Since becoming a freelance writer and editor, I’ve interacted with many self-publishing authors. Some become clients, and they send me their manuscripts to make sure that they produce the best product possible. They work hard, and they are good writers. Some have best-seller potential in my opinion (but, hey, what do I know, right?). That’s why it infuriates me that authors such as these are looked down on in the writing community.
As I started growing my business, I took all of the experts’ advice and started networking. When I created my LinkedIn profile and joined multiple writer discussion groups, I really started to see this elitism rear its ugly head in nearly every thread. Mostly, it’s an underlying tone, but sometimes it’s downright rude. The most common perpetrators of the outright displays are people in their late forties or older who have been traditionally published in the past. I suppose this makes sense, as these people became writers in an era where self-publishing was basically unheard of. But the reality is that the number of publishing houses is shrinking significantly, and the houses that are still kicking have smaller staffs and take on fewer books even though the number of submissions they get hasn’t diminished at all, but rather swelled because there are fewer options for authors to submit to. Traditional publishing starts with great writing talent, no doubt about it, and requires extreme perseverance, but breaking in essentially comes down to the luck of the draw. One fabulous author is chosen while countless others in the same genre who are equally as fabulous get overlooked or rejected. So those authors who have been rejected again and again, while seeing books that are equally as good as theirs appear on bookstore shelves, turn to other options that are now available to them in this generation. The game has changed, but the mentality hasn’t caught up.
Maybe I should take the time here to define what I mean by self-publishing. This is when the author sends the book to beta readers for critique, pays to have it professionally edited, pays to have it printed, pays for the promotion, sets up their own press coverage and appearances, and generally captains the whole process. It’s damn hard, and it isn’t cheap, and to take it on you have to really believe in your book and its potential to be great. It shouldn’t be confused with print-on-demand where the author uses a tool like CreateSpace to format and produce ebooks at little or no cost out of pocket for the author. Print-on-demand is a whole different beast. On one hand, it allows great authors who have a lower budget and have been discouraged by the traditional routes’ nitpicky rules and inner circle bubble an outlet to grow their platform and funds. On the other hand, it allows people to publish without the much-needed vetting system and with no financial consequences, which can lead to really (and I mean REALLY) crappy books being published, which helps to spur on the elitist mentality. But I digress. Print-on-demand is a big enough topic for its own series of posts.
My point is, regardless of which route an author chooses, they should be treated with the same amount of respect. But the reality is that self-published or print-on-demand authors are judged by people who haven’t even read their work. A self-published or POD author’s friends and family probably think she’s hot stuff (and she is!) for writing a published book, but when that same author tells a community of writers about her book and then sees their enthusiasm and encouragement drain off their faces and out of their words when she says she’s self-published or “indie”, it makes that author feel inferior. It makes her feel as though her work is sub-par because a big house didn’t pick it up, and if a big house didn’t love it, then it must be mediocre garbage. Right? Wrong!
What bothers me most is that this elitism isn’t just geared toward authors who have finished and published a book. The worst of these elitist assholes go after beginners!
In one of those LinkedIn forums I was talking about, a beginner writer asked about platforms where he could post his stuff online. He said he wasn’t worried about money, he just wanted to see what others thought of his work. Now, in this post, he said he had short stories to share, but then he asked what platform would allow him to post chapters in installments. So, it was a little unclear if he wanted to post short stories or a novel or both. Either way, I told him about the site I’m currently using, Channillo, because you can post both short stories and novels there. A man whose snarky comments I had noticed on other posts commented simply, “Short stories have chapters?” He then commented on my post about Channillo saying, “I think Hannah has missed the point.” Oh really, jackass? I answered the question. You responded with a smartass comment that didn’t explain anything to this beginner who was just looking for support. I told him so in a more civilized way, asking him why he thought I’d “missed the point.” He said that this poster shouldn’t be writing and sending out his work if he didn’t even know the proper terminology yet. So terminology is the precursor for writing a good story? Really? Tell me more.
Then, some other people (all middle aged or older) started saying that this smartass knew what he was talking about because he had an impressive resume in the traditional publishing industry. That doesn’t excuse the fact that, one, he commented on a post where he didn’t have the answer the writer was seeking, and, two, he didn’t correct the poster in a way that taught him anything. I agree that this young man needs to be clear on whether he’s writing a short story or novel and know that even bigger short stories don’t really have “chapters.” But why can’t you just say that? A nice traditional publishing resume isn’t a license to be a jerk.
Even more recently, I posted my own question on a forum that was a sort of a survey about which type of editing writers prefer to have. I stated that I was a freelance editor and curious about the responses. The first woman to comment rambled on about how a real editor needs to have experience at a publishing house or else they really don’t know what they are doing. (So I suppose I’m not a real editor. Oh shucks.) She also said that she had such experience, so she edited all her own stuff. She never answered my question. Surprise, surprise. I pressed her for a real answer and got a long-winded response about how she got published as a journalist at 19 and has been getting published for thirty years, so she doesn’t need outside help and nobody sees her work before it’s published except the publishing house editor (Sort of a contradiction. Do you edit all your own stuff entirely or do you have it edited at a publishing house?) At the end she gave me a blip saying she preferred content editing. Thanks for the bread crumb after the preachy lecture.
Now, this woman’s history in publishing was impressive, and if she had actually engaged me in a conversation and answered my question in an educated and friendly manner, I would have admired her. Instead, I found myself wanting to smack the smug smile off her face in her profile thumbnail. I also found myself saying, “Who the hell are you?” I had never heard her name in my life. I guess getting your stuff traditionally published doesn’t automatically make you J.K. Rowling. Who knew, right? What I can pretty much guarantee you is that J.K. Rowling would have actually answered my question the first time and wouldn’t have talked down to me.
Really, people, this has to stop. Writers should be supporting each other. It’s hard enough battling your own self-doubt about your work without somebody who has achieved the ultimate writer dream of getting traditionally published (not having to pay anything out of pocket, charging full price for your book, and not having to shell out money on heavy promotional material) putting you down before even reading your material. If you see elitism in online forums or anywhere else, please put those jerks in their place. If we keep allowing them to steamroll us because of their accolades, they’re just going to keep doing it.