‘Social’ Mediation: A Weekend Hunker

It pains me to think of the changes sweeping through our leather-patched, tweed-ridden, and chalk-dusty world…In short they are obsolete. I wonder how they will take the news.

Marshall McLuhan, January 4, 1961
The Practical Side of Marshall McLuhan
From Marshall & Me


Proposition: Practically speaking, it’s hard to speak practically on our social media.

I have an example for you, full of controversy.

To get it across, I need you to join me in a willing suspension of emotional response on questions about self-publishing. I think it’s worth the effort, so you can see the dynamics of sensitive exchanges on the grid.

We’re hunkering down. I’m convinced we can forgo  the actual posture — a deep squat balanced on the balls of the feet — but I like the sense of thinking closely together on this.

Mind the meld, babe, I’m coming in.

We begin.

Chuck Wendig

(a) Chuck Wendig‘s blogging voice is anything but emotion-free. His writing persona, like the facial expression in his headshots, tends toward the mightily ticked off. He plays this role well.

So it’s hardly out of character that he calls a loud-mouthed self-publisher a “screeching moonbat,” as he did in a post this week.

He’s referring to a self-published writer who gets into everybody’s face about “indie” this and “self-publishing” that.

Sarah LaPolla

(b) Once Chuck had posted, here came Curtis Brown associate literary agent Sarah LaPolla as backup to Wendig on “still a subject I think needs discussing.”

LaPolla, in fact, went so far as to start her essay with the line, “I like writers. That’s no secret. I like publishing their stories on this little blog, helping my clients bring their books into the world, protecting them from getting taken advantage of, and giving unagented/unpublished writers advice.”

(c) These two were then joined by Nathan Bransford, agent-gone-author-and-CNET-guy.

Nathan Bransford

And Bransford hit the issue twice, here and here. It’s in the first of the two posts that he used the phrase “chip on one’s shoulder.” It became a little buzz-badge for this fracas.

(d) Then I summed up the comments of these three forthright folks in Writing on the Ether. I was impressed that they’d all come to such similar conclusions. They are alarmed at what they see as a still-raging and bogus battle among writers: the traditionally publishing and the self-publishing.

I found real sense in this line from the end of Bransford’s second piece:

The only way you’ll be able to decide what’s best for you is…set aside your emotions

As you and I continue to act on that advice, still hunkered in our emotion-free zone (is this good for our hamstrings?), here are some other key lines from these columns. Scan them. Don’t get stuck anywhere. See them, don’t feel them, I want your mind unclouded by gut reaction:

…there’s a civil war happening in publishing right now…the continued “us vs. them” mentality with self-publishing makes me disappointed…it’s true, there is still a stigma…most self-published writers still think of self-publishing as the “alternative” to traditional publishing and not as its own viable option…What’s the right way? There is no right way…Sure. It’s fun to join up sides and start flinging mud…To the self-publishing DIY indie community at large: Call these screeching moonbats what they are: screeching moonbats. I’ve long said that the self-publishing community needs fewer cheerleaders and more police — meaning folks willing to say, “That fruity nutball does not represent me, my work…or my very molecular structure”… Don’t let them be the loudest voices in your community…

Remember, don’t inhale.

| | |

If I were to add a qualifier to the discussion that spawned those lines, it would be this: I think the most important debate is internal to the self-publishing camp. I don’t think it’s traditional vs. self-publishing. I think it’s self-publishing vs. self-publishing, as a widening field of publication shakes out and personalities jockey for position within it.

After all, it wasn’t long before Wendig was taken to task and had to explain to one blogger in a comment:

I *am* a self-publisher. I have more work self-published than I do traditionally published.

While Bransford had moved the discussion to “us vs. them” meaning traditionally publishing authors vs. self-publishing authors, the initial post from Wendig, in fact, was the complaint of a self-publishing author about another self-publishing author. And much of the reaction I saw to all this was self-to-self, if you will — self-publishing writers debating among themselves.

In one of LaPolla’s more pointed statements, she’d written:

So, self-publishing community…if you want to convince traditional publishing you’re its equal, stop drawing comparisons and start recognizing yourselves as your own entity…You’re something new. We traditional folks won’t be mad, hurt, or think you’re foolish if you choose to self-publish. Like I said before, we’re not even thinking of you at all.

To my eye, all three original writers, Wendig, LaPolla, and Bransford, had come across in their blogs as supportive of self-publishing authors and protective of it against the most vociferous,  Kon-wrathful types.

Here’s how LaPolla put that:

There are so many self-published authors who’ve spent just as much time researching and planning as they would have if they chose the traditional route. They treat self-publishing with respect and don’t just see it as a way to avoid the “shackles” of traditional publishing. To the self-published authors who are doing it right, thank you.

Others around the debate suggested that loud, critical voices can encourage independent authors to rush publish too fast, resulting in the low-quality material that tends to mar too many non-traditional efforts.

And yet blogger Jaye Manus seemed to feel that Wendig, LaPolla, Bransford (and I) “want self-publishers to sit down and shut the hell up … four experienced, seasoned, intelligent professionals. All of them wrong.”

This was not the case. None of us had asked self-publishers to shut up. But there was Wendig again, answering yet another comment at Manus’ site, patiently, diligently:

But again, nobody’s asking for silence. Nobody is saying ‘self-publishers,’ shut up.’

Another element of social: Once a commentary has been classified by one or more respondents as such-and-such (anti-traditional publishers or pro-self-publishers in this case), the chain of comments turns into white-water rapids.

If you see Chuck float by, toss him a paddle.

| | |

Now, the good news: I found during this unplanned exercise that if you work hard to be clear — and if you develop trust with a colleague you’re debating — you can have a meaningful, helpful exchange in social media. But it takes some real effort.

Orna Ross

I had a series of good exchanges in comments on the Ether with Orna Ross, who has founded the Alliance of Independent Authors (called “ALLi”) in the UK. Do check out the organization if you’re interested.

Part of our focus was on the terminology that seems to bedevil this whole development in publishing.

LaPolla writes in her piece that she’s exasperated by writers incorrectly and casually calling themselves “indie.” She writes:

Using “indie” interchangeably with “self” only confuses people who want to self-publish and pisses off actual independent publishers. There is a clear difference between publishing with a small press (“indie”) and using a vendor (“self”).

Ross, on the other hand, prefers the constructive obfuscation of these terms. She writes in a comment to me:

Independent authorship is, more than anything, a state of mind. An author who hires a self-publishing company to handle every aspect of publication may less ‘indie’ than somebody with a traditional publishing contract.

I can tell that Ross is richly dedicated to the idea of raising up self-publishing as the perfectly valid thing it can be if done well. She writes about wanting to see that “they (self-publishing and independent writers) and their readers take their rightful place at the heart of this business that we all value so dearly.”

Ross has been using the phrase “writer-publisher” this week, rolling it around in our comments. It reminds me of Herbert Beerbohm Tree, a noted “actor-manager” in London. Something of a pioneer of this in the West End of his day, he ran the Haymarket Theatre and was founder of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

I’m not sure “writer-publisher” is the kind of language the reading public might embrace. From what I’ve seen, I can only guess that the self-publishing community will splinter in all directions on it, if asked to consider it. Indeed, Manus adds a note as a postscript to her column:

I’m an independent writer. When I self-publish, it’s as an indie. Guess what, Old School folks. YOU don’t get to control the language. Not anymore. Never again.

