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.