A rat in a cage (Indy vs traditional publishing)

Publishing is a game. You learn that early in your studies if you go through an university. Be it an scholarly  journal or creative writing, it’s all hoops you have to jump through to establish yourself and further your career. And the more you become engrossed in it, the more you realized it’s not just about talent, but who you know and how much press they will get for publishing you…..

Why is it that way? Because they say so.

Now, I’m not sure who they are. Though I suspect it might be the publishers and those profiting off of mine and yours work….

I also think that’s partly why being an indie writer is so looked down up.


Ok, we will get it out of the way. The problem with vanity press is that anyone can do it. And frankly there are so god-awful works that in my opinion see the light of day. There are also a lot of scams, and publishers that try to hide that you will be footing the bill,  so if you do wanna pursue vanity press, research it and do it because you want your work out there…..

But if you do self-publish in any form, expect to be look down upon for it.

“Oh you’re an author, who published your work?”

“….I did…”

Awkward silence…..

That might be my least favorite part about the writing game. This weird need that most artist have to inflate their own work at the cost of others. I remember excitedly telling a professor of my first real publication (in a fairly respected online journal) only to have him brush it aside….*in a stuffy accent* “well if you’re still writing and publishing when your forty, then we will know you have what it takes to be a writer”….just to have him a few months later blow up my Facebook feed with how amazing the journal was and blah blah blah because his wife had a poem published here….

….Don’t even get my started of a few of my friends who decided to start their own journals…..Somehow editing an online webpage and calling it a journal must turn nice rational people into cut-throat, pretentious snobs. Stories. So many….more than I care to share of how the publishing/promotion game has soured perfectly nice people.

It’s like all writers are perpetually stuck in high school, insecure jocks that have to pick on everyone else around them in a desperate attempt to hide the fact that they aren’t gods among men.

But that wasn’t always the case. In the 19th century it was common for established writers to pay for publishing their own books.

(A stolen bit for Wikipedia for you from their vanity press article. Let your “More you know star”shine:)

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was common for legitimate authors, if they could afford it, to pay the costs of publishing their books. Such writers could expect more control of their work, greater profits, or both. Among such authors were Lewis Carroll, who paid the expenses of publishing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and most of his subsequent work. Mark TwainE. Lynn HarrisZane GreyUpton SinclairCarl SandburgEdgar Rice BurroughsGeorge Bernard ShawEdgar Allan PoeRudyard KiplingHenry David ThoreauWalt Whitman and Anaïs Nin also self-published some or all of their works. Not all of these well-known authors were successful in their ventures; Mark Twain’s publishing business, for example, went bankrupt.[6]

Ernest Vincent Wright, author of the 1939 novel Gadsby, famous for being written entirely in lipogram, was unable to find a publisher for his unusual work and ultimately chose to publish it through a vanity press.

(By the way, if you go back to the early early days of publishing, there are way more writers that are well known that used vanity publishing at one point or another in their career…but anyway back to my own thoughts.)

But the truth is that success or failure is not guarantee your art is good. Emily Dickinson had only a handful of poems published in her lifetime, still she is greatly studied, admired and remembers. Yet, Ursula Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea which was immensely popular in the 1970’s and was later borrowed heavily upon for a certian scared-wizard series is  almost completely forgotten.

Time and people can only tell us how art stands the test of time and who it can affect. As far as I can see, the more art that is out there, on any level, the more chance for us to grow and discover. And how do you measure success? Frankly, if one poem/essay/play/story I write helps one person, then I consider it a success. And when you consider the ripple effects, well, it’s hard not to make a case for more art in this work isn’t it?

In short, yet blogs, indie publishing and vanity press have no standards. They are the mutts of the art world. But it is still art. And some of it is darn fine. 

So if anyone gives you crap for being , a self-publish artist or vanity press artist, tell them at least you had the guts to do something with you life and put yourself out there.

 All of this makes me just want to run to my piano….the piano doesn’t judge me!

Rant over. Time to get back to playing the game and self-publishing. I have college applications to finish, journals to submit to and the finishing touches on my Nook Book.

31 comments on “A rat in a cage (Indy vs traditional publishing)

  1. Publishing is a “user friendly” world, not in that it is easy to do, but in that only if both can use each other will it work. A writer tries to use a publisher to get his/her work out for others to experience; and a publisher will allow themselves to be used by the writer only when they can see that they can use the writer for their profits. A new writer can have a future literary gem, but getting published for the first time can be overwhelming. Yet, an established writer can produce a piece of useless gibberish and have it published with no effort.
    My first written work I ended up e-publishing because I knew no written publisher would touch it. My second work which I believe has true spiritual and intellectual value I can’t even get those who agreed to do so, to even read it and give me feedback.
    Will I give up? If I didn’t truly believe in the value of my 2nd work, I might, but I do believe in it, so I won’t.
    Keep at it Rachel, you beautiful winner!