But I see the logic and like the intent of “writer-publisher,” myself, should there be a beneficial effect to using another term.

Lots of emotion in this, isn’t there? Ross, in forming a new organization of her “writer-producers” has her work cut out for her.

And we have ours, in trying to communicate on such volatile subjects as this via the social media. Is it that we’re less guarded in how we say things on the grid? Or do we need to simply slow down and be more thoughtful?

As we get out of our long hunker here and stretch, it’s your turn, do jump in:

Is this debate traditional vs. self-publishing? Or is it a shakeout inside the new self-publishing world? How important do you think are the terms we use for types of self-publishing? And do you find it tricky to handle difficult issues in social media? What do you do to avoid having to explain yourself in comments for a week?


Main image: iStockphoto / BrendanHunter



About Porter Anderson

@Porter_Anderson, BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, speaker, and consultant specializing in publishing. Anderson is The Bookseller's Associate Editor for The FutureBook in London, a sister site focused on developments in digital publishing. He is also a featured writer with Thought Catalog in New York, writing on publishing and on #MusicForWriters in association with Q2 Music. In 2015, Anderson has programmed the IDPF Digital Book Conference that opened BookExpo America (BEA) and is programming the First Word event at the Novelists Inc. (NINC) conference later in the year. And he is working with the Frankfurt Book Fair on special programming for its new Business Club suite of events and facilities, now in its second year, 13-16 October, in the 2015 Buchmesse. More on his consultancy, which includes Library Journal's and BiblioBoard's SELF-e among its clients in 2015: PorterAndersonMedia.com | Google+


  1. says

    I think it goes right to a basic thing: Change. It was only a few years ago that self-publishing was the place where people went because they had failed in their writing and still wanted a book in hand. There are writers who still think it’s admitting failure.

    If you’d asked me two years ago, it would have been an instant no. But the book I’m revising is cross-genre, and it’s not one that’s been done before. When I’ve submitted to agents, I’ve always had a hard time finding one that fit what I write. It’s gotten worse with the changes being forced on the industry. They want different but the same, and I’m just different. So that was a big consideration in going indie.

    But I’m on a couple writing message boards. One has embraced indie. They’re happy to get writers of all flavors, because they see it all as success. Then there’s other one, and that’s the one with the treacherous undercurrent for indies. It comes through in their words, even if they don’t actually say it, that if you’re going indie, you’re not one of them, that you’ve betrayed being a writer. It may be that some of the reaction you got over the sense that these four writers said self-publishers were wrong was that kind of undercurrent.

    I use the term indie rather than self-published because I think it’s a different level. To me, indie means that the writer is maybe doing something a little non-traditional or niche. The writer is also treating it like a business, focusing on marketing their platform, saving receipts for income tax purposes, thinking about what kind of cover is going to sell the book, and most importantly of all, willing to plunk down money for things like editing. But I’ve also been sneering told on the message board, “You’re not indie. You’re self-published.” — it felt like an effort to ‘put me in my place.’ And, actually, I’m not self-published. I’m still revising the book and am doing all the other things to prep for when it’s ready. So the pettiness I see is really silly.

    • says

      Is there ANY writer out there who doesn’t treat what he/does “like a business”? I’d love to meet that person. We’re all saving tax receipts!

      As for the argument that what a writer is doing is “different” and therefore not traditionally marketable: not sure I buy that either. What the “gatekeepers” (or, as the proprietor of one blog referred to them as this week, the “Gestapo”) what is quality that translates into saleability. Because they’re in a BUSINESS, just like all of those who are busy writing away and saving our tax receipts.

      • Porter Anderson says

        Hi, Maureen, thanks for reading and commenting.

        Actually, yeah, I think there are writers who aren’t in sync yet with basic business practices, some because they view it only as a hobby but others because they’re still behind the curve. The spectrum of expertise and naivete is huge in a business that has no entry requirements whatever, remember. Add to that the all but irresistible presumed invitation of the internet to people who’d never have so much as thought of being authors ten years ago, and you have an astonishing picture of amateurism in this and other fields much broader than anything possible in the past.


        • says

          I guess I find it hard to believe that any “traditionally published” writer can get by w/out thinking about this as a business. (And in my comment, I was ONLY referring to traditionally published writers.) I can well see that someone who decides to self-publish might not figure out that it’s a business, although, again — isn’t that the entire motive? To cut out the middlemen who gobble potential profits? And so, by default, that person is thinking of this like a business? Maybe not….

          • Porter Anderson says

            Ah. No, a traditionally published author of course should have some business acumen in place, although in the most paternal settings of Old World publishing, I’m afraid that authors weren’t given much chance to learn. No, since our topic here is the self-publishing world, I didn’t realize you were referring to traditionally published folks there. Thanks.

    • Porter Anderson says

      Hey, Linda, first comment of the day, and thanks for reading and speaking up.

      You’re exactly, change is the issue and “There are writers who still think it’s admitting failure” to self-publish. And I find your own journey of two years from a place in which you’d have rejected the idea to a place now where you knw it’s the right thing to do, a perfect example of what many writers are experiencing.

      And yes, as you say, “the pettiness…is really silly” when it turns up. I’m sorry you’ve encountered this on one of your writing message boards. Is it even worth continuing to use that board and have to buck these “undercurrents” — good phrase — of criticism? Maybe it’s time for a different, more supportive board.

      I hear you on the connotations you see in the term “indie.” And I’m sure, in fact, that many people share your sense of the term, I can follow you easily on that. I think my own position is simply that I’d like to see some sort of standardization of terms so that we could all say “indie” and mean one thing, etc. Things are always tougher when there are so few commonly agreed-upon ways of talking about them.

      But many thanks again for reading and writing. Sounds to me as if you have a fine, clear understanding of what you want — more power to you!

      • says

        I’d like to see more standardization of the terms myself. But I’m not sure that’s going to happen. Who decides what the terms mean? The publishers can’t even agree on definitions on genres (so noted because at one point I tried to sell a thriller. An agent said he took mysteries and not thrillers. Another agent said thrillers were subgenre of mystery).

        • Porter Anderson says

          I fear you’re right, Linda. If anything, the industry is in such fast diaspora (digital allows for such a plethora of pathways to publication and distribution) that the sort of unity/community needed to achieve any sort of standardization is probably out of reach. There’s also an intense spirit of revolt, if you will, at such times as these — which can mean that what useful standardization of terms or protocol had been in place is purposely overthrown by the new energy demanding change.

          Everything about upheaval is neither comfortable nor positive. :)

  2. says

    Porter, it’s hard for us old folks to hunker that long, but it was worth it, even though the sound of us getting up at the end was like that of milk hitting a hundred bowls of Rice Krispies.
    The debate about self-publication (or indie, if you wish) vs. “traditional” (i.e., “I got a publisher, nyah, nyah”) will probably go on despite the efforts of people such as yourself to bring more light and less heat to the subject. In my opinion, the reading public will eventually sort it out–by buying the books that are good, bypassing those that are not, and along the way discovering that they can no longer depend on agents and editors to winnow out the less-well-done work. There will be good work done by good authors that’s self-published as an e-book. It will just take some discernment to find it.

