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Dear Mainstream Authors, Stop Bashing Independent Publishing and Get a Clue

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By Alanna Brown, a LuxEcoLiving Advocate, creator of Brown House Online, and author of Moonpennies

independent publishing
A Christmas Carol was originally self-published by Charles Dickens.

They're like the bullies on the playground. Those snot-nosed, mainstream-published authors who think indie writers are not real artists just because they don't have a traditional book deal. Pooh on them, I say. Pooh! Don't listen to a single misinformed word from their filthy mouths. They're just plain bullies. Probably jealous that the indies are making upwards of 70 percent royalties while they take a measly 15 percent. Perhaps envious that they lose almost all control of the release date and cover image, and still have to do their own marketing leg work. Maybe even jealous of those whose ingenuity surmounted the limitations of the goliath publisher.

A marvelously robust Forbes article by David Vinjamuri discusses the ongoing battle between mainstream authors and their blossoming indie counterparts. He observes, "There is something very odd about this war of words between successful authors on different sides of a tectonic shift in the publishing world: it doesn't exist in many similar industries facing the same sort of technological upheaval. You don't hear Christina Aguilera or Adam Levine knocking indie bands."

His editorial demonstrates just such a war of words, with this spiteful quote from bestselling mainstream author Sue Grafton:

To me, it seems disrespectful... that a 'wannabe' assumes it's all so easy s/he can put out a 'published novel' without bothering to read, study, or do the research. ... Self-publishing is a short cut and I don't believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he's ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.

A response to this insult from independent sci-fi success, Hugh Howey, follows shortly after:

Tell me this: why is self-publishing antithetical to "honing one's craft?" Who ever received writing advice in a rejection letter as sound as the worst 1-star review out there? There's far more to learn from engaging the market with your product than there is in form letters that tell you not-a-single-frickin'-thing. What's wrong with testing the waters? Instead of wasting one's time writing query letters, why not work on that next manuscript instead?

As an indie author, myself, I'm on board with Howey. Independent authors should feel confident, regardless of the slurs slung at them. Aside from the better royalties, increased control and, well, equal marketing effort, self-publishing puts writers in good company. The likes of well-established bloggers Penelope Trunk and James Altucher, have chosen the indie way. And author E.L. James, whose smash hit 50 Shades of Grey started as free fanfiction blog posts, has enjoyed immense commercial success. There are many other self-published books that have climbed to the top of the bestsellers lists.

Predicting the future of literary output, Vinjamuri says, "[the] near certainty is that mainstream authors who don't reach the blockbuster sales of Brad Thor or Sue Grafton -- but have an established audience -- will choose the favorable economics of Indie publishing." Considering the fiscal superiority of a self-governing book release certainly casts the "wannabes" in a different light.

Furthermore, such an accessible means of book distribution has ineffable value as a growing form of artistic expression. We've got indie music, independent filmmaking, and now, independent publishing. And why the heck not? It's the Hotel Café of writing. The SXSW of literature. Just because something is distributed independently makes it no less an art form than something released on a mass scale. On the contrary, those whose snobbery requires the green light from yesterday's monopoly holding publishers must only need it as a stroke to their egos -- not as anything to do with the craft of writing.

Who's to say what is worthy of being read when thousands and thousands of queries pass through one tiny literary agency each year? It is impossible for each query or sample to get its due attention. How is every manuscript to be fairly passed through a tiny funnel of agents and publishing houses? They simply cannot be. Thus, independent publishing is not just an avenue for sloppy, scribbled works likened to rubbish (admittedly, it does allow an outlet for that stuff, too), as many deem it; it is also an avenue for hundreds of undiscovered talents. Even a number of famous classics started as independent endeavors.

The publishing industry is evolving, no matter what anyone says. It's only a matter of time and progress before we reach a new standard. And enduring a little resistance in the face of change is often a part of the process. So to all indie authors, I encourage you to ignore those sanctimonious bullies. Keep writing, keep reading, keep learning, and keep publishing.