The Indie Revolution Inferiority Complex

This is a guest post by Lenore Skomal

When I moved to Erie, Penn. from the New York metro area, I quickly recognized one thing: my new cityhad an inferiority complex.

Even though this coastal town has stunning sunsets, affordable and abundant lake front property, low cost of living, an excellent environment for raising kids and could very well be the best kept secret in the country, the people who live here don’t get it. The natives make fun of Erie, slap it around like a used mop and jump at the chance to denigrate it.

I don’t get it. Where I come from, you’re proud of your hometown, warts and all.

It didn’t take long for my husband and me to realize that the pervasive putdowns common among the residents went a long way to stigmatize this once bustling manufacturing city. And now, not just the folks who live here believe it, so does everyone else.

The same thing is well on its way to happening to the independent self-publishing movement.

Being a newbie to self-publishing (one and a half years), I can clearly see the similarities. The movement already suffers from an inferiority complex. Underlying our rally cry, ‘We are Indie, hear us roar,’ I can’t help but sense the word left unsaid at the end is, “Right?”

The mainstream publishing industry is an iron establishment that has done things a certain way for a very, very long time. While societal trends have pretty much driven it to its knees and forced it to change, the change has been achingly slow. And the truth is, not much has changed at the core. For instance, it continues to patently shut out the majority of new talented writers and those whose work actually makes it ‘over the transom’ are offered paltry or, even worse, unattainable advances. It also allows self-serving and unfair systems to remain in place (such as, complicated and confusing royalty structures, expecting new fiction only to be marketed by literary agents, little to no budget for marketing and promotion, and limited print runs that only cover the advance).

I liken publishing companies to newspapers, an industry in which I have some experience and first hand knowledge. Rather than admit they are antiquated, fat, and in need of a serious overhaul, they stubbornly believe they should still be yielding the same profit margins, despite the overwhelming change in the way the world is reading and digesting information. Instead of being visionaries, embracing this change as an opportunity to effect real solutions and reinvent themselves, they stubbornly cling to their old ways, scramble to find band aid solutions and look to copy each other for lack of any real innovation. An editor I know at one of the top houses said to me, “We don’t know what the hell we’re doing.”

Visionaries are what it needs. And that’s where self-publishers come in. I look at us as the people’s movement of sorts. Not to get too carried away, but let’s face it, the publishing industry has controlled what the general public (and I mean general) has been reading for a very long time now.

But that is changing. And with it, we have to, as well.

Saying you’re self-published doesn’t have to carry with it an asterisk that notes in small type, “Because I couldn’t get published the traditional way.” It’s hard work that takes courage and persistence, not to mention vision, belief and self-confidence. Given all of that, why is the movement stigmatized?

Here’s my armchair take:

We’re writers. We already have one strike against us. We were born with inferiority complexes. And I know a lot of writers, so trust me when I say this. If you are self-deprecating and lacking confidence, you are in the overwhelming majority. If you’re oversensitive and prone to hissy and/or crying fits over rejection or criticism, congratulations, you’re in solid company. If you have an inner critic continually reminding you that you can’t write and snidely asking just who you think you’re fooling, then welcome to the freaking club. It’s no wonder when trying to break out on our own, those of us who need constant validation and are always second guessing ourselves have collectively created a movement that suffers from an inferiority complex.

We’re still looking for a savior. Simply put, it would be much easier if the fantasy we all grew up believing as fledgling writers would come true. Like the princess kissing the frog to find a handsome prince or Lana Turner sipping an egg cream at the soda fountain being discovered by a Hollywood producer, we want it to be magical. And the constant waiting for that one agent, publisher, or editor to pick up our manuscript and weep in joy actually leaves us stuck in one place: the waiting room. Yes, this is hard to hear because none of us would like to be reduced to a victim, but I had to admit this to myself before I could leave the waiting room and actually embrace publishing my own work. It would be so much simpler if someone would hand us a fat advance, set up a book tour around the world where we sold millions of books, spend their own budget on full page ads in Publisher’s Weekly and the New York Times and get us a spot on Oprah. The problem is, unless you’re Kim Kardashian or Hillary Clinton, it doesn’t work that way anymore. The times? They aren’t a ‘changing—they already have.

We’re unsure of where this is going. Does it matter, really? While I think this is all the more reason to take pride in what we do, it can be daunting. But we are changing the publishing industry, make no mistake about that. If you’re worried about sailing this vessel without an end point, don’t be. At some point, we will reach land. And who knows what we’ll find?