    • Porter Anderson says

      Hey, Richard,

      You didn’t hear my knees creaking as we came out of that hunker? — I think you’re right about eventual buying savvy on the part of the readership, although the trial and error process is going to be lengthy. In fact, I’m less worried about the readership overall than the writers. As all-important as readers are, they’ll be fine, and I’m hoping we can find ways to help the writers through this transition.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. says

    Herbert Beerbohm Tree? Oh, dear, Porter, I’m having flashbacks to Drama in Western Culture and it’s not even 8:00am. Honestly, I like author-publisher (since my days as director-stage manager are long over) It’s more accurate than a lot of hyphenated descriptions that are floating about.

    I also prefer self-published to indie publisher.

    I totally agree that the argument is, at its core, internal. It’s one I’ve had with myself for the past few months. It’s not a debate about writing, it’s a debate about perception and structure.

    Many – and I dare say, most – people consider self-published books to be of lesser quality (both writing and production). That’s true in too many cases. Those that rise above the low expectations are from writers who recognize that they are business owners, entrepreneurs, responsible for every phase of their career. Those unwilling to accept that responsibility – and those determined to cut corners whenever possible – tarnish the reputations of the business as a whole.

    Self-publishing does not, however, mean that I must do my own editing and design my own book cover. I know my limitations; I will pay a professional to do those things just like a traditional publisher would do.

    I want my “brand” to have quality. I want my “brand” to be professional. And honestly, for a control freak like me, I’m just fine with a structure that allows me to oversee every phase of my books, from concept to writing to production to marketing. I’ve run my own businesses for many years; this is nothing new, in that sense.

    Yeah, there’s a lot of messy emotion on display here. I’ve come into the business at a time of incredible change, and change is scary. Change is threatening, especially when it’s moving as quickly as it is in publishing.

    If a traditional publisher finds me, that’s fine. But I’m getting to the point where they’d have to make a pretty damn unique offer to me to convince me to turn over my work to them.

    I guess my internal argument might be over, huh?

    • Porter Anderson says

      Hey, Viki, you’re up bright and early with your Beerbohm Tree-hugging. (I think I recall doing my Rodrigo to his Iago, seems like yesterday, LOL).

      And I think you’re actually a superb candidate for self-publishing, and it’s very interesting your preference for the term — this is so healthy, by comparison to some of the worried folks whose big fear is that they’ll sound more valuable as “indie” than as “self-publishing.”

      Your project’s specialization and niche status, frankly, would make a lot of traditional publishers (the better ones, anyway) hand you all the decisions — it’s not a field in which everyone is versed enough to dive in and drive as you’d need to do.

      But best of all, you’ve done the internal work of your own creativity — which is the micro of the industry’s macro struggle — and it’s great that you can apply and interpret than in the wider context of the intra-community troubles I’m seeing. As I was reiterating to Chuck Wendig in a comment, I think that he, too, has become quite lucid on the fact that self-publishing’s biggest issue at this point may well be the spectacular diversity of temperament and personality and tone and blood pressure reading. At times, you see such raging on various topics within the community, and some of the more visible folks in self-publishing encourage this, as if a career spent in everybody’s faces is somehow part and parcel of the freedom of “indie.”

      You’re clear on where you want and need professional services (brava) and you’re so right that your business experience will see you through so many quality issues that might trip up others not used to the oversight and commitment required.

      And I like your sense of resolve, you’ve worked through all the issues well and come through with a clear idea of direction. This is great.

      Lastly, yes, so much emotion. I think that so many things in publishing will be easier and clearer even six months to a year from now. We are entering a summer of profound discontent — trying to respect each other’s feelings is going to be important and, at times, taxing for all of us.

      Thanks again and congrats on getting through that internal argument!

    • says

      In her fine comment, Victoria wrote:

      “Self-publishing does not, however, mean that I must do my own editing and design my own book cover. I know my limitations; I will pay a professional to do those things just like a traditional publisher would do.”

      Exactly — and that’s what us loser-traditionally-published writers do as well. As I wrote in a blog entry two weeks ago (one that landed me, to my complete surprise, smack in the middle of self-publishing fury): I’ve made a choice to enter into a partnership with an agent and a publisher. For me, FOR NOW, that’s what works best (because I write non-fiction that requires years of research; in effect, the publisher agrees to subsidize that research). If I wrote fiction that required less research (note I didn’t say NO research), I wouldn’t bother with the two middlemen (or gatekeepers or whatever term we’re using).

      Most of us are smart enough to make the choices that work best for US in our own work and lives. Which means there can’t be a “right” or “wrong.”

      • Porter Anderson says

        Right, Maureen –

        I recall your situation from before, and I think Viki may be aware of it, too.

        Nobody here is blaming you for a minute for your position as a traditionally published author — in fact, if anything, as sensible person is just glad you DO have that support, such as it is, for the research of your work.

        However, no, the smarts to make such choices of professional editing, cover design and other services in a purely DIY situation do not come naturally to everyone. And that’s why the poor quality of so much self-published work is an issue today.

        Viki is making a careful decision for quality control and I wish more authors were as straight on the importance of that.

        Nobody here is calling you a “loser-traditionally-published writer.

        • says

          Heh. In no way did I think anyone here was “blaming” me for anything. How could they? I’m perfect! (I’m kidding, people, KIDDING.)

          • Porter Anderson says

            Ah good, then, lol. Never lose sight of that perfection, Maureen. :)

  4. says

    One more thing, Porter: Can we get off the idea that people self-publish because their writing has “failed”?

    Self-publishing isn’t about the writing: it’s about the delivery system. Good writing is good writing, no matter the imprimatur.

    But again, it goes back to my original comment. Self-pubishers like traditional publishers require the services of editors and designers. That’s where many of them fail, not in the quality of their writing.

    End of rant.

    • Porter Anderson says

      Totally right, Viki. But this IS a huge misconception that’s tripping up many and — often, I think — it underlies a lot of the tension inside the self-publishing world. Many flyings-off-handles can be prompted when folks feel that their very position in their career is defined by a concept of weakness. Those of us in the business know that self-publishing is no longer the last resort of a “vanity” grab but a viable and frequently wise choice of how to move forward. We have to buck up those who go in this direction and communicate to the world outside publishing that this has changed. Good point. And you’ll never hear it from me that any self-publishing effort is the result of a failure in traditional settings.

  5. says

    I’ll certainly cop to the fact that my post is a bit screechy — and it in some ways goes against my desire to be more of a fountain than a drain. That said, this seems to miss the origin point of this whole discussion, which is to say, one self-publisher acting very badly on a popular review site (in which the word “Nazi” was thrown around) and doing many of the things I mention — screaming about sales numbers, about books published, about Twitter followers (and all of it very poorly written).

    In this case it’s not a self-pub versus self-pub problem. It’s a DIY/indie writer embodying the worst and loudest instincts of that community freaking out at a review site because they moved a post about self/small-publishing into (gasp) a forum about self/small-publishing. Where it becomes indie versus indie is when those in that space (like, say, me) start to recognize that part of the reason self-published authors have an uphill battle to getting reviews or earning respect is because of moonbats like this dude. So, the next time someone says, “Oh! I’m a self-published author,” the listener doesn’t hear, “I’m an independent creator who wants control of my work,” but rather, “I’m a crazy person who wants to bludgeon you about the head and neck with my poorly-written screeds against traditional publishing.”

    Just wanted to put that out there. Those blog posts referenced didn’t just come out of the (erm, no pun intended) ether, but rather in response to something quite specific.

