A post by tribesmate Kirkus MacGowan yesterday fired my imagination. Kirkus detailed why he chose self-publishing over traditional publishing, which led to some fascinating comments on the subject, some of which challenged my notions on my chosen path. I urge you to check it out when you have the time, especially Kirkus’s response to Gina – that’s a great one. Here’s what I said in my response:
At the risk of sounding biased, as I chose the self-publishing path, I agree with all of the points that you present; for me, I chose the path because I wanted to control my own destiny, and I feel I have enough professional experience as a writer in other venues that I can recognize the necessary qualities in my own work.
I don’t think self-publishing is for everyone. Today it may well be the path of the impatient, but in the long-term, I think it should be the path of those who have a more stringent eye, or a vision for their careers. A self-published author needs to offer something even more unique than one can find in traditional publishing, whether it’s a different take that might not be translate well to the mass-market or a fresh approach to what fiction itself means.
To sum it up, I believe that self-publishers should embrace their outsider status and give the reader something they can’t find elsewhere. And it should go without saying that they offer a high-quality experience; I’m still dismayed by some of the unfortunate quality that I stumble across in indies.
Sooner or later I suspect a system will arise to determine which indies offer the best products, just as it always has evolved. Maybe at that point all the hand-wringing between proponents of the traditional versus the self-published path can come to some agreement, as I think the trad proponents have some good points when it comes to quality control.
I’ve spoken before of my admiration for outsider art. Wikipedia defines outsider art thus:
The term outsider art was coined by art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972 as an English synonym for art brut (French: [aʁ bʁyt], “raw art” or “rough art”), a label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture; Dubuffet focused particularly on art by insane-asylum inmates.
While Dubuffet’s term is quite specific, the English term “outsider art” is often applied more broadly, to include certain self-taught or Naïve art makers who were never institutionalized. Typically, those labeled as outsider artists have little or no contact with the mainstream art world or art institutions. In many cases, their work is discovered only after their deaths. Often, outsider art illustrates extreme mental states, unconventional ideas, or elaborate fantasy worlds.
I suppose I should clarify something before I press on. When I speak of the “Indie Community”, I mean the thriving movement that I see popping up all over the Internet, banding together in places like the Kindle Boards, Twitter, Triberr, Book Blogs, and many other places. This largely seems to be a group of self-directed authors who have taken the reins on their publication, PR, and overall career direction. Most are either first-time writers or early on in their careers. In my mind, I separate a lot of this community from those who have either “made it” or who came from a traditional publishing background, as they have something of a different perspective, and more resources at their disposal. Not to say that they shouldn’t be welcome, but they represent a different slice of the market.
Of course, it’s folly to try to pin down such a group, so let’s just acknowledge this is likely a work of folly going in. Still, I want to chase the idea down the rabbit hole.
So, while the indie community itself doesn’t 100% qualify as an outsider art movement, the community does share some commonalities with outsider art, based on some of the responses that I received to yesterday’s post. Some of these include:
- We create outside the boundaries of the “official” publishing and literary culture.
- A great deal of us seem to be self-taught, at least when it comes to publishing.
- Many of us speak of being compelled to write – this is common in outsider art, where it’s thought to be a means to validate and recreate comprehension of the world and existence.
- Our goals are typically highly personal, though obviously exceptions exist.
Sure, the community emulates some of the things that traditional publishing does. Why? Because it works! I don’t think that outsider art is about avoiding wholesale the traditions of the past – it’s about interpreting them in a manner best befitting you. Those original inmates didn’t paint with unusual materials – they worked in traditional media, using recognized practices that they had translated for what worked within the boundaries of their own visions.
It can’t be denied that self-publishing has quite a few drawbacks. Our distribution networks aren’t the same as the big publishers, and our marketing budgets are nowhere near as large. We don’t have the “label cachet” that comes with a big-name imprint. We face an uphill battle in convincing readers that our work is worthwhile.
But none of those matter. At least, long-term. Distribution issues can eventually be solved through creative group sourcing – and I have some ideas for this that I’ll eventually present as a group solution. Marketing budgets are rapidly evening out, and let’s face it, the marketing budget for a mid-lister was never that great. Label cachet can be solved through community initiatives to develop a gate-keeping system; I’ve spoken before about the concept of something like an indie guild, in which existing members vet new members and the quality of their work, leading to the mark of their guild(s) on a given author’s work representing a cut above normal indie quality.
Speaking of which, I challenge the concept of an “official” publishing and literary culture in and of itself. Gatekeepers are a good thing to ensure quality, but turning that gate-kept system into some sort of all-knowing, all-seeing official record of what is “official” and “matters” is another matter entirely. I would hope even the guild system would avoid that sort of fallacy and the arrogance that you see in some authors and publishers, that the traditional system is the only means of establishing what is real and exists, when in reality there is a vast world out there of which they only dimly seem to be aware.
But why do all this? Why go to all this trouble when their system is in place? The key is in that one sentence above: To sum it up, I believe that self-publishers should embrace their outsider status and give the reader something they can’t find elsewhere. Hey, if writing a Twilight-a-like is what your muse demands, more power to you. I can’t find it in myself to judge people who are honestly doing what they love and trying to make a go of it. I’m thrilled that Amanda Hocking has made it work – just one more example of how it can be done.
I just think the real power in this movement – what really makes the indie and kindle/eReader movement troubling to traditional publishing – is this ability to offer readers experiences that they can find nowhere else. To offer unique voices, rather than the more homogenized voices that we get out of the industry these days. To present alternative viewpoints. I question whether I could write a book featuring a black lesbian (for example) as a narrator and have it picked up by the big publishers. Agents and publishers have tried to change those characters to make them more “marketable”, as if people who look different or have different sexual orientations just don’t count.
That is where we come in. We don’t have to make the quarterly profit projection. We don’t have to report our gains and losses to stockholders. We’re trying to do this for the love of our work, and we can afford to take chances with both storytelling and price points.
This is why I’m going indie: I believe that the artist and his/her imagination can present more than what we’ve been given and told is possible. What are your reasons?