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The Stigma against Independent Authors

One question I’ve received a lot since the beginning of my writing career is, which publishing house do I use? And my answer always seems to disappoint people. When I say I use Amazon KDP and Barnes and Noble, people tend to nod a little and look disappointed, as if they were expecting more.

There is a stigma surrounding self published writers, or independent authors. It’s an unfair stigma, which actively works against those authors who deserve just as much attention as an author with a professional publishing house. There’s this idea that, if you’re self published, you’re not as good. You’re not a good writer. When in reality, that isn’t true.

There are many reasons why someone might chose to be self published rather than go through the process of finding a literary agent and then a traditional publisher. In my case, I have a lot of studies and I can’t afford to spend hours every week writing individual query letters to dozens of literary agents that I have to research individually. I simply don’t have the time and effort to do that currently. However, I also enjoy having total freedom. I am my own boss. I get to format my manuscript however I like, I can make my own cover or pay someone else to, and I get to manage the marketing and promotion. Personally, I like being able to see behind the curtains. Some writers can’t handle that amount of work, which is fine, of course.

That being said, being an independent author comes with a lot of difficulties. Unless you can afford to pay someone to do every task, from formatting to editing to making a cover, you have to learn to do these things on your own. You’ll end up making mistakes, no matter how careful you are. Over my past 4 books I have made a lot of mistakes, including really obvious ones like not putting a copyright page at the beginning.

Marketing and promotion is also incredibly difficult. It’s something that I still struggle with, but am learning and getting better at. Tasks such as constantly managing your social media, creating promotions and advertisements, getting your name out there into the world- it’s tricky when there’s already millions of books out there.

Traditional publishing houses do all of these things for the authors they take on. To grossly simplify it, all the writer has to do is write the book, do a bit of editing, find an agent and send it away. That isn’t easy, but it’s not as much work as an independent author may need to do.

Obviously, if a traditional publisher takes on an author, it’s safe to say that they are a good writer. However, if you’re rejected, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. You might not be a good fit for that agent or publisher, or you might not be great at writing query letters- which is perfectly fine. Many writers struggle to promote their book effectively to an agent and that’s usually what brings them down.

In addition, some agents or publishers won’t accept a writer because they’re too young. This is an issue I faced multiple times when I initially looked for an agent. I was told I was too young and didn’t know what I was doing.

So many independent writers feel bad about their career or their works because they’re not with a publisher. They feel bad because they don’t think they’re valid, or they’re not good enough, or they’ll never be noticed. Independent writers have to put so much more effort into their career and be much more versatile and adaptable than people realise.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As a result, independent writers tend to learn a huge variety of skills and become very talented in the process. There’s definitely a learning curve, but it’s one worth going through.

In the end, authors published through a traditional publishing house are valid. Authors who use self publishing services are valid. Neither is better than the other. Both have their skills, both have their pros and cons. Yet there’s still a stigma around self published authors, with the idea that ‘anyone can be an author, and it requires no skill’.

And to that, I say, yes. Anyone can be an author. Anyone can learn to write, learn to be creative. That is a skill. Just because self publishing services are available to everyone doesn’t mean it takes away the talent or the ability to create good books. It means that writers who perhaps don’t have the opportunity to go through an agent and traditional publisher can still get their writing out there and make a career.

The stigma against self published writers, and this argument of regular authors being better, both need to end.

Published by Alexandra Killworth

I'm Alexandra Killworth, YA author, freelance artist and photographer and mental health activist.

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