    Regardless of whatever you may or may not think of my blog and blogging style (which seems to amount to very little, though that’s certainly fine as I expect and intend that my blogging style is not for everyone), this wasn’t just a random flare-up of anti-indie sentiment.

    — c.

    • Debora says

      When people ask, I tell them I’m an author. No qualifiers. Usually I don’t need them.

      In general, it’s only when I’m talking to industry insiders that the qualifiers matter. I make no secret of the fact that I’m indie, but you are correct – industry insiders tend to measure “indies” by the most obnoxious and unprofessional people wearing that label (or by the worst indie book they ever picked up). And at some point, it’s not my job to fight to fix that.

      I offer up an alternative view of “indie” with every word that I write, with every professionally done book I put out, with every reader who falls in love with one of my characters and buys the next book.

      If people can’t see around the screeching moonbats, given the really long list of successful, professional indie authors who don’t fit that description at all, then at some point, I think we have to ask the beholders to examine their eyes, rather than asking the indie “community” to fix things. That’s a little too much like asking sane bloggers to go shut down the idiots on the internet :).

      • Porter Anderson says

        Love the way you see your own good work, Debora, that’s spot-on. Some great thoughts here and a super example of a great attitude in terms of respecting what your work can mean in the larger setting.

        I do think that Chuck has a point about there being a place for self-publishing community members to speak up when some among them are being damagingly negative. No, you’re right, that we can’t hold good cops responsible for ridding the world of bad cops, but peer pressure is easily the most immediate — and potentially the most effective — route to trying to make a difference.

        I actually see your conscious, thoughtful understanding of your own stake in quality as such peer pressure, and you don’t have to go out of your way to apply it. You do your good work and you’re immediately an instructive member of one vast team.

        Thanks for commenting, and all the best with your work!

        • Debora says

          I guess the difference comes in that I don’t see myself and the screechbats as members of the same community. I see myself as part of the community of professionals taking self-publishing seriously – and within that community, I think I’m a pretty solid voice for behaving well, respecting readers, developing craft, and paddling your liferaft with brains and tenacity.

          There’s not much I can do about the folks other people insist on telling me I should be in community with just because we both use KDP to put a book on Amazon. Any more than you’re in community with all other writers with blogs or all other guys named Porter :).

          • Porter Anderson says

            A great observation, Deborah –

            I’d add that there’s nothing wrong with recognizing that no one of us can expect to make common cause with all other People Who Write.

            I think that at times like these, of huge upheaval and tossings-off of former commercial constraints, the pressure can be rather “screechy,” to borrow Chuck’s good word, to bond here and there, to join some supposed grand convention of pioneering creative heads. In fact, of course, this is largely impossible, especially in work as sensitive as original writing. And I’m always sorry to see folks who feel they’ve fallen short somehow when they couldn’t find a sensible spot in one community or another for themselves.

            The real joy, I think, is in finding such peace with your own creative energies that you live comfortably with or without community — and when you do form bonds with others they’re described by the strength of your own originality paralleling that of someone else’s.

  6. Porter Anderson says

    Hey, Chuck, thanks for commenting!

    And you’re right, of course, you did your job well, very well, with the DIY/indie writer whose outrage about the forum prompted your piece of May 21. As I pointed out, you were taking on that “moonbat.” It’s him I called “screeching” — that’s your term for him. I didn’t call you or your post screechy.

    LaPolla and Bransford, of course, expanded the conversation beyond that specific example, which I also represent.

    What’s more, you’re making my point exactly in your good comment here when you write:

    “Where it becomes indie versus indie is when those in that space (like, say, me) start to recognize that part of the reason self-published authors have an uphill battle to getting reviews or earning respect is because of moonbats like this dude. So, the next time someone says, “Oh! I’m a self-published author,” the listener doesn’t hear, “I’m an independent creator who wants control of my work,” but rather, “I’m a crazy person who wants to bludgeon you about the head and neck with my poorly-written screeds against traditional publishing.”

    Precisely. Precisely. Well done. That is a perfect example of the situation occurring within the self-publishing community, and you’re totally right about how hotheaded activity can, in fact, color an unfairly wide swath of writers being watched by the wider world.

    Do we differ on this?

    I agree with you, this is an example of why I think the real struggle we’re seeing at many points these days is within the overall self-publishing community in which strong people like you are confronted with widely divergent temperaments — some of them screeching moonbats, incoming.

    So: By no means did your post come out of the ether, lol. And I didn’t say it did.

    And: You’re making the perfect example of my observation that there is inside-community tension (between more than you and said moonbat, of course) as things develop.

    In your piece, “Revisiting the Fevered Egos of Self-Publishing,” you read the situation right and your reacted in good style.

    And as for that good style, it’s enjoyed by a huge number of people. You have every right to be proud of that. I congratulate you without hesitation.

    Thanks again for writing!

  7. says

    Thanks for raising these questions Porter. Just to carry on a little from where we left off over at ‘Writing on the Ether’ — when forming the nonprofit, global collaborative group that is now The Alliance of Independent Authors, much thought was given to the question of terminology.

    The overarching reason we settled on ‘Independent Author’, rather than ‘Self-Publisher’ was that it gives primacy to the author/writing rather than the publisher/publication dimension of the job — which seemed important.

    It’s not that I like obfuscation, I don’t. Or that I think independent/indie is altogether accurate (though I disagree with LaPolla’s thought that the term is somehow owned by small publishers — there are indie musicians, filmmakers, actors etc. all kinds of indie artists. And indie booksellers too. Why not indie writers?)

    That sense of independence, of being the creative director of one’s own work, is what is transformational about the self-publishing and what we want help foster and develop. It is, I believe, more than anything an internal state, that can manifest in many different kinds of collaborations with distributors, editors, publicists and yes, publishers.

    To me, this is the real shift that is going on. Now that technology has opened new channels of distribution, what we are seeing is a power shift towards the writer.

    And that makes many people uncomfortable.

    Including many writers.

    This shift – from thinking of an author as a resource, in the new parlance a content provider, to to thinking of them as creative director and shepherd of their own books, – is no small thing. It is revolutionary and will, I believe, lead to a flowering of the literary arts in the coming decade.

    That is why no, it’s not just a question for self-publishers. That self-publishing is now so inexpensive and easy; that so many previously trade-published authors are now turning to self-publishing, is prompting non-writing publishers to rethink what they do and how they do it.

    All of which is, I believe, very good for writers.

    And what is good for writers can only be good for readers.

    Look forward to hearing other thoughts in this ongoing debate and thanks for instigating it, Porter.

    • Porter Anderson says

      Ah! My good friend in this discussion, thanks for reading and commenting, Orna!

      I do understand your concept of recasting self-publishing to represent a taking of the reins by the author, a new stance of authorial direction, if you will — running the show, not being a member of the stage crew. (I’m perilously close to Beerbohm Tree again here, lol.)

      I like this direction you’re going. And I think your group’s conceptualization of the term “independent” is an understandable one — the only proviso being that it may not easily communicate as you hope it will to others, since it has been used for so long in other formats and connotations, some specifically related to writing.

      This doesn’t mean it’s a wrong name, it just means that the people of Paris, Texas (yes, there is such a town) have a lot of explaining to do when they tell people where they’re from. :)

      And ALLi may find itself doing a lot of explaining — as you’ve graciously done in our long-running comment-exchange first at the Ether and now here at Writer Unboxed.

