This past week a friend and I debated e-publishing vs. traditional publishing.  As all writers are probably now aware, the publishing world is in upheaval.  Publishers and agents struggle to find reasons for their existence in this new world of hand-held readers and the ability for authors to be their own agent and publisher.  In all the changes there is still some stigma attached to self-publishing, and writers as well as publishers still feel self-publishing is done only when no one else wants your manuscript.  I have seen printed books that have been self-published that are full of typos and other errors, and I have seen books published through the e-publishing process that are professional.  But the pros and cons isn’t what I wanted to talk about here, because my friend said something that made me come to a complete stop in the conversation (during a writer’s group) in order to pause and let her words sink in.

My wise friend talked about how many writers have their egos tied up in belonging to a publisher.  In other words, most writers don’t feel professional or ‘published’ if they cannot say that they have a contract with a large publishing entity.  Her question was, shouldn’t a writer’s success be tied up in the readers, not the publisher?  Think about that for a minute.  Does a writer judge themselves a success because of one contract rather than by the number of books sold?  I know writers want lots of books to sell, but which makes you feel more of a success?  Let’s be honest here.  If I say that I have an agent and that Random House has given me an advance and a contract for a series, I’m going to feel like a ‘real writer’, compared to how I would feel if I told friends and family that I’d just posted my manuscript with Kindle and had sold fifty books.  Why is that?  Probably because of how long I’ve been writing and marketing.  Hate to say it, but if I was younger, more internet-savy, maybe I would find e-books just as thrilling and exciting as a paper copy on a shelf. 

Which raises a topic for another day in how messed up writers are when it comes to defining success as a writer.

But my friend is right.  Our egos, our need to feel like ‘real’ writers, our desire to call ourselves ‘authors’ rather than just ‘writers’ is tied up in the idea of publishing rather than in the more ephemeral concept of readers.  And wow, what kind of over inflated ego is that?  I want readers who love my stories, who want to live in those story worlds with me, and who want to sit back and talk stories and books and writing.  Not for ego, but for the love of the story. 

Of course, making money and having a contract wouldn’t be all bad, either.

7 thoughts on “Ego

  1. I had a similar “oh my gosh” moment when I was more active on Etsy, and was constantly reading posts about how to build my brand and market my creations. I had had an offer to place some of my pouches in a store in San Francisco, and even though I had reservations about the person I spoke to, I was considering it — so I looked online to see what other artists said. Someone wrote that handcraft artisans are all too eager to see our stuff in stores, because we feel like it gives us desperately-desired legitimacy. This rang true to me, so I turned the person down, and later found that other artists whose work went into that store ended up having very bad experiences.

    It’s curious the signposts we use to determine the “realness” of what we do. Even in an age of internet publishing, even when artists can make a living selling their work exclusively online, everyone still wants the old markers of success.


    • Your last sentence kind of distills this debate down for me. That we still look for the old markers of success, as you said. Do we find the new markers too scary? Not ‘real’ enough? Does it come simply because of the normal fear of change or new things, or have we been so trained that we only feel like we’ve succeeded if the success comes only as we perceive it is supposed to?


      • I think it’s a combination of these: we’ve been trained to feel like success is only determined by certain markers, and also we’re scared. For me they’re connected, because part of what scares me is feeling like there might still be some people out there who don’t think I’m legit. As long as these imaginary judges look upon my work and deem it less-acceptable than the work created by old-style guidelines, I feel inferior. Of course this is all poop, but it still has its influence — particularly because, as you say, there really are so many examples of self-publishing (and Etsy shops, etc) that have been created with apparently no standards at all. ;b Who needs the potential stigma when creating our own path is already scary enough?


  2. Just came from Len’s blog.

    I’m still in the traditional camp. I’ve seen too many self-published books that make those errors in the beginning that agents and editors are always warning about. Often, the gatekeeper is there for a reason. And those that are decent get drowned out in the rush to print phenomenon.

    It may be ego to want to go the traditional route. But is there anything wrong with knowing out of thousands of manuscripts, yours was chosen? And with their backing, you’ll have the ability to reach more readers? And at least there will be some direction when it comes to marketing. Hopefully.


  3. I think it bears pointing out that the current publishing industry is not necessarily buying good manuscripts. They are buying manuscripts that their marketing departments feel will earn them money, and they are often rejecting manuscripts their own editors love. Editing — as it used to be done — isn’t the rule of thumb anymore. Many authors are told that their manuscripts will be published “as is”. Little marketing and promotion support is given to legacy published authors these days — unless they are proven money-makers.

    New authors are expected to bear the entire burden of marketing and promotion themselves. Contracts for midlist authors are being cancelled, or rewritten in a manner that many find unacceptable. I could go on, but it’s a depressing litany.

    Sure, it’s easy to self-publish. but indy publishing is in its infancy (for this iteration). “Gatekeepers” are stepping up to fill the need of directing readers to worthy books. Editors who have found themselves out of jobs in the “traditional” industry are now finding they are sought after by authors who are serious about building careers and reaching readers.

    Keep your eyes, ears and mind open. The industry is changing fast — and daily. The publishing world today is vastly different from a year ago. The “traditional” model simply doesn’t exist any more.


  4. What great comments here. We can blame Susan for starting the whole blog. I see pros and cons with both schools of thought. I have to admit though, to liking the idea of a gatekeeper as described by Susan as directing readers. It’s how I picture the new agents will be when all this falls out and settles. I see the new agents as there to help writers establish an e-reader base and internet presence, and maybe to continue the traditional print, too. There must be a way to balance both styles. I wonder about the pros and cons of seeking both. Working on e-publishing while seeking traditional agents. It’s such a long process either way, might as well work on both ends and see what meets in the middle. Thoughts?


  5. Pingback: What does it mean now to publish your work? | Satsumabug's art blog

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