies probably won't cut it. However, vetting the self-pubbed work of 40,000 members also is impractical. Still, the irony of you talking about self-pubbing but not being able to sell your self-pubbed book is rich, indeed, and one would hope is the type of event that would cause policy to be revisited!

J.L. Murphey said...

I agree with Gregory. A dozen years ago or so the thought of self-publishing left me cold, but now I self-publish.

For me I'm both traditionally and self published.

If you were good enough to teach a class at your conference, by God, you were good enough to sell your books there! That's just bias which is slowly but surely changing. As I tell all indie authors...be patient.

Heather said...

Well said. I think both avenues of publishing serve a purpose and I feel both are needed. I don't look down upon either one, because you're right, it's a business.

Angela Brown said...

The stigma is something that I also agree will lessen with time.

I recall making a comment on a blog about seeking to self-publish something that got started as just a theme-thing on my blog, mainly because that is what the blog owner was doing too. I got a reply that they were going to try getting published "for real" first then consider self-publishing.

I could have responded with something, anything, but I chose to leave it alone. It was more hilarious to me to see the wonderful indie authors all around publishing "for real" yet this person couldn't see the "real" in it.

Their loss, not mine.

I'm so grateful to indie authors for continuing to pursue publishing dreams for stories they believe in, providing products with excellent edits and intrigue and romance.

jessika fleck said...

thanks for your post lisa--i'm kind of in that, "ack! do i take the self-pub plunge or not?!?" place myself. it's scary and i hate to 'give up'...i know it's just another avenue, but can't help that feeling of conceding.

my question for you is, will you ever pursue traditional publishing again? why/why not?

Lisa said...

Greg, it is sort of ironic that they hired me to teach self-publishing and won't allow me to sell my books, but that's life I guess. It'll be interesting to see how SCBWI addresses this problem.

JL, I'm sure things will change eventually, though with anyone able to publish anything, it'll be a challenge to find a way to distinguish the quality writing from the drivel.

Angela, I know what you mean. A lot of the time, I don't bother addressing those kinds of comments either. I have too many other things to do. :)

Type Writer, I doubt I'll ever pursue traditional publishing again, and if someone approached me with a deal, it would have to be pretty sweet to lure me away from the indie world. I've been an entrepreneur for years, and I enjoy the independence of running my own business.

Kelly Polark said...

There was a great discussion on my local SCBWI listserve about how only PAL certified authors could sell books at SCBWI events. I think SCBWI will change with the times eventually.

Jemi Fraser said...

Love this line --> At first you’re sure you’re going straight to hell. :)

I think the stigma is lessening - and for all the right reasons. Sounds like a terrific book you've got Lisa!

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

the stigma is real but you have to hold your head high until the wave passes. things will change in time

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I love you, Lisa! *ahem*

People like you (and Shelli and our fellow Indelibles) are leading the way, showing by your tenacity and success that indie authors deserve respect. SCBWI - if the latest memo from their national office is any indication - is at least realizing that they need to make corrections, including changes to what does and does not constitute PAL. The funny part about THAT is that the people who it affects (indies like yourself and me) have already moved on - as you said, we're too busy out there writing and selling our books! Running our small business. The biggest danger to an organization like SCBWI is that they will become irrelevent (p.s. I hope that doesn't happen).

Thanks for the great post!

Laura Pauling said...

I see SCBWI as a large ship that won't change their attitudes quickly. Too many long time authors run it who have been so entrenched in the concept that self publishing is not a good thing. I hope it will change. I would think that if they pay you to teach a class and accept your workshop then you should be able to sell your books, regardless.

Unknown said...

Good stuff, Lisa. "Do it yourself" seems to be an American past time. Why not in writing? Though I feel like the stigma is lessening. I no longer see the people who once trounced self-publishing and labeled anyone who did it a hack. They've either grown bored or someone shut them up by proving them wrong ;)

Anonymous said...

"Businesses and organizations have a purpose, and it’s not to feed your ego or let you down easy."

I like this statement. :)