      Working on a daily basis as you do with so many self-publishing/independent writers, you’re able to perceive, obviously, that unnerving effect of the new potential empowerment of digital process, too.

      I’d had an idea that in a day when authors could, in fact, direct every aspect of their creation and assemble the teams of collaborators they needed, that they’d be ecstatic and happily embrace such new empowerment. A great example of this is James Scott Bell, whom I see dropping in a comment here today — talk about one artfully adept author in both worlds, my hat’s off to that guy.

      But instead, as you perceive, some — not all, of course, but some — writers are instead made deeply uncomfortable by this.

      This discomfort has to be the provenance of such outbursts as Chuck Wendig initially responded to in his post of May 21 and the bad moments so many of us have seen among self-publishers who appear so hotheaded at times. You have to feel for somebody whose level of fear is so high that they’ll risk their professional standing among their publishing peers to lash out in these unseemly and sometimes hurtful ways.

      Can we expect, Orna, that within, say, six months to a year, the self-publishing/independent community overall will have come to better terms with the new potentials? Certainly your ALLi group members may have an advantage in learning earlier than others the positive elements of this industry transformation. I guess I’m asking about the others, the non-ALLi world — what do you think, in a year’s time, can we hope to see less bad blood and ill temper displayed and more collegial and personal comfort in the new regime?

      Or does this go on a lot longer?

      I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but you do have a unique purview with so many colleagues working their way through it — you’re seeing the condition they’re in as they arrive. What does your instinct say about the speed of the wider adjustment?

      Oh, and one specific point in relation to your good comment: Certainly for my own part, I don’t think that I can say that Sarah LaPolla meant to say that the term “indie” is owned by other fields and not available to writers. I might have missed it, but I didn’t see that in her post.

      Instead, what I got from that section of her piece is that there’s a standing application of the term “indie” in the writing field — it meant, at one time, the use of a small press, an independent publisher, rather than a complete DIY approach.

      This was echoed by Anne R. Allen, our good friend and writer back at the Ether on Thursday (here’s a link to her comment: http://ow.ly/bazpX ) You’ll find her there saying that 10 years ago this was an accepted specialized use of the term “indie” for writers.

      Now, this is not to say that you and ALLi and others can’t re-purpose the terms “indie” and “independent” as you see fit, of course.

      But I do find it interesting to know that it’s not a misconception — the term actually did, in fact, at one time have a very specific meaning among other terms that now seem to have been “obfuscated,” as I was observing in the post today. As LaPolla puts it, the terms are all being used as if they’re interchangeable.

      Not that it matters a whit, my personal feeling is that “indie” is blissfully short for tweets (!) but it SOUNDS like — note that I said sounds like, not that it actually is — a “grab for the sunglasses,” as I call it, for the supposed glamour of indie filmmaking, which of course constitutes a fairly well-defined realm of activity, too.

      So if I were The King of Terminology (God help us), I think I’d opt to anchor “indie” to a specific way of working within self-publishing so that, at least, we could all point to a widely understood meaning for it and thus speak with more assurance. I’m glad enough to have “indie” writers, though I’m not fond of the term. I just wish I could say what it means when we call a writer “indie,” something as nicely clear as it once was in a day when it meant you worked with an independent publisher.

      Clearly, it’s not up to me, and I’m sure that’s all for the best!

      But I’m going over this just to help you understand where I’m coming from on terminology: Knowing that you and ALLi have put a lot into this issue, I can’t help but wish that for all of us trying to work constructively with this part of our changing industry, we could get some agreed-upon definitions and usages into place.

      Is it possible to think of a time when ALLi might want to work with other organizations of writers and try to formulate a list of terms and their meanings so we could all get onto the same page?

      I think we’d all understand each other more easily and I know the readers would have a better chance of following what must at times look like an utter zoo from the outside!

      Thanks again, Orna, let’s keep the dialog going –

      • says

        LOL. That’s “Anne R. Allen.” But I rather like the sound of “Anne R. Ross”. If I need a pseudonym, I might use it.

        I do think that once a term is in general usage, it’s awfully hard to get the verbal toothpaste back in the tube.

        I rather like Jan’s term below “authorpreneur”. And last year on my blog, SciFi author Jeff Carlson (who self-pubs his novellas and lets the Penguins handle his big series books) coined the word “wrublisher”. Not a bad word at all, if we could get anybody to use it.

    • says

      With all due respect to both Orna and Porter (hope first names are okay!) — there seems to be an assumption, sometimes explicitly stated and other times not — that those of us who are CHOOSING to rely on middlemen are doing so because we are either (take your pick) “uncomfortable”; frightened by the turmoil; lacking in courage; or too damn stupid to understand that every. single. aspect. of daily life (including publishing) is changing thanks to the extraordinary power of the digital. (And I’ve been accused of all of the above by some self-publishers.)

      At the risk of sounding like a broken 33 rpm (remember those?), my guess is that MOST writers who are still making the choice to work with middlemen are none of the above. Instead, they have good reasons, BASED ON THEIR OWN PERSONAL NEEDS/EXPERIENCE, to stick with the middlemen.

      It’s both unkind and, well, kinda stupid, to assume that we’re doing so out of fear. My reaction to a kerfuffle I inadvertently got into with a bunch of self-publishers two weeks ago was: If you want respect from the rest of the world (and I don’t mean the publishing world), then treat others with respect, stop making unwarranted assumptions about your (apparent) enemies; and unload the chip on your shoulder. (‘Cuz Wendt nailed that part of it.)

      • Porter Anderson says

        Maureen, by “middlemen,” do you mean agents, traditional publishers, and so on?

        If so, where did anyone here say here that writers are choosing the traditional path out of fear?

        Can you show me that spot?

        It’s entirely possible that I’ve missed it, myself.

        • says

          No, no one here used the word “fear” — I was expanding on what was said: that some are “uncomfortable.” To that I simply added what s-p writers have said in other places (that people like me are afraid, etc.) Sorry about the confusion; totally unintentional on my part.

          And, yes, am using term “middlemen” as catchall for the two groups who “facilitate” (if you will!) getting authors in front of readers. Apparently I don’t communicate well during holiday weekends!

          • Porter Anderson says

            No worries, as I started out saying some four or five weeks ago in this post today, LOL, the social media — and here we are on them — are not always the most reliable settings for these exchanges. The confusions in your comments have only to do, for example, that most of us on this post today are focused on the self-publishing world (and to some degree on an idea of mine that a lot of the uproar we’re seeing is internal to that world, not engaging the traditional world — and thus we’re not easily catching shifts of focus back into the traditional setting and ITS myriad challenges for authors. All good. Thanks!

            • says

              But — is it even possible to focus on the self-publishing world w/out taking note of the way some in that world defined themselves as the opposite of “traditional”? In which case, hard to talk about one w/out the other. Or, who knows.. maybe not! It IS hard to convey multiiple levels of thought process in online discussion.

  8. says

    Thanks for this post. I thought all three posts and your summary were excellent, but Nathan Bransford (as he always does) really nailed it. What’s missing in this whole discusson is civility and respect. I went the self-published route, but I would consider it the pinnacle of my writing career if my work were to be accepted by a traditional publisher. Does that mean I’m not good enough? I will let others decide, but I exercised the same care, purchased services, and did all of the due diligence (within my limited resources) that would go into a traditionally published work. I counsel self-published editors to please, please make sure your work is the best it can possibly be. Don’t throw bunch of steaming garbage against the wall on the theory that volume will get you known. It will–for the wrong reasons.

