Sign the “Self Published Manifesto”
Self-Published: One Writer’s Manifesto*
*on behalf of all or none or some number in betwee
There’s no better way to officially mark a paradigm shift than to declare, in some sweeping, general way, the simple notion that things are changing.
Many see self-publishing as a sort of runner-up to the grand prize. A way to settle should a publisher or agent not want to invest in a writer’s work. Admittedly, I was of this belief when I started out. But as I moved through this process, I started to realize that this avenue might actually be better positioned to my situation, my skills, and my aspirations. Of course, I could benefit from the expertise of established professionals in the field. I would be thrilled to have a mentor. A guide. But the traditional industry could not lend any and, as is the case with any new industry, Self Publishing does not seem to have them yet. But this won’t be the case forever…
So, for the sake of my peers and based on the lessons of my own experience, I’m declaring this (with about as much authority as one person can have over such a thing), the Self Published Manifesto, for the Self-Published among us:
We, the Self Published are not some chaotic swarm of undiscovered, less-than-adequate writers. Nor do we represent a body of work that is unedited, raw, or downright awful. These works may exist in the self-publo-sphere, but this seems to be the case anywhere, even through traditional publishing avenues. Sloppy, awful writing exists in all spheres and is scary wherever you find it.
Most of us have sought recognition from established entities, big presses; small press; university presses; magazines; bloggers; agents; bakers; candlestick makers, only to get lost in the proverbial slush pile. In other words, the decision to “self-publish” is likely not a choice for most of us, or any of us for that matter. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t one day be a choice, a good, solid choice. Like a small, private college somewhere in rural Pennsylvania that has eleven students and specializes in Eastern European studies. That kind of choice. Right for some, not for all. One day, perhaps, it will gain enough respect to be viewed as an option, rather than something for which we’ve settled. On this point, I think about the personal contact I’ve been able to have with readers as a result of facilitating all my own marketing and production. There is no greater feeling than having direct, in-depth conversations with readers about my work and operating “in the trenches” has allowed these relationships to develop and flourish. Also, self-publishing could one day be the “right” choice for those of us who have a deep love for “process”, and emerge successful in situations where an entire process – from writing to editing, production, and marketing – is experienced and understood. Those are just two examples, but the experience of self-publishing would be attractive to a specific group of people for a number of reasons, and I hope this Manifesto encourages others to explain their reasons why.
Another thing about us Self-Publisheds: some of us just don’t know where we fit, or don’t fit “the mold” in a good way. Or we’re surrounded by people who don’t know where we fit and perceive that as a problem, or perhaps too great a risk. Or we self-publish to reach our niche audience more directly. Maybe we’re somewhere between literary and commercial. YA and adult. Biography and Science Fiction. We’re something like peanut butter and banana and bacon sandwiches; we can’t imagine who wouldn’t like us, but enough people just have to try it and declare that it’s AMAZING on Yelp in order to gain traction. We’re that sort of risk, sometimes.
For months, I’ve been working under an assumption based on social networking principles (something perfectly suited for self-publishing) that the choice of what to read is not dictated by an establishment at all. A publishing house doesn’t tell me what to read, any more than a bus advertisement or a T-shirt with a novel’s cover on it. It’s a peer-driven decision, based on recommendation. My best friend gives me a book, my husband, my dog, my boss and says “Read this. It’s awesome.” You know what? I’ll read it. I don’t check if it’s been traditionally published. And, you don’t necessarily need a traditional publishing model for this exchange to happen, only the right tools to get the book in the right hands and the ripple effect will take care of itself.
And since the Internet was invented by Al Gore, these networks have already been set up, waiting to be nurtured like an adorable little puppy that eats way too much. Facebook, GoodReads, Twitter, Shelfari, Kickstarter, they’re all out there. I know what my cousin’s best friend’s ex-boyfriend is reading in Topeka, Kansas. And I can start an email chat with this person, and hundreds of others, to find out if they’d be interested in reading my book, or if they have friends that would. At every moment, I have immediate access to multiple networks of readers who could be instantly satisfied, moved, angered, bored, and/or excited about my work. Sometimes, these efforts are not as far-reaching as a bus advertisement that moves down Broadway, but it works. And it’s also incredibly gratifying to be working this closely with individual readers and book clubs, one by one.
Above all, it’s about access. And we all have it, now. The overall process might be slower than traditional publishing and marketing, but the potential is all there.
In many cases, my experience has demonstrated that readers are more excited than myself or other writers to be a part of this movement. “Wow, the author contacted me yesterday, how cool!” said one potential reader (not verbatim) on GoodReads after I had contacted her – from the perspective of a self-published author who does all her own marketing – asking what drew her to my book. The theory is that simple: work through networks, and ask readers for feedback. It doesn’t work every time, but it works more often than it doesn’t. And that’s how theories become law, they work more times than they don’t. Or, they strike you unexpectedly as you hold a kite in a thunderstorm (and self publishing is a combination of working theories and thunderstorms).
This theory is not profit-driven per say, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be profitable soon. Because authors can now establish themselves with the one demographic that matters most: readers themselves.
Of course, there are some aspects of the process of self publishing that could be improved as we become more organized, smarter about our decisions, and as the process becomes more respected as a choice.
For one, it seems as though a lot of us pay a lot of money for editing services, marketing packages, and the like. In some ways, self-publishing companies are profiting from people like me who are willing to make a start-up investment toward their dream. Also, the community could be strengthened so self-published authors have access to a strong network of other Self-Publisheds and avoid common mistakes and scams.
I’m going to end with another aposiopesis, to convey what I feel is the most critical message of the Self-Publisheds, the rebuttal to the notion that there is some goal or endpoint in this process. If there is, then I don’t think I’ve reached it, or will ever reach it for that matter. That something can be “learned”, past tense, implies that there is a moment in which we no longer need to actively work to put ourselves out there (and on this point, I don’t think traditionally published authors have to work at this any less than us). I’m not sure that there will ever be an opportunity to discuss the publishing process in the past tense. It’s an evolving one, never-ending in a way. If I stop learning, I fall behind. The industry changes every day now, but that’s the beauty of such a beast. And the difference is, self-publishing has given me control over this process – I pursue avenues in my own way, I learn as I go. And for me this has turned out to be the best choice, to Self Publish, for myself.
We are participating in a profound moment in the publishing industry. A moment where digital media are pushing into traditional notions of what represents good writing, are changing the way we produce and share content, and, of course, read. To me, this represents the most interesting and exciting time to be a part of publishing. I would not have wanted to publish my work one hundred years ago, four decades or even a decade ago, even if it meant that my journey would be quicker or more lucrative or less complicated. This is the exact moment that I want to be published, exactly when I want to be self-published…
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The Self-Published Manifesto was first published in the [tk] Review.