Thursday, August 9, 2012

Indie Publishing... does accessibilty help or hurt author image?

 Since Eugene posted her article on the fight between authors and reviewers I have been reading quite a bit of articles about the bullying debate.  As I read the blogs and comment threads I couldn’t miss the harsh tones and the aggression in the notes.  I reflected on my impression of authors as a child, as a teenager and later in life when I first published.  The kind of image that I am getting now is nothing like the one I had originally.

I always saw authors with a little mystique.  You know their work, a few sentences about their lives, but they basically kept a low profile.  Authors weren’t plastered over the national Enquirer.  Their web pages spoke more of their body of work than their lives.  There was a kind of nobility that I associated with the profession.  And yes, I remember at first when I said I was a published author, people were impressed.  Today, just a few short years after my first publication, being a published author seems to have very little impact on anybody.  What I get is the reaction, “I’m thinking about publishing a book too.” Wow, what a shift!

Could the accessibility to publishing offered by Indie publishing  be hurting the author image? 
Once ago few authors got their work published because they had to go through very selective publishing houses and vanity presses were seen as second class at best.  While authors promoted their work with book signings, tours, interviews and readings, they usually kept a low profile.  When a reviewer reviewed their work, the author remained silent, whether that reviewer liked their work or not (for the most part; I know there are blatant exceptions).  Because the publishing houses excluded so many and self-publishing was such an expensive venture, a few things happened, that affected authors and the industry both positively and negatively:

1.        Much fewer writers got their work published
2.       Potentially great books were overlooked
3.       Being a published author placed one into an elite group of published authors
4.       Most authors made little from their published books; yet money did not appear to be the greatest driving force, but the craft itself
5.       The author image was one of mystique, respect, and accomplishment

With the Indie revolution where anyone could publish anything cheaply the landscape changed.  The author is no longer just the creative mind behind the art, but the marketer-in-chief, the publisher, and CEO of his brand.  Author visibility increased.  There is a fervor to get one’s name out there and the driving force is to make writing lucrative.  The more blogs I read, the more I hear authors discussing the money aspect of writing and the less I hear of the love and passion of the art.
The biggest change I see, though, is the image.  Being a published author is no longer for an elite few whose work is bought and marketed by major publishing houses. And even the publishing houses expect authors to do the majority of their own marketing (so much for the mystique). I’m seeing contentions between publishing houses and right reversion played out publicly in blogs and on websites.  There is such an increase in competition for the market that even the offer of a free book has no appeal.  Contests have few participants.  Fights between authors and reviewers are hurting the image of both author and reviewer, and since many reviewers are also authors competing for the same markets you have to wonder about the integrity of some reviews.

Though I’m partial to that image of the author as an artist with a low profile, I know I have to embrace the new image of the author as the CEO and Marketer-in-chief.  But doesn’t that just tarnish the image?  Doesn’t it make you feel like part of that group that my mother would refer to as “wash your foot and come”?

Now this essay is by no means intended diminish the great contributions and work of Indie authors or publishers, but to merely examine the impact on the image of authors in this new landscape.  I would love to hear your opinion on this, whether you agree or disagree.  Does the accessibility afforded by Indie publishing hurt or help the author image?  And what exactly is the author image?


Lynn Emery said...

The biggest change is how the Internet has made us all less mysterious! Mostly the bad behavior was known to authors, agents, editors and reviewers. Few readers got involved (no blogs, social media back then). Now with Facebook, etc. it's all out front. Well most of it. Readers learn about feuds and tantrums fast as warp speed. Lots of authors have slipped into the mistake of not realizing just how public saying anything online can become, I mean like around the globe in a nano second (I'll bet even ET has heard about some of the biggest blow ups! LOL). Sometimes authors forget the old advice to rant and vent to close trusted friends, but not in public. Instead they don't think before hitting that "post" button.