    My only problem with this whole discussion is when people say so-and-so “chose” self-publishing. For an older writer like me who writes in the wrong genre (family sagas) I don’t have 10 years to hone my work and secure a traditional publishing contract. I want to write more novels. Saying I had a choice is a little like saying I chose the over-40 rec league at my local gym over the NBA. I didn’t get to choose.

    My wish is that people who engage in these discussions in the future bring more light than heat. As always, Porter, thank you. You are one of the most thoughtful commentators on the state of writing and publishing.

    • Porter Anderson says

      Well, that does it, CG, I’m definitely hiring you as my PR man. :)

      Seriously, thanks — you’re bringing an important point to the table. The time that a traditional path can take to deliver successful publication just isn’t an option in many cases. “We don’t have 20 years to get published,” as a friend of mine has put it.

      And you’re just the type of peer to other self-publishing authors that Debora is, Viki is, many of our respondents here today are — not only concerned and capable, but taking hold of the realities in your own career and then letting your choices and procedures stand as examples to others.

      That’s the perfect antidote to the noise and the rudeness we see from time to time (and which prompted this entire exercise all the way back to the incident that led Chuck Wendig to write his May 21 piece, which in turn prompted LaPolla and Bransfield).

      I agree with you on Nathan Bransfield’s pieces, by the way, and I’m impressed with the fact that he created two blog posts within two days of each other on the topic. Nathan doesn’t double back much like that, this is rare. It’s one way you can tell it’s really worrying him. He’s a smart head. This is one of the reasons I knew I wanted to get at it on the Ether and here at Writer Unboxed. None of us is too happy to keep seeing these problems of bad behavior turn up in an industry of, one assumes, adults. But addressing those problems is important. The industry belongs to all of us, in every single aspect and oddity of the field — we all deserve civil, responsible discourse. And sometimes you have to speak up to be sure that’s what we’re all getting.

      Keep saying what you know and demonstrating what you do, knowing that the best and strongest people are aware and appreciative, especially when quality is the answer where no choice of approach was an option.

      Thanks again for all the kind words, too, and faithful readership. We have a long way to go before we’re going to see a stabilized industry, I fear, so stick around, we’ll all be glad for a cheering, appreciative word. :)


    • Porter Anderson says

      No worries … an interesting concept, actually, self-published editors. I’m almost afraid it could catch on. Shhhhhh. :)

  9. says

    My friend, agent Wendy Lawton, has coined a term for vituperative eruptions against trad publishing on blogs and other social media: Occupy Publishing.

    Having feet in both the traditional and indie world, I’ve not been one to dance a jig at the troubles in the trad kingdom. It’s made up of people, mostly people who really do want writers to succeed. They also want to make money for their company. In other words, they’re just like the rest of us. And many of them are hamstrung because there is a system in place grinding with rust caused by the sea change in digital publishing.

    So instead of surrounding the walls with torches and pitchforks held high, just go out and write the best you can and then figure out what to do with it.

    • Porter Anderson says

      You know, I’ve seen that phrase, “Occupy Publishing,” go by recently — didn’t realize Wendy had given it to us, pretty apt.

      One of the many ramifications of the inadequacy I’ve found in the social media to dealing with really sensitive issues of this kind, of course, is that I have no ready alternative to offer, either. In most cases of deep discord, of course, face-to-face communication is best, so the nuances of gesture and expression are understood. In the case of a whole subset of an industry — self-publishing — being in trouble with itself, it’s hardly practical to look for face-to-face salvation.

      Making Wendy’s phrase all the more apt — in the same way that many of us felt a bit helpless when faced by the Occupy events, I think we’re all watching and wondering at times of loud outburst and searing accusations, if there isn’t something we’re supposed to DO about this?

      Maybe there’s not. Maybe our best bet is outfits like Orna Ross’ ALLi, which, at least on a limited scale of their own memberships, can describe and nourish a healthy, open-eyed approach to self-publishing (or independent, or writer-publisher) options, rather than the sense of wild stabs at this and that approach you see in some instances.

      Yes, you, sir have a marvelous ability to walk the frontier and I’ve noted you were missing from various conga lines celebrating the plight of the traditionals. Having watched journalism settle pretty much around my ears over three decades of “digital creep,” I know what it’s like, too, to realize that the salt is eating up your engines and the sea change is a rip-tide that’s washing your best people out to what they think is some bright-shiny new desert isle.

      Absolutely, if we could just get past the emotive pitch-forkery of it all, then so many good people could engage again in their careers.

      I’ve found myself lately advising new authors to simply wait. Refine their manuscripts, work on new material as a stockpile, cultivate research interests they’ll need down the road … and hang on for a bit before trying to publish. Someone like you, Jim, has channels and procedures and can keep producing in the teeth of the storm. But most writers, I believe, if they’re not out there already with some publishing infrastructure, would do well to hang on, watch, wait. I think that in half a year to a year, we’ll see at least a more coherent landscape — we really have to hope so. And until then, only the master-workers like you already in place and functioning for so long, should be out there slinging the hash.

      Thanks for commenting, sir, honored to have you drop in on the column today and engage. We’ll look for your weekly piece tomorrow at Kill Zone.

      • Debora says

        I personally don’t think the landscape gets coherent for a long time. And I think that every six months that goes by, the path gets a little harder for a new author to launch. Trad pubs are getting smarter about marketing ebooks, Amazon algorithms are getting less friendly to unknown books, ereader demographics are shifting from “avid readers” to “pretty much anyone who reads” (which I believe means a lot more people who buy from the bestseller table, and retailers like Amazon are shifting to meet the needs of this wider demographic).

        I agree it’s a storm out there. I just don’t think calm waters are coming. It’s an amazingly exciting time to be an author – but you gotta learn how to swim.

        • says

          Debora, you nailed it, too. This IS an extraordinary moment to be part of “content delivery” (and how much do we all HATE that term???). Indeed, it’s thrilling. There are SO many opportunities, not least of which are online forums like this, where it’s possible to find ways to “engage.” Personally, I think the self-publishers have already won not just the battle but the war, but oh boy! I’m glad I get to watch the rest of it unfold.

  10. says

    Porter, while I applaud you intent, it’s in the interests of certain people to keep the pitchforks aloft and the torches lit. They’ve hit on a lucrative, iconic role. To ask them to listen, and to use less inflammatory language would be like asking the Marlboro Man to wear pink. Not gonna happen.

    What makes it so challenging is, as in the world of medicine, said people have a host of salient points. It might be buried under fear, defensiveness, anger, etc., but without their complaints, I wouldn’t know about a whole host of business issues. (Contract clauses, agent-publishers blurring ethical lines, publishers who don’t routinely provide their authors with opportunities for anonymous feedback, etc.)

    I was burned in medicine because I didn’t understand parallel issues. It cost me years of peace and financial gain. Therefor, I am beyond grateful for the knowledge I’ve gained, even as I’d like less rhetoric in the delivery.

    As for self- versus indie-publishing, how about another kind of nomenclature?

