In This New Murky World, What Makes an Author?

Here at Publetariat, April Hamilton talked about the Tools of Change conference, and mentioned in passing about the blurring lines for what makes a legitimate author. Over on his blog, Nathan Bransford is asking the same question. Publishing has always been extremely difficult. Writers have clawed and fought their way into traditional publishing contracts. And so when they get there, they want a label that defines them as special and having achieved this great feat. And that’s totally understandable. It’s a basic human need to be acknowledged for the things that we accomplish. And labels are a shorthand way of making sure that that acknowledgment happens. But for years it’s created division in the writing community. There were the real legitimate authors and then everybody else. And there were certain things you had to do to be real, legitimate, and worthy. For awhile it was pretty easy to tell who was real and who was fake. If you had a published book out, you were real. Yes, there were vanity presses, but those books could be spotted a mile away, and not only did they not sell, but they didn’t have any avenues to sell. There was no Amazon.com or any other online venue, and there was no danger that a bookstore was going to stock them. And Physical brick and mortar bookstores were where the book sales were happening. Then came ebooks and print-on-demand, and that real author definition had to become more strict. Obviously ebook authors weren’t real authors, or at least that was the prevailing wisdom. Because clearly, an ebook publisher wasn’t a real publisher. I mean they weren’t dealing with paper. And everybody knew that publishing was all about the paper. But then some ebook publishers really started to gain a following. In my own genre (Romance), we had Ellora’s Cave and Samhain (among a few others) rise up. And of course Harlequin has always made a strong and innovative ebook effort. Slowly ebook authors have become regarded as real authors though some of the snobbery still exists. But print-on-demand? Self published authors? Isn’t self published author an oxymoron? Shouldn’t it be self published hack or self published scribbler, or maybe if we’re feeling generous, self published writer? Many of us here are firmly in the indie author camp. Self published sounds vain. Indie filmmakers aren’t called: self published movie makers. Author is a title for everyone who creates something. (Check the dictionary and see for yourself.) There cannot be an approved list of publishers that defines you as an author, despite the attempts of some genre writing associations to do just that. Because of the lowered entry barriers and the fact that nearly anyone can start their own publishing imprint these days, if it comes down to, "You’re a real author if someone else published your work, but not if you published it yourself," then I could go down the street and get my neighbor to publish me. I think it’s obvious how ludicrous this is getting. The days of real legitimate authors being so easily defined are long gone, and now we live in a world of gray. As an indie, I’m proud to be here. A fellow indie, J.M. Reep, has mentioned, traditional publishing isn’t as traditional as we think it is. The tradition of publishing in the earlier days was self publishing. Authors and their families very often were the ones that got a work into print. It wasn’t a commercial NY endeavor. Some of the names on that early self publishing list might surprise people who are used to seeing NY as the only holy grail for a writer. But that was when we viewed publishing in a different way. We’re going through these same growing pains again now, as we are being forced to change our view of what makes someone an author. The lines are blurring, and perhaps the best thing we indies can do, is try not to get too sucked up in labels. You’re an author to everyone who reads your book and loves it. Chances are good most of them don’t know who your publisher is. Most of them don’t even know who Stephen King’s publisher is. So if you’re waiting for the world to collectively stand up and be impressed by the name of your publisher, that might be a long wait.

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