About this post's author
:

Winner of multiple awards for literature, biography and humor, Lenore Skomal's catalogue spans many genres. With 30 years of writing experience, over 17 books published, Skomal went Indie last year, to publish her literary fiction under her own imprint. Her debut novel, Bluff, will be released Oct. 1 of this year. To contact Lenore, check out herWebsite, Facebook Page or sign up for her daily blog, Gut Check for the Erie Times-News.

 

Dane Zeller

Lenore,

We Indies “don’t know what the hell we’re doing,” too. The difference is: we’re pushing on. We have no tradition to cling to. Newspapers changed because their profit margin went to zero. The traditional publishing world will change, eventually.

Thank you for your very positive post. You’ve described our new industry well. When literary agents start seeing us as potential customers and not beggars for attention, they will have begun the necessary transformation.

Yvonne Hertzberger

So true. That’s what makes reviews so important to me as a writer, especially when they come from strangers. They are the one form of validation that keeps me from slipping into total self-doubt.

Suzanne van Rooyen

As an indie author who dreams of being represented by an agent, published and seeing my book on the shelf at a local bookstore, I do applaud indie endeavours and recognise the problems with traditional big-six publishing. However, the bigger problem facing the indie movement is quality control. For every good indie (small press and self-published) book out there, there are a dozen terrible ones rushed into sale by over zealous individuals who think that being able to string a sentence together makes them a writer. (And some of the self-published writers I’ve seen, can’t even put a sentence together properly!) This, I think, is hindering the rise of the indies the most, and I have no idea of a solution that doesn’t devolve into the same gate keeping system currently in place for traditional publishing.

    Lenore

    Cream rises, Suzanne. The movement is young and at the risk of sounding cliche, again, the wheat will be separated from the chaff. Readers will invest their money in great books not crap. You wait. It will happen.

      Patricia Sands

      You are absolutely right, Suzanne. We have to give credit to the readers. “Crap” will not go far. All of the indies I know work very carefully with editors and proofreaders to ensure their work is high quality. It must be said too that even traditional publishers offer their share of “crap” to the marketplace. If readers take advantage of Amazon’s “Look inside” feature, they will be able to tell whether the writing is up to their standards or not.
      The cream is rising, make no mistake! What an exciting time to be an indie author!

        Patricia Sands

        OOps = I mean you are absolutely right, Lenore!

Dina Santorelli

A fantastic post! I wholeheartedly agree with just about everything you said. I’m off to share. 🙂

Julia Rachel Barrett

I’ve been published both ways – and made a decision to publish Indie. Why? One word, wait… two words… no three… oops four – control of my own destiny. I love it.

Pavarti K Tyler

Whoo Hoo! Sing it Lenore! You are full on awesome! I agree whole heartedly with your post and am so excited by all the things we Indies have waiting for us on the road ahead.
Pav

bridgetstraub.com

I am constantly surprised by how insecure writers are. Of course I worry people won’t like my books, “Searching for My Wand” and “On a Hot August Afternoon”, but I don’t waste time thinking they aren’t any good. I never would have published them if I didn’t believe they are every bit as good as any traditionally published book.

Scott VanKirk

I wasn’t insecure about going Indie before, but now I’m thinking maybe I should be 🙂

One advantage of getting into the publishing game late is that I’ve already proven my worth to my self along the way. Once I’ve written a story, gotten lots of feedback, and rewritten it 5 or 6 times, I think my stories are generally pretty good.

For me, going through traditional publishing is an exercise in masochism. Every time I sent out a query, that I had to carefully personalize, I felt like I was begging, grovelling for a crumb of recognition, only to receive a ‘go away kid’ brush off. I hate that!

Of course, now I’m grovelling to a much larger audience of reviewers and book bloggers 🙂

Lynne Cantwell

When I tried to break into trad publishing, the message I felt I was getting was, “There’s nothing wrong with your work, it’s just not saleable today/not what we’re looking for.” I eventually figured out what that meant was, “We can’t make enough money from your stuff to make our stockholders happy.”

Then I heard the best way to break in was to go to conferences and schmooze with editors and agents, so they’d remember you later when you sent them your stuff. Who’s got that kind of time and money?

Indie publishing is easier. A few clicks and my books are for sale. People buy them. And I’ve met a whole bunch of nice people — authors and bloggers.

Lenore, I agree with you that indies need to hold our heads up. Full steam ahead!

    RLB Hartmann

    Lynne, that is exactly the kind of response I used to get to queries. Even after I realized what they meant, I didn’t believe them; glad I didn’t give up. The freedom to put all that behind me has given me new energy. Checked out your trailers and think they’re top notch.