    “Authorpreneur.” The term would embrace people who approach their careers from pragmatism, not ideology. People willing to do what benefits their readers, themselves, and the larger world because they are for building something, rather than against.

    Jan, who didn’t know she’d get so political when she came to WU, now rising to stretch her cramped cankles

    • Porter Anderson says

      Yeah, the cramped cankles. Remind me not to make us all hunker again, ok?

      Thanks for your point here, Jan, about the “iconic” nature of some people’s loud-mouthed personas. You’re right that some of them make their tone and tenor their platform and stage their diatribes promptly at 8 p.m. nightly.

      I do hear what you’re saying about their being good information available, too, in some of what they say. Glad you’re grateful. Glad you’ve gotten things that left you grateful.

      I’d ask only whether it was necessary for somebody to foam at the mouth and shake a pitchfork for you to get that info for which you’re rightly grateful? To the degree I know you, I’d say no. I think you’re pretty smart, whatever misses you might have made in the past (we all make them, God knows) and I can’t believe that you need cages rattled and invective spewed, cohorts dissed and good efforts slagged, in order to listen to sense. :-)

      I, too, appreciate good info, in timely delivery — I see it daily from folks like our mutual friends Jane Friedman, Rachelle Gardner, Elizabeth Craig, James Scott Bell, K.M. Weiland, Don Linn, Mike Shatzkin, Laura Dawson, Eoin Purcell, Peter Brantley, Steve Pressfield, Brian O’Leary, the journos at paidContent and GigaOM, at PW and PL and the Guardian, the Times, the Atlantic … so many good people doing so many good things that keep us all, as José Furtado does almost single-handedly, informed and protected from potholes opening up right in front of us. I’ve barely gotten started, too many folks to name, from craft experts to business operatives to designers and developers, editors, agents, publishers, and a small army of assistants. Not one of them calls others names and sneers and rages against this “evil” person or that “evil” company.

      Remember when Nathan Bransford in the first of his pieces used the “chip on the shoulder” phrase? — immediately it was picked up by some as a little flag of sass to wave back in his face. But Nathan was right. The chip on the shoulder is, for all time, one of the most accurate signifiers possible of potentially dubious guidance and, at the very least, of the bias of emotion. And those who brandished it at him as a taunt aren’t the people I get much from, only lessons in how unattractive mockery becomes amid honest attempts (like Nathan’s) at saying important things.

      You know my high regard for your work, Jan, and I know you’re doing the right job of choosing the folks and features you find most edifying for your own career head. Go for it, with my blessing. I beg only to take exception with the idea that you have to have a single “screeching moonbat,” as Chuck Wendig calls them, among your advisors.

      If we all DO have to have screeching moonbats on our teams, then I’m doomed. I have not one. At the first screech, I move back in the direction of intelligence, cordial protocol, and demonstrated experience. I’ll just have to applaud you from the ditch of my own retrograde crawl toward civility.

      You go to the moonbats, my dear — I’d rather go to the dogs. :)


      • says

        Let me clarify, because I think you’ve misunderstood. I’d rather not listen to “moonbats”, but I’d rather not label persons exhibiting moonbattish behavior as such. Call it my cursed empathy, or my training, but labels are another way of creating division and ossifying roles.

        In medicine, if I turned a deaf ear to the angry, the embittered, or the threatening patient, I’d hamper my ability to solve life-threatening problems. (And issues of the less dramatic kind.)

        My preference, is to read many of the people you’ve listed above, and seek out balanced sources. (Interestingly, their posts are often driven by reaction to the people who dial up the rhetoric, making the case that the anger-driven posters serve a useful function, even as they chafe.)

        In the end, Porter, I’d always like more pitch, less fork. ;)

        • Porter Anderson says

          Ah, and you kindly caught me before I had to go entirely to the … Canine Creatures of Frequent Domesticity (not to label them as dogs, you see).


          Thanks for the clarification on the Unmentionable Lunar Flying Mammals we shall not call moonbats. Out of respect for the number of insects consumed in the evening, I’m sure. Understood.

          I do think you have a far stiffer imperative to watch out for that deaf ear in medicine than we might in publishing, where we nip around nothing worse than the lethal tweet or explosive Facebook picture. For your patients’ sakes, I’m glad to know it’s you walking the wards, not me!

          Personally, I think our level-headed good guys in the industry would suss out the rough issues to address, even without the Unmentionable Lunar Flying Mammals screeching at us all.

          But you know what, dear Jan, my friend? In the immortal words of a critic greater than myself: You may be right.

          Honk if you have yummy mosquitoes at twilight.

  11. says

    I love your sense of humor!

    The emotionality surrounding self-publishing and traditional publishing is mind-boggling. I used to frequent the Writer’s Digest forum. One day I asked if it was possible to break into traditional publishing without an agent, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to go that route, but still wanted to maybe pursue traditional publishing.

    Oh. My. Gosh. You would have thought I lit someone’s hair on fire. I was told that if I thought I was an island unto myself, and didn’t need other people’s help with producing a readable novel, than I should just go self-publish and join the other (basically) obnoxious, self-centered, incompetent writers who do. And I never said anything that the person accused me of in the first place! It was all emotionality.

    As a never published author (well, some short stories in small anthologies) I hang out on the fringes of all of this furor with my mouth hanging open. What I do totally agree with you about (and, I think, the other authors whom you reference) is that loud mouthed, obnoxious people don’t help anyone’s cause.

    • Porter Anderson says

      Well, Lara, if you can stand my sense of humor, I may need to marry you.

      That’s an incredible story about the uproar you created in asking about doing traditional sans agent. The whole industry is really one massive raw nerve ending right now. If I were Pollyanna I’d say this is good because it means that the agonies of the business’ transformation are finally coming to a head, but — not being Pollyanna — I’m afraid it’s really just a colossal pain.

      And as Deborah and I were agreeing earlier today in comments, this thing is likely to keep going for a long time. I don’t see the tide turning fast. There are few ready systems waiting to take over from the old — which, of course, is why the self-publishing realm is in such cacophony most hours of the day and night. It’s like being gifted with Siberia. Authors have endless land, but little else.

      For a time, the bullies of the world (normally loud-mouths, few are sharp enough to work in subtlety) can prevail in such settings. Eventually, though, there will be new infrastructure and contours going into place and we’ll better be able to take stock and get on track (I’m not sure we ever were on it in the past).

      Thanks again for reading and commenting, means a lot. Duck if you hear screeching. :)

  12. says

    I’m an author walking both paths and my focus is always on two things: writing the best material possible and getting it into the hands of readers.

    For some projects, that will be via agent/publisher, for others it will be through self-publishing.

    Flexibility is the name of the game, here, especially as I jumped into the world of writing in a major career switch, just as our economy started to tank and publishing began to freefall into the great panic. (Great time to try to make a living with your art, Lisa!)

    Market forces in the publishing world have made it much harder for the non-blockbuster writer (the great majority of us) to make a decent living. Not that it was ever an easy task, but there was a time when a publisher would invest in a new author and let his or her work find its readership. Like everything else in our world, things have gotten faster and faster, more and more pressured. But at least with the ability to reach an audience directly, authors now have choices and possibilities that never existed before. This is not a bad thing.

    I don’t believe in pitch forks or torches or getting into flame wars or being forced to pick a side in the great indie vs traditional debate. It’s hard enough to be a creative type in a culture that places the highest possible value on your yearly earnings and your net worth.

