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Rethinking indie publishing rhetoric

Two years ago, when I first started talking about indie pubbing ebooks, I was resoundingly squashed from every direction. My agent at the time (not the agent I'm with now) was understandably concerned that self-publishing would brand me as someone who wasn't publishable. Almost a dozen books into my career, I wouldn't be called a wannabe or an amateur; I'd be a reject. I wouldn't be the girl who didn't get asked to the prom. Best case, I'd be the girl who had a great date for the prom, then showed up with bad hair, fell down on the dance floor, got her period and had to walk home. Worst case, I'd be Carrie in the wake of a big bucket of critical pig blood.

On the flip side, the voices rising to the front of the self-publishing world were overwhelmingly vociferous - and uninformed - tirades against the vagaries of the industry, the evil intent of agents, the shortsightedness of whoever signed the rejection letter. It was off-putting, untrue and amateurish, and I just didn't want to be part of that conversation.

This is the same type of rhetoric that used to surround cancer care in the mid 90s when I was diagnosed with lymphoma. Proponents of chemo and radiation were vehemently against "woo woo" or "alternative" treatments like macrobiotic diet, meditation, singing bowls, massage or whatever. Holistic medicine proponents railed against the "slash, poison and burn" methods of allopathic "conventional" medicine. Neither the polarization nor the pejorative terms were helpful to me, the person fighting for her life.

Ultimately, I did a ton of homework, then designed a treatment plan that worked for me, my belief system and my family's needs, with consideration for my best statistical odds of survival. I did surgery and chemo, but I turned down radiation and bone marrow transplant. I went to a shaman, became vegetarian, meditated and yes, I had Tibetan singing bowl therapy. (Don't knock it till you've tried it.)

I also rewrote the vocabulary in my own head, then in conversation, making sure people around me were speaking the same language. It wasn't "alternative" - which implies either/or - it was "complimentary" therapy - a practical, useful, customized combo platter. I can't say what's right for anyone else. All I can say is, I'm still here.

My approach to publishing is exactly the same - and my priorities haven't changed: my life, my belief system and my family's needs, in balance with my best statistical odds of survival.

The vocabulary that works for me (for now) is:
Indie publishing, which implies that I'm free of obligation to a publishing house and in creative control (as opposed to "self-publishing" which implies I don't have help. I'm doing a lot but bringing in the help I need for editing, design, conversion, etc.)
Legacy publishing, as a term for the business model in action at Big 6 and other publishing houses (defined here), as opposed to "traditional" publishing, which to me implies a values system. (A literary novel written by a dedicated craftsperson, carefully edited and thoughtfully presented is "nontraditional" while Justin Bieber's ghostwritten, blitz-release memoir is "traditional"? That makes no sense to me.)
More important, as the ebook revolution unfolds and these two worlds come together in a way that benefits authors, readers, agents and the publishing industry, I'll adhere to my policy of rhetoric that is:
Respectful of the choices being made by others
Honest with myself about who I am and want to be as a writer
Realistic in my financial expectations
I see the greatest satisfaction (financial and artistic) coming from a thoughtful, symbiotic combination of legacy and indie publishing.

I can't tell other people what to do. All I can say is, I'm still here.


Dorothy Hagan said…
Rhetoric does indeed matter, and boy, how it changes over time. Digital publishing, in my mind has never meant self-publishing. To me, self-publishing meant vanity publishing, where you pay $40k and have 25 crates of books in your garage.

What I have discovered is that indie or legacy, if you produce a well-edited, well-written book, it will likely be well-received by your readers. If you publish a shoddy, rambling product, it gets panned and people utter the unspeakable words "For the love of Pete, how did that book ever get published?" Book quality matters. Readers decide. I must admit I am thankful for the technology that allows me a seat at the table.
I'm still laughing over that prom analogy.

Bust seriously, this is the kind of thoughtful, respectful discussion that needs to be happening among authors, agents and publishers alike. How can we all not only survive but thrive in this brave new landscape? How will we deliver the highest caliber of work to the reading public and help people distinguish between the professional and the amateurish?

Thanks for raising the subject. I'll be happy to follow the discussion and, with any luck, we can all learn from each other.
caitlin said…
Nicely said, Joni. I think it is an exciting time! I think some changes were needed in publishing.

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