Tara McTiernan

What a timely post for me – I’ve been complaining a lot to my husband lately that indie writers seem to have no sense of worth when it comes to their work. The fact is: writers as a group DO have an inferiority complex and this is something that either makes us go running to traditional publishers begging for a crumb of respect/validation or we self publish, but then charge 99 cents for a full-length novel or slap something together so poorly it doesn’t consider the reader’s need for a well-written, fully-edited book. If we really want to get validation and get over our poor opinions of our own work, we need to A) put in the time and effort to create the best work we are capable of (and hire an editor, people), B) price it reasonably, not so low that it screams “I hate myself!” and C) keep at it it until readers find us and buy us often enough for us to have the validation that actually matters: readers wanting more of our writing.

What I really enjoyed about this post was its positive attitude and realistic statement about the future: we have no idea how it will all work out, there is no road map, we’ll get there when we get there. Brava, Lenore!

    Shannon Donnelly

    I don’t think a .99 price screams “I hate myself” — I think it screams “I love my readers and known I can sell enough to of this book to make money.” Low prices are not about a poor self image — it’s about looking at the competition and being competitive.

      Lenore

      I am still on the fence about this. I do sell my Kindle and e-book versions of my anthology books for .99. And in doing a quick search of some of my favorite authors on Amazon, I note that some of their e-books are also pretty cheap ($1.99 and up). However, I don’t sell any book that has material production costs for under $10. When it comes to pricing, my initial thoughts run to royalties and percentages. Having sold tens of thousands of “traditionally” published books and not seeing one thin dime in my pocket, even that .99 sale is netting me profit and thus one more step in sustaining my career. I am curious what others think about pricing. It’s worth a discussion.

        Russell Bittner

        Lenore,

        “Having sold tens of thousands of “traditionally” published books and not seeing one thin dime in my pocket…”.

        I don’t understand this. Could you please clarify?

        Thanks!

        Russell

Lenore

Thank you everyone! I appreciate the comments and positive feedback! We’re in it, so let’s make the absolute best of it.

Penny Freeman

Thanks for posting this! As editor-in-chief of a new publishing company, I’m sending this to all our people. Taking pride in what we’re doing is the foundation of doing things well! Thanks for the validation

Cheri L.

Love the realistic and positive tone of this article.
You are right about the inferiority complex. Worse yet, many writers seem to be almost pathalogically terrified of disapproval. Indie writers need to grow a thick skin so they can see constructive criticism for what it is: a valuable tool to help you improve your work, not a personal attack. Equivocal or even bad reviews are nothing to be afraid of. Granted, we would all prefer to have our paths strewn with roses, but, pleasant as that is, you learn very little from it. A negative review or critique, on the other hand, shows you where you have gone wrong and can guide you back to the path.
Bottom line: if you don’t have faith in your work, don’t publish, but for goodness sake write WELL and then certainly publish. If you believe in your work, perfect it and don’t let anything, let alone an antiquated traditional system, stand in your way.

    Yvonne Hertzberger

    Love this, Cheri, dead on.

Edward Smith

If you want some big book sales you can sidestep the whole issue of who published your book. I coach authors how to get on TV and self-published authors have no trouble getting on even the biggest shows if they use the right system. TV producers want experts not authors, so they really don’t care who published your book, what reviews it got,etc, as they focus on you not the book. Make yourself into an expert who would appeal to the shows audience and you will be booked. OK, thanks and good luck to all self-published authors. Edward Smith.

    John Johnson

    Maybe twelve years ago as a career employee I felt very depressed. Not so much in the clinical sense but definitely in the “work is not satisfying” sense. I was putting in time and didn’t like myself. As a lark I opted for an employee program to “talk with a professional”. The plan offered ninety days of visits with a psychologist who would listen, and I volunteered, in as much as to talk with an objective, outside professional. I think I sought validation for what I was feeling.

    After ninety days I feel reaffirmed and renewed. My visits had shown me that who I worked with were crazy people. Shortly I retired and sent myself to the police academy at sixty two. I worked as a cop, proud to do so. Crazy?

    I read about these self publishing issues and these indie author issues – and I shake my head. I’m free to write, even write badly, and sent it off to Amazon to be put before the world. That is somewhat scary but the truth is if it sells I’m successful and if I don’t sell I need to keep getting better. So I write.

    My saving grace is that I’m a beginner, and I couldn’t write at all when I started. Now I can tell a story with words and enjoy it. What more validation could we ask for. Inferior be damned!

    Anna Drake

    Dead on! Writing is hard. Approval is spotty. Suck it up. Put it out, and live the life of those who hope/believe life can be fantastic. I think, in the end, we’re better than we believe.