    I believe in respecting the hard work of writing, of the folks who help get that writing into the marketplace. And I believe in being professional. Screeching about unfair treatment or badmouthing one side or the other isn’t professional. It’s small minded and a distraction. It makes all of us look bad.

    So thank you for this post and for a space to consider the issues without the emotional storm that seems to erupt at a moments notice these days.

    • Porter Anderson says

      LJ, thanks so much for recognizing the effort here to get the emotion out of things for a bit — or to get ourselves out of the emotion, as it were.

      There’s no full success in such an effort, of course. We’re creatures of emotion, to some degree, and our creative work depends greatly on our ability to touch and handle the emotional sides of our lives.

      But I’ve hoped that if we all could chat (and I think we’ve done it for the most part) here in this great forum that Teri and Kath give us at Writer Unboxed — without the demands of our emotional alliances on us — that we might be able to gain some few insights for ourselves into what’s happening at this point.

      For me, the discovery of note, of course, was that it appears there may be more energy/conflict/upheaval going on inside the self-publishing field than between it and the traditional side.

      As Sarah LaPolla says, the traditional world basically sees itself as having moved on. Major publishers have enough to do just to survive the commercial new world ruled by Amazon’s unprecedented marketing genius, and the traditionalists are healthily (we hope) busy trying to form new approaches and relationships that can sustain them in the digital context. Bottom line: the traditionalists don’t really have a lot of time to obsess about what’s happening in the self-publishing/independent side of things.

      And this leaves the map-less, chart-less, terra nova of a vast self-publishing potential as untamed territory — an attractive concept for all of us, of course, but fraught with various bids for leadership, dominance, influence.

      I think the folks who call this time “exciting” are certainly earnest when they say so. Me, maybe because I’ve seen such transition in earlier career forums, I know that what lies ahead is less about excitement than it looks, and more about some very wrenching struggles without the benefit of infrastructure, patterns, guideposts … there are times when a simple bannister is the best part of a staircase. :)

      So on we go. Thanks for being part of this dialog, and, again, for noting the unemotional intent. I hope everybody got something from it. Maybe next time, I’ll call for “wildly emotional debate,” and see what we get in contrast! :-)

  13. says

    If you want people to stay unemotional and to not fling dirt at each other, I think you may want to remove us all from the squat position :P

  14. says

    I’m fascinated by the process of creation – in any form. These trail-blazers are creating a new way that’s never been seen before.

    Do they make missteps? Of course. Are they sometimes led by zealots? Aren’t all revolutions led by odd, fringe-of-society people? Otherwise they would be so embroiled in the cultural soup, they wouldn’t see a new way.

    I’m traditionally published, sitting on the sidelines, watching, knowing that these people are hammering a path for all of us.

    Just wish we could skip the awkward teen years. But that’s a part of discovering who you are, and what your limits are.

    You go — whatever you decide to call yourselves — we will follow someday.

    • Porter Anderson says

      Well said, Laura. Almost like watching one of those new islands rise up from the sea in a volcanic eruption, huh? Terra nova, with all the outlands bangings-about of this upstart and that downfall. As painful as some of the moments along the way may be, it’s somehow interesting to find a new territory forming right under our noses, sometimes robust, sometimes limping. Much to appreciate. -p.

  15. Melissa says

    I’ll first quote part of Mr. Mabry’s response (above): “In my opinion, the reading public will eventually sort it out–by buying the books that are good, bypassing those that are not, and along the way discovering that they can no longer depend on agents and editors to winnow out the less-well-done work.”

    This is precisely the challenge that readers face, and it is a big one. Let me use an analogy. When the social networking site Myspace came along, I joined in hopes that I’d discover new bands and musical artists that I didn’t know about. Some of the profiles on Myspace were pretty darned compelling — professional layout and design — until I clicked on them and discovered that what I thought would be a cool, edgy new band was actually some barely talented no one who’d recorded a series of repetitive loops in their bedroom using Garage Band. In short, music I would never pay to download. These people too tended to be the loudest and most efficient at self-promotion. Eventually, I gave up on Myspace, because clearly this site didn’t have any way of vetting users claiming to be musical artists of merit. I suspect that this was, in part, what led to the site’s demise.

    Readers — and those of us who both write and read — grow weary of the sorting-out process; we want some assurance from the artist (in this case the writer) that he or she will give us a quality product we don’t mind paying for. But when it takes reading twenty-five sample chapters before we stumble across the one self-published (indie?) author whose writing is worth reading, one’s instinct is to simply give up and stick to what we know is tried and true, that being authors who are traditionally published. So in this regard, traditional publishers still have one ace in the hole.

    So we can rail against the Wendig’s moonbats all we like, but the reality is that they are likely not going anywhere, and Amazon and similar sites — just like Myspace — make it harder on the reader by providing no quality control. Until some sort of system is in place to ensure that readers don’t waste time/money downloading/purchasing sub-par content, the self-publishing contingent faces an uphill battle keeping some of its own in line.

  16. says

    My gosh Porter, you certainly have a way of getting a conversation going! Clearly this period of chaos and controversary accompanying all the changes in publishing promotes lots of speculation and a variety of responses. Always good to hear so many different perspectives. As you know, I’m of the school of thought that”I don’t have 20 years to publish” so my approach will be tempered by my realities. It’s all in a name so while the definitions of indie vs self-publisher are being bantered about, I will choose the channel that affords me the best opportunity to get my best work into the readers’ hands. I see I have many choices and which ever one I choose will require the same level of commitment to a quality product. I already know that my first step will be to pitch an agent. Orna Ross’ “independent author” resonates with me where the writer is the “creative director.” There is opportunity for writers to be empowered as long as their commitment to quality perseveres. I’m about a year from actively seeking publication but am grateful to hear all the sides of the issue. And yes, I agree, civility and respect should rule.

    • Porter Anderson says

      Hey, Kathy!

      Thanks for coming by and commenting. And yes, it appears that folks do see a lot in this to talk about (as I do) — it’s been especially nice here at Writer Unboxed, since everybody seems to have taken the non-emotional effort to heart. We’ve had some really good, civil commentary here. (Proves it CAN happen!)

      And I think the practicality of your approach is exactly right. What works for you and your book at the time you’re ready to go is what counts. (And no, who DOES have 20 years to publish? LOL). I like the fact that you have a timeline in mind, because I see a lot of folks who seem to think they have to hit the street for an agent’s attention, and so forth, much too early. You’ll know exactly how to stage these moves as you get closer.

      I agree with you on the creative-director concept of independence for authors, too. I think Orna Ross brings to the table an interesting interpretation of the value of non-traditional approaches for just that reason. Particularly in a project that still has time to go on it (as yours does), there’s a running start in which you can look for ways and elements of storytelling and presentation that make sense for you as that “writer-publisher” she talks about.

      So, as usual, you’re on the right track and doing your usual great job of distilling these complex issues to a clear direction for yourself. Keep heading in all these good directions and, happily, by the time you’re ready to move the book around, I think we’ll be seeing some new stabilization in the marketplace … we can’t stay this up-in-the-air much longer without all ending up nervous wrecks. :)


    • Porter Anderson says

      Yes, thank you, Tim, I’d spotted the same piece from Stephen and was glad to have it. I used it, in fact, in my Writing on the Ether column — here’s a direct link to that section of the column: http://ow.ly/bmSQT