Do Self-Published Authors Bear a Stigma?

Self-Published Stigma

I came across this article by indie author Liz Long wherein she laments the stigma attached to self-published writers.

My local media (newspaper, TV, radio) won’t review my books because they don’t have a Big 5 publisher name attached. My own alma mater, Longwood University, told me they won’t feature my successes in their alumni magazine because I don’t have a traditional publisher. (I found this out AFTER they agreed to feature me, then retracted the offer once they realized I was self-published).

It’s a shame that newspapers, TV and radio stations, and universities are shunning an author just because she’s self-published. Yet this particular room plays host to a rather obvious elephant. Ask yourself: are these old media organs denying the author validation because they’re mean, or might they have a cultural and financial interest in promoting traditional publishing over indie?

It’s probably no coincidence that self-published authors are eating tradpubbed authors’ lunch.

Liz goes on to say: “I’m not saving lives like my EMT sister or building kids’ foundations like my teacher husband. They’re the ones who should be in the limelight…”

She’s absolutely right. Authors make essentially the same contribution to society as sideshow performers, magicians at kids’ birthday parties, and morning rush hour radio show hosts. That doesn’t mean we deserve to be jilted or insulted by cultural institutions. It does mean that, fallen human nature being what it is, legacy pub-affiliated institutions are predisposed to dismissing indie authors.

So yes, the stigma attached to indie authors by declining media organs is self-interested and unjust. How should self-published authors respond?

First, internalize the above paragraph. The old gatekeepers and the institutions that support them consider themselves the rightful arbiters of literature and artistic taste. Indie publishing arose specifically to circumvent these folks, and indie’s thriving presents them with uncomfortable proof that they don’t always know best.

In short, when you’ve made an end run around the gatekeepers, don’t expect them to shower you with praise.

Second, your odds of suffering anger and frustration are minimized if, before you decide whether to go the tradpub or indie route, you carefully consider why you’re seeking publication and what you want to get from it.

For those who are grappling with this decision, reasons to self-publish are: making 5.6x higher royalties than legacy published authors, not needing the gatekeepers’ permission to publish, cutting out the middleman and reaching readers directly, retaining full creative control over every project, retaining all rights to your work, accepting the full responsibility for your own success or failure.

The sharp-eyed among you have noticed that “receiving accolades from old media outlets and cultural institutions” does not appear on the list. Therefore, if you want these things–and I begrudge no one who does–apply to the gatekeepers who are inclined and empowered to grant them. If you want maximum freedom and control over your work, publish it yourself.

Whichever option seems best to you, go and pursue it with my blessing.

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About Brian Niemeier

Brian Niemeier is a John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer finalist. His second book, Souldancer, won the first ever Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel. He chose to pursue a writing career despite formal training in history and theology. His journey toward publication began at the behest of his long-suffering gaming group, who tactfully pointed out that he seemed to enjoy telling stories more than planning and adjudicating games.