    • Don’t give up! And you are totally right. It does depend on the work. The work I am going to self-publish is a collection of plays I have had produced. Traditionally, it would be hard to have it publish unless I was at the top and frankly I just want it out there at this point. I have a smaller work which is a children’s story that I hope to have traditionally published. I feel it’s more marketable and frankly its much harder to self-publish in that format. Keep at it 🙂 all our hard work shall be rewarded. And don’t worry about misspelling my name, almost everyone does lol

  2. We write for the sake of writing. one reader is a gift in itself. But that is me. Not sure what way I am going. right now I am blogging and enjoying myself. Working on a novel yes that to. will it be published, one way or another most likely. It is the goal. And not trying is failing at all times.

  3. In reading this I suddenly had an image of a visual artist being challenged and asked some of the same questions
    What do you do?
    “I’m a painter.”
    Oh who produces your art ?
    “I do.”
    Awkward silence…

    Somehow self-publishing doesn’t seen so unusual after-all…

      • Laughed out loud when I saw merlinspielen’s response. And said exactly what you said, even though no one was here and listening. I have been writing poetry for about thirty years. Had a poem that anchored an anthology that was later nominated for a Grammy Award in The Spoken Word category. Published a small writing zine for about three years, and hand produced chapbooks and sold them from the bookstore I managed.

        Now, I blog and have been doing so for about five years. Have to say this, none of the above was, or is, quite as fulfilling as posting a poem online and having someone stop within a few hours and comment that it touched them deeply and why it did so. Have often daydreamed of, and worked, at compiling a book from this mountain of words, but am far too busy reaching for the next poem, exploring that twisted around phrase I heard yesterday, or writing down the line that pulled me from sleep this morning. Maybe, someday, I’ll actually do the book, but am thinking that might only happen if the words stop flowing and dancing to the music I hear.

        The reason I laughed out loud is because I had a very similar experience not that long ago. At a sit-down dinner with my sister, her husband and several of their couple friends. I was asked what I do. I write, am a writer. Have you published anything? Yes, and gave them the short list, similar to the one above. Then said I spent much of my time blogging now. And do you get paid for that? No, I do it because I love doing it. One man immediately turned to another and said, “So, what did you think of that game on Sunday?” End of conversation.

        Writing is a process, a creative process of self-expression. Creativity is a built-in element of healing within the human psyche. We make a mistake when we abandon the process for product. I may or may not write that book someday. But, after five years, I’m fairly certain it has been written and is readily available here online. And everyday, someone leans in to listen to the bits and pieces.


        PS To Beautiful Loser, thanks for visiting my site…and for the opportunity to join in this wonderful conversation.

  4. I think we must get away from believing only ‘art’ comes from traditional publishers, or movies from Hollywood. Painters paint and try to sell their work, and writers should write and try to sell their work. If I waited until I got an agent I would out live Methuselah. I did not go to a vanity press, but I did go the e-book route and am happy to have done so.

  5. I would imagine that self publishing probably worries the old, traditional publishing houses because it could render them not as important in the future. I love the idea of self publishing. Nice post.

  6. I think the snobbery around traditional vs vanity publishing stems from our reliance on gatekeepers. We’re used to having someone else tell us whether it’s worth giving this book a go, and we don’t think we have the time to make that decision ourselves.

  7. I think it is absolutely wonderful that anyone is now able to distribute their writing to anyone else on the planet. One’s words become part of the great babble.
    Nice piece. Thanks.

  8. Wonderfully said. As a writer I’ve realized that that I am writing for myself & my sanity by extension. And if what I say jumps off the page to empower someone, somewhere , anywhere that it is just a bonus. You pulled me in with your narrative, thanks for putting this out there!

  9. Self-publishing takes a lot of work. It often means being your own editor, marketing agent, distributer, cover designer (or hiring one).Let alone writing the book.
    One of the good things is that self publishing is starting to get more respect as better books find their way on the self published list.
    It’s still tough.
    And to your friends who raise their nose at you just ask them what they’ve written? What they’ve published?
    It’s easy to criticize when you don’t know the work involved in putting a book out there.