    Thank you for this excellent post.

Seeley James

“We are Indie, hear us roar … Right?” Hilarious and accurate.

But there is a reason for the insecurity. So many Indies have blown it for others. Indiscriminate Tweeting every minute, unedited writing given away for free, straw-man reviews, etc. I posted 5 FREE Tips on Book Promotion which assails some of these practices. The bad apples obscure great books like RE McDermott’s soon-to-be-released “Deadly Coast”, Amy Rogers’ “Petroplague” or Joanna Penn’s “Prophecy”.

There are many great Indies out there, and a lot of noisy wannabes making them hard to find. Ah, democracy.

The Big 6 are hamstrung by their 20th Century profit model. The wave of consolidations that took them from 100 publishers to 6, left them saddled with M&A debt that must be paid into 2020. They can’t afford to take risks. And they can’t afford not to.

Peace, Seeley

Russell Bittner

Leonore,

EXCELLENT article (which I found today via The Passive Voice, promptly both tweeted and posted at my FaceBook page, then shared with my network of some 400+ writers at SpeakWithoutInterruption).

Thank you for thinking and acting (even if only in digits).

Russell

ButtonFly Books

Thank you for this!
Maybe it’s just me, but it drives me crazy (as an indie author myself) to hear or read the phrase “support indie authors!” over and over. It just screams woe and deprivation, as if we can’t earn our way with good products, like the rest of the world.
I understand the sentiment, but it seems so pathetic to me that I cringe inside.

Lenore

Russell, you asked about why I didn’t see one thin dime in royalties. This is actually another blog post entirely but I am sure my experience isn’t unique in the publishing world. All royalties are charged against your advance. Those books that included royalty structures never seemed to make enough in sales to cover my advances, which trust me were not that much to begin with. It has never made sense because I know that one of those books had several print runs and even came out in paperback. It’s not uncommon for a publisher to only print enough books to cover your advance. This is true.

Russell Bittner

Lenore,

Yikes!

(I guess these are the little-known — or, at least, little-, uh, published — facts of the bricks ‘n’ mortar publishing world. All we ever hear/read about is the success stories of folks like Dan Brown, J. K. Rowling and E. L. James.)

Russell

Lenore

Few and far between, but that’s not meant to be pessimistic. It’s just part of what many unpublished authors don’t know about the industry. The standard contract allows for authors to bring on their own accountants if they wish to audit the royalty statements, etc. but every accountant I approached wanted nothing to do with it because it’s so complicated and I believe made purposely so for that very reason. I will write another blog about this and the other valuable lessons I learned about the publishing industry so authors realize the truth. Believe me, self publishing has so many positives over traditional. The biggest obstacle we have is distribution, which the big six still have a stranglehold on. But even that is changing. And recognition by the prestigious reviewers and accessibility to the prestigious awards. But that too will change. Amen.

    Russell Bittner

    Lenore,

    “But that too will change. Amen.”

    Amen and hallelujah!

    Russell

Jesse

I just started my own Indie Publishing house for Children’s Books and it has been hard work. Now I am nearing the release of my first book and I am second guessing everything. This post has bolstered my resolve to push forward optimistically.

Thank You!

Russell Bittner

Good for you, Jesse!

Russell

Tim Vicary

Hi Lenore

Very perceptive post. You’re right; writing is a lonely business and the traditional publishing industry was set up in a way that expected writers to be humble and grateful for any attention they got. My heartrate used to rise to scarey levels evey time I picked up the phone even to my agent, and he was supposed to be on my side!

But the pricing issue is very interesting, and I look forward to future posts on this. I look at it this way: most of my ebooks are priced at $2.99 or £2.99, which seems low. But I get 70% of that, which is just over $2 or £2 per sale. When these books were sold as hardback for about £20 in the UK, I got 15% which is £3 per sale, less 15% to the agent which left me with £2.55. Not much difference. If I raise the ebook price to £3.99 I would get £2.80 per sale which is MORE than for a £20 hardback, and no agent to pay.

So the reader pays much less, and the author gets much the same. Win, win. That’s why the world is changing.

Russell Bittner

Tim,

Hear, hear!

Russell

Lenore

You hit on a good point, Tim. We control costs and royalties. And don’t overlook the fact that with ebooks you are essentially hitting another market and even demographic. As a traditionally, hard copy author for years, I can tell you, the Internet and ebooks is another world entirely. Many of consumers who wander through bookstores (my generation) don’t overlap into the cybermarket. Glad you could relate to the post.

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