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detail - girl writing by daniel garber 1917There’s a lot of ignorance regarding the kind of people who self publish (losers) and those who have conventional publishing contracts, and sign their books in Waterstones (proper writers and gurus of all things literary). If I were ever to make the mistake of bragging about my writing to strangers, the first question to come back at me would be “are you published?” and by published we mean the glossy paperback in Waterstones. The answer would be no, and the conclusion would be that I was not a proper writer, just a “yakker and a bragger”, as a famous American writer recently opined.

But my figures for the past three years tell me my books have been downloaded around a quarter of a million times, so I think I can safely say that, although I’m not published in the conventional sense, my work has reached a wide audience. It also receives generally positive feedback from readers. So, perhaps it’s our definitions that need to change. Perhaps it’s those who insist on conventionally published glory at any price who are the yakkers and the braggers – they who are responsible for perpetuating the myth that the conventionally published form confers upon its neophytes a greatness that self publishing does not.

The publishing industry has now congealed into just a handful of big companies. Like the rest of commerce, it’s all gone very slick and corporate and image-conscious. Books and their authors are cosmetically modified into marketable brands – even those authors who speak out against such things. When we buy a conventionally published book from the highstreet, we are buying into the myth of the author and their brand, but like with those toothpastes that slowly dissolve your teeth, we can sometimes be disappointed, even with what we thought were household names.

Writing is of course the perfect medium for the shy, the introspective, the wall-flowers and the pathological limelight dodgers of this world – but I’m not describing your typical branded author here. The type of personality who takes well to writing is not necessarily the type who takes well to publishing. I recognise, in my case, it’s more of a blessing I was never invited to join in with that world, that indeed self-publishing is exactly my sort of medium. But we self publishers must also grow up, shed our insecurities and accept we’ve as much idea what constitutes proper writing as anyone else.

Through self-publishing or blogging or even tweeting, the process of publishing has become – for want of a better word – democratised; anyone can do it, anyone can add their voice to the cultural milieu. Indeed, I think talented writers who were formerly denied their voice have now begun to move writing on, through self publishing and blogging. They are shaping the milieu, and wrestling the lead away from that quaint old system that used to dictate what was considered proper writing in the first place.

Perhaps it’s not surprising the world of corporate publishing and their branded authors are busy demonising the online world, trying to make out that it’s content is so puerile it will rot our brains. But don’t listen. The internet does not have a monopoly on poor material, just as the corporate publishing world does not have a monopoly on intelligent debate.

One of the greatest strengths of self-publishing is its interactivity. You put something out, people comment, you learn from it, form new ideas or reinforce old ones, and you comment on their stuff. This is how ideas grow and flow, and shape the world. That has to be better than having a handful of branded authors and critics dictate what is and is not best practice, or best thought. That just seems old fashioned.

I do not possess a sexy publicity photo, and I have yet to be shortlisted for the Man-Booker prize. My ideas and my themes may not resonate, and they might never feature in the firmament of collective human thought, but as ideas go they’re as good as anyone else’s. And so are yours. How to be an independent author?

Sit down. Read. Think. Write. Self-publish.

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I’ve just come across this term: “Indie Author” and I think I might be one, which is very exciting because it sounds so “hip”, so “wikid”, so “anarchic”, so “sticking it to the man”, and I’ve never been any of those things before so well done me! Except of course “Indie Author” is just a label and utterly meaningless. What I am is simply someone who likes to write, and will explore any means of  disseminating my work. The natural endgame of all writing is not necessarily publication, but I think for most of us it is, so others can read what we’ve written. So, if you like to write you’re going to have an interest in publication. But publication, as you’ll soon find out,  is a tricky business. Editors might not want to print your stuff. It’s a mystery. It might be that it’s crap – but you’ll never know because they won’t tell you. It might be because they don’t publish that sort of thing. Whatever the reason, if you try to figure it out you’ll only end up tied in knots, with years and years lost when you could have been doing something else, like,… well,… just writing.

So, you stick your short story up on Feedbooks, you publish your well travelled novels on Lulu. And they get read. Maybe that makes me an Indie Author, I don’t know, but if Random House offered me a generous advance for, say,  “Push Hands”, tomorrow, trust me, I wouldn’t be an Indie Author for very long.

I am what I am, and what I am I do not know, and in the words of the blessed John Clare: what I am none cares or knows.

Sure, I know that.

Self publishing online? Why not? Publish and be damned – just don’t expect to make anything out of it. But that’s okay, because you’re not that sort of writer, right?

I read a very sniffy piece today about self publishing online. It suggested that not all those ebooks out there amounted to very much and that a great many might indeed be very badly written, and not even worth a free download. It was the biggest statement of the obvious I’ve heard in a long while. If anyone can publish anything, then of course there’ll be a lot of  rubbish out there. But the  public are actually quite smart when it comes to judging a piece of writing. You don’t need to be a literary critic to decide if you basically liked something or not.  It might be corny, clichéd, of no recognisable genre, a mish-mash of styles that the educated guardian of “taste” would demonize on the spot, but I think people just like to read, and if a story touches them it doesn’t matter if it has literary merit or not, so long as it is reasonably well written. The theme of the story might have been done to death a thousand times by better authors than you, but Joe-public might never have heard of them, and on that one day they were simply fated to download your story – so you can forget about the rest. I’ve read a lot of stuff on Feedbooks, and some of it is very cringeworthy indeed, but some of it was well written and entertaining, and some of it made me think. Is that not the whole point?

A writer posting a badly written piece isn’t going to do himself any favours. Sloppy grammar, poor spelling and eccentric punctuation will all reflect badly upon him, and the next time his name crops up, the ebook-downloading Joe-public’s going to think twice. Quality control in the indie ebook market is built-in and self-regulating. Joe public might forgive an author once if they paid nothing, but if there was a price to download, that author can expect a lot of instant and universally negative feedback, which means they’re dead in the water.  Mud sticks. You have to take special care as an indie author because there’s no pernickerty editor  at the back of you cleaning up your grammatical howlers. Your only defence is to respect the intelligence of your mysterious reader. You also have to be sincere. If you mean well in what you write, I think that will come across,  then you might be forgiven the odd typo, but don’t push your luck.

Are you an Indie Author? My advice? Don’t think about it for too long. Better ask yourself instead what did I write today? What were my impressions? What did I feel?

Maybe John Clare is right, what we are none cares or knows. But that doesn’t mean the view of the world from the inside of your head  doesn’t matter.

And that’s reason enough to write.

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I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am, and live with shadows tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest -that I loved the best –
Are strange -nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod,
A place where woman never smiled or wept;
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie, –
The grass below -above the vaulted sky.

John Clare 1793-1864


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