  10. Love this post (and the comments are insightful too). I fully agree, publishing is an industry that transforms writing, but that does not mean it is Writing or even Publishing. To borrow from another medium: one of the best theatre performances I ever have seen was by a school theatre group. Mind and sense blowing, and definitely not industrial nor commercial.
    I do not mind main-stream publishing since I am not forced to buy it, but I am glad that we are entering the age of self-publishing.
    Writing for me is (1) finding the one and the other kindred soul, and (2) realising that what has kept me going throughout my life was the thoughts shared by others. Yes, clothes are important, food is, housing is, but without the thoughts I would have not become who I am today, I had only vegetated.

  11. I agree: ignore the snobbish haters! Everything we consider conventional was once just a wild idea held by one person. It’s a matter of having the guts to start something.

    Personally, I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from the people I say, “I self-publish my work” to. Even if they have no idea what’s involved in publishing a book, I make sure to talk about my reasons for doing it. I’m not on some ego rampage to prove that my first book is a work of genius: I just don’t like a lot of the attitudes common in the mainstream fantasy genre. So I’m doing my part to put different stories out there. It’s definitely important to remember that each reader found through self-publising is a person capable of starting ripples.

  12. I think you’ll find that far from being “completely forgotten” author, Ursula Guin has a huge audience for her Earthsea books and she is widely regarded as one of the best fantasy writers in the world…with university professors holding lectures about her works. I much prefer self-publishing as it puts me in the driving seat. I’m in good company as a self-published author. If it was good enough for Virginia Woolf and many writers from her Bloomsbury set, then it’s good enough for me.

  13. What a great post. I have mirrored all of your thoughts and feelings at various times. But what I’ve come to lately is that, since everything – me, my work, and ultimately even the world – is so very very fleetingly temporary, all that matters is the art, the process, and the expression.

  14. This is interesting. I always hear debates about which is better: traditional publishing or self-publishing. In today’s world, anyone can publish their own work. I think that if the author goes about publishing their work in the right way, self-publishing can be a successful process.

  15. Hi Rachel! You said, “It’s like all writers are perpetually stuck in high school…” Did you read Kristin Lamb’s post on perpetual bullying?

    also, “If anyone gives you crap for being a self-published artist…”
    Agreed, that’s an awesome retort. I have equated writing and self-publishing to being naked on a busy city street…it takes a lot of guts and nerve.

  16. Pingback: Two Roads Diverged… | talkw3rds

  17. I was a little confused by what you referred to as vanity press. That’s another term for self-publishing/internet publishing, is it? Or IS it? I see e-publishing mentioned separately.

    And, did you say you’ve seen a number of poorly written books published by big name companies? If so, I know I’ve found at least one author I question. And, I continue to find poorly edited web pages. Some in important places.

    If your success is helping one person, then write smaller:P There’s no need to write something that appeals to everyone or a large group. [But, is a writer an artist? I think images when I hear “artist” (though I know writers could be said to have created images with words).] I’ve drawn many a picture for individuals without making profits off prints. I am sure some day when I am dead and gone, they or whoever finds their work by me may come up with a story on some Roadshow show and make an auction profit. Who knows.

    But, if we’re doing all this work for someone else’s gain/profit, what sense does it make that we suffer for it? And, if publishers and press are going to bleed talented people dry, $&*^% the whole business.

    The first comment makes logical sense (if both parties are fair). Both should benefit from the task. But, I don’t quite understand rumors I’ve heard of authors making ten percent while the publisher gets ninety. Or, getting paid $10,000 for the rights to a book while the publisher continues to profit from any and all copies sold.

    What if we all self-publish (get an online printing press to make) a few copies and get them out to a dozen people we trust with such works (if THAT’s even possible). Then let them be trusted “lending” (or maybe selling?) more copies to those interested in what they get from the first group’s word of mouth? Start a reading tree/plant. And, perhaps, someone in publishing will get wind and offer to publish the book the “traditional” way. Agatha Christie had to send hand-typed copies of her first books to various publishers to get noticed and later approved for sale. Perhaps it’s not as hard today (certainly not requiring us to reprint the book by typewriter at home).

    Publishing is the second or third leg of the challenge of writing something good and getting others to approve. The first step is actually completing the book! [And, the second is editing it to perfection.] It has taken me 30+ years to complete my first book. [Technically, it took a year to write and maybe another six months to a year to edit it to its finest form. And, it’s not even a traditional novel which I yet aspire to write.]

  18. I loved this, and the blog in general! Many thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject.

    My only gripe is not having a social media share button somewhere, so I can share it more easily! 🙂

  19. … (ignore the last bit; I should have said, “my only gripe is not using my eyes to see the social-media share button)! Sigh…

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