Welcome back to our new Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted: February 4th, 2009 ]

Seeing Jennifer Hudson sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl reminded me of the recent article in the New York Times about the self-publishing industry, which received a lot of attention and has sparked ongoing controversy.

In spite of all evidence to the contrary, it appears conventionally published authors (and those striving to become such) still view self-publishing services with contempt because they feel authors are “cheating” somehow. After all, getting a book published traditionally is “hard work.”  Those who have done it (or long to) perhaps feel as if self-published authors haven’t paid their dues.

But are they really cheating, or are they simply taking advantage of wide-spread changes occurring  throughout the entertainment and business worlds?

Let’s examine other industries:  The same Do-it-Yourself (DIY) fever is sweeping through the music industry. Or, to be more accurate, has already swept through the music industry.  Talented musicians are no longer waiting for acceptance from the “establishment” and instead, are distributing their music through iTunes, finding their audiences through Myspace, and broadcasting their music videos via YouTube.   It is safe to say the music industry has irrevocably changed.  Musicians no longer give 95% of their royalties to the “industry” and customers no longer buy CDs from brick-and-mortar music stores.

Are these musicians cheating? No. They are still paying their dues, but now the invoice comes after their music has already become available. They still must market aggressively to obtain listeners, but at least they have something to market.   The audience determines which of those musicians succeed and which of them fail.

This is no different from the self-publishing book industry.

I think it is safe to say that “becoming a rock star” is a dream that almost everyone can acknowledge, if not personally identify with; although if the ratings for American Idol are any indication, it might actually be a dream nearly everyone can identify with, too.

Other common dreams are “becoming an actor,” “becoming a model,” “becoming a professional athlete,” and yes, even “becoming a published author.”

Can you imagine the uproar that would ensue if all that was required to start playing for the New York Knicks was writing a check for $1000 to some internet company? Can you imagine the fervor if all that was required to obtain a recording contract was standing in line at some reality show try-out?  Wait a minute!  That’s already happening. Reality television has altered the search for “talent” and now, in rare instances, getting “discovered” is no harder than filling out an application. Nowadays, instead of submitting audition tapes to countless producers, lyricists stand in line and face the possibility of public humiliation at the hands of Simon, Paula, and Randy.

This is no different from the self-publishing book industry.

Is this “cheating,” per se, or has the do-it-yourself mentality simply removed unnecessary hurdles that prevented talent from being discovered faster? You see, talent is the one common denominator and talent cannot be purchased. Cast members of Survivor have their fifteen minutes of fame and then disappear back into the abyss. The try-outs for American Idol feature thousands upon thousands of “hopefuls” standing in lines around city blocks and yet the main competition is comprised of just a handful.  Most had their opportunity to shine, and their audience rejected them. But at least they received a shot.

As the New York Times article states, self-publishing companies are thriving, and that is because we give writers their shot, their fifteen minutes, their chance.  We are American Idol for writers. We make it easy to publish a book. If “publishing a book” is your dream, you’re going to be happy with the result.  And if your dream is to be successful, famous, rich, or a combination of the three, you’re going to receive your chance, but just like everyone else who is successful, famous, or rich, you are going to need to bring something special to the table.

Most reasonable people recognize this. Those who don’t may become disillusioned, but listen – if it were easy to become a bestselling author, a multi-platinum recording artist, a player for the New York Knicks, or a highly-sought-after runway model, then everyone would do it.

Just because iTunes makes the distribution of music easy doesn’t mean every artist is going to become a success overnight. And just because standing in line for American Idol is easy doesn’t mean all those people are going to win an Oscar and sing the National Anthem for the Super Bowl.   Lord knows there is only one Jennifer Hudson.  American Idol didn’t make her a success; talent pours from her soul. She would have found success tripping through the dark blindfolded.  But American Idol shined a light on her, and she reflected back.

Self-publishing companies shine a light on writers.  It is the writer’s job to shine back. Some authors do, like Gang Chen, who earned over $39,000 in royalties from Outskirts Press in the 4th quarter of 2008. That’s $13,000 a month. Has his book sold a million copies? No. Is he making a lot of money as a self-published author?  Yes. By any reasonable benchmark, Gang Chen is a successful self-published author who has given specific permission to have his successes shared.

And this brings me to my last point.  All publishing companies are different, just like all writers are different, and just like all contestants on American Idol are different.  Success is never guaranteed. But if you are going to self-publish your book, you’re better off publishing with a company where your chances for success increase.  Above all, you have to believe in yourself and you have to work hard. Success rarely comes easily for anyone, but now, thanks to self-publishing companies, everyone has an equal chance. We’ll shine the light on you. What you do with that light is up to you.

football fan

Six years on, Brent’s words still hold true.  As with many other career fields and endeavors in life, indie and self-publishing authors often suffer from what psychologists call “Imposter Syndrome.”  In an excellent piece (“Imposter Syndrome, and What it Means to be an Adult”) for the journal Humanist back in 2014, Greta Christina defines imposter syndrome as “a condition where accomplished people see themselves as frauds, as not deserving of success or recognition, despite significant evidence to the contrary.  I think imposter syndrome can apply to more than just career accomplishments.  I think imposter syndrome can apply to every aspect of life, and our ability to navigate it as adults.”  She goes on to discuss the importance of rites of passage and rituals as signposts on our way to self-acceptance and self-realization.  Now, Greta Christina is approaching imposter syndrome as a humanist and not as someone specifically interested in self-publishing, but her words resonate.  Indie, hybrid, and self-publishing authors are often (still) perceived as or perceive themselves as newcomers, aliens, or interlopers in the grand publishing sphere.  And yet–and yet–the data shows that self-publishing is a fully respectable and increasingly respected niche.  It’s so pervasively utilized by authors and readers alike that I even struggle to call it a niche.

So how do we change perspectives on self-publishing?  How do we change the interior experience, the actual inhabited day-to-day emotions of being a self-publishing author?  Well, if we listen to experts like Greta Christina, we invent ourselves some rites and rituals.  Recognizing an unhealthy line of thought (such as, “I’m not a real author,” or “I’m only a self-published author”) and then combating it actively with positive (and true) rebuttals (“I am absolutely a real author!” or “I’m so excited to be a self-published author!”) is not just a ritual … it’s a necessity, like breaking any other bad habit.

So here, at the end of this archival revisitation, is my suggestion for a new daily ritual–

Repeat after me: I have to believe in myself and I have to work hard. 

Say it again and again, until you believe in it.  I believe in you. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

2 thoughts on “From the Archives: “SELF-PUBLISHING: THE NEW AMERICAN IDOL”

  1. Imposter Syndrome is recognised among those labouring over PhDs. I remember well how, despite my hard work and recognition of my expertise by my superiors, I would think sooner or later someone would discover my dirty little secret – not an expert after all!!!!
    It’s possible to recover however : )

    1. I’m so glad you recovered, Robyn! Graduate programs seem to instill terror in all students that they don’t belong, or haven’t earned the right to be there. And as you can no doubt tell us in detail, indie authors and PhDs alike earn that right by simple virtue of blood, sweat, tears, and endless nights of dedicated labor! – Kelly S.

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