Way back in the olden days, the 90s LOL, I learned quickly not to say anything online that I didn't want repeated on CNN. Still, most readers don't know about all the drama, because although it seems like everyone is on Goodreads or visiting sites like Dear Author, the numbers of folks who don't know and aren't online is still really large. They want us to be accessible, but I get the feeling that readers don't want to see us throwing hissy fits, read about our pets, husbands, politics, etc. Maybe I'm still the old school "keep that stuff to myself" author! LOL

I think we're all adjusting to the new world of publishing, readers included. Like all things, change is bad and good.

bettye griffin said...

Excellent post, Jewel! Yes, these days it seems as though everybody and their mama is an author. People have befriended me on Facebook simply for the purpose of advertising their books on my wall. Everyone on Facebook is not your friend! And as Lynn said, there is an abundance of personal information on social networking, not only useless information like what you had for lunch, but potentially damaging information like saying you're going on vacation before you go rather than after you get back. The idea of announcing to thousands of people that your home will be vacant for such-and-such a period gives me the willies. Did I mention that everyone on Facebook is not your friend?

Jewel Amethyst said...

Lynn, I guess we need to be reminded ever so often that what we say can have far reaching consequences. I saw some nasty comments on some blogs that made me cringe. The thing is, people associate the author with that persona, even if it was a rant done in the heat of the moment.

While being accessible can be a good thing, too much exposure does have its repercussion, especially if the exposure is more about your life and drama than you work.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Bettye, "Yes, these days it seems as though everybody and their mama is an author" you forgot and their dog (lol).

I have warned friends of mine over and over again about not posting their whereabouts on Facebook, but they would still post even the hotel where they stayed. It makes me uneasy too.

What makes me uneasy about facebook too is people posting photos of you (whether or not you're aware they are being taken)and tagging you. I feel there is a level of loss of control.

Eugenia O'Neal said...

I agree with what's been said, especially by Lynn. Before, the feuds and flare-ups were restricted to a fairly small circle but the internet has widened that circle. Readers and bloggers are jumping in and having their say.

The digital age has democratized publishing - it's not about a few elite publishing houses anymore - and that's a great thing! The opportunities for new authors are endless but there are also special responsibilities that the indie author must bear - the responsibility to put out a quality product being the highest among them.

Also important - the responsibility to maintain high professional standards. We don't like it when models and other celebrities come over all diva and this applies to writers, too.

Liane Spicer said...

You've hit on a number of salient points, Jewel. As a matter of fact, my next three blog posts will be about some of the issues raised in this post and Eugenia's.

I'm a private person, almost pathologically so. When I started writing with a view to publication 15 years ago, part of the appeal was that it suited my private nature. I haven't adjusted to the reality of authors having to thrust themselves 'out there' and sell themselves. (I'm in the process of following in Lynn's footsteps and migrating my FB profile to an author page for this very reason - to separate the public and private personae.)

This new dispensation is the reality and I try to work with it, but I don't have to like it. I'm disgusted by the levels to which authors have sunk, and readers are growing more disgusted every day. It seems there's very little dignity left in this calling.

There's a caveat though. I'm all for the openness when it pertains to what amounts to criminal treatment of authors by some publishers. Because of the natural reticence of true writers and the fear of being blacklisted, nobody spoke out about the egregious abuses. Now authors are networking and speaking out privately and publicly. That cannot be bad.

Charles Gramlich said...

It's definitely a two edged sword. I see and read so many good books that would never have been published under the old ways, but I also see a lot of stuff that sure did need more work and revision. and it has become so much about the exposure of the writer and getting their name out there instead of about the work. That troubles me immensely.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Eugenia, I couldn't have said it better.

Liane, change is difficult, especially when it takes a person out of his or her comfort zone. Like you, I am a very private person and hate the idea of being "out there". But like Eugenia said, putting ourselves out there comes with the responsibility of behaving professionally, even when highlighting the abuses of major publishing houses.

Charles, that is very true. I see many books that seem unnatural for the writer, but are written because that genre or type of book is the hot "money maker" of the day. For example, the success of he Twilight Series seemed to spawn a host of vampire books, some of which were poorly written, but the contrived to emulate the series.