Two weeks ago, I launched this series by laying the groundwork for understanding what the FutureBook (and its parent organization, The Bookseller) is all about and, as a result, what the annual Digital Census seeks to measure and comment upon. (In summary: it tracks emerging and outgoing matters of interest for authors and publishers and other trade experts invested in digital publishing, whether through traditional or indie, hybrid, and self-publishing platforms.) I also took a quick peek at the FutureBook‘s first confirmed trend of 2015: the fact that mobile has overtaken both tablets and dedicated e-readers as the primary means for reading ebooks. And last week, I applied a microscope to the FutureBook’s second confirmed trend of 2015: the fact that digital sales are still growing, but that growth is slowing.
This week, I’m going to examine the FutureBook’s third confirmed trend for the year. Straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak: “Self-love levels recede as many indie authors report lower satisfaction levels.” The FutureBook publication, which you can read here, says:
You can imagine how deeply sad I feel when I see a well-respected and industry-enriching publication commenting on authors tanking in the self-love department. As it turns out, the data indexed by the Digital Census isn’t necessarily asking authors to psychoanalyze their performance and self-satisfaction, so “self-love” may be a bit strong of a term––but then again, maybe not. Many authors do equate self-satisfaction (and their identity, really) with their performance in respect to sales figures. And that’s a deeply problematic way to measure self-worth, as everyone is well aware … but sometimes we can’t help but believe it to be an accurate yardstick, especially when we’re spoon-fed a certain narrative by the mainstream media: the narrative in which success means J.K. Rowling, means Veronica Roth, means Tom Clancy and P.D. James and Agatha Christie, means George R.R. Martin, means blockbuster film adaptations and interviews with Ellen or Oprah or Jimmy Kimmel.
Maybe other self-publishing authors and bloggers might be content to state that this is wrong and it shouldn’t be the case, but I can’t just let it lie. Where does the narrative of success originate? And how can we alter the conversation to reflect a more holistic, life-affirming reality––the selfsame reality that indie, hybrid, and self-publishing authors of great quality and phenomenal worth experience on a day-to-day basis?
I think a lot of it comes down to the whole do as I say, not as I do syndrome that applies to many other grand social narratives in our modern world. For example, we affirm again and again to our children that whatever path life takes them on, they have value––as plumbers as well as princesses, as garbage collectors and astronauts––but we flood their lives with films, television shows, and books that highlight the “exceptional” nature of the same “grand narratives” that the world will later try and tell them are impossible to actually attain, in adulthood. (When was the last time we turned to a college student and said, “You can totally be a princess!” … and actually mean it?)
It’s the same with publishing, including self-publishing: we tell warn aspiring authors again and again that success doesn’t look like any one thing, and it certainly isn’t equatable with sales figures. But at the same time, the narratives of “successful” authors that we learn about and spread through news articles and social media are almost always about authors who rake in the big bucks and attention from the Big Five publishing houses (after a successful “grassroots campaign,” of course), and about rags-to-riches stories like Andy Weir’s and Christopher Paolini’s. And I’m here to say: it’s too little, and too late. It’s simply not good enough to affirm our indie authors as individual successes with trite sayings and cold comfort. By the time we need comforting, it’s too late. We have to break the stereotypes and unravel the threadbare story before authors publish.
Otherwise, we’re always going to be playing catch-up and damage control. I will always, always be on hand to affirm that you’re a success simply because you did the hard thing and you (self-) published your book, but I think we can do more to set you up for a healthy sense of your own value and worth and general excellence, and do it earlier and better. Let’s start by teaching the next wave of future authors that numbers do not an identity make!
Thank you for reading! If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