Joe recounted some of this in his blog post this week called “Identity and the Writer”. Before be sold those books, even after he’d written ten and had an agent, he still didn’t consider himself a writer. Because back in those days, the only way to sell books was to get an agent, get a publisher, and accept whatever contract was offered. It wasn’t until he signed a contract that he felt free to call himself a WRITER. But the first book he sold didn’t magically change because he’d signed a contract. It was the same book, and he’d always been a WRITER.
Although paid as well as authors were paid in those days, he wanted to sell lots of books and took it upon himself - and used his own money - to travel around the country (1200 bookstores in 42 states) to improve his sales and try to make a decent living. However, the coming of the e-reader and Amazon changed his life. He went into self-publishing and now makes millions. But the most remarkable thing about Joe is that he tells everyone how he did it and urges writers to self-publish too. Hundreds, maybe thousands of writers owe their success to him. I’m not anywhere near that kind of success, but his advice has been invaluable and put me on the right track too. (Luck still plays a part.)
Yet, today, years later, many self-published authors don’t consider themselves “real” writers. They mistakenly believe that Identity requires the knowledge and approval of others, those agents and editors. Legacy-published authors will tell them that lie constantly because they realize going through the old process of agent-publisher-contract didn’t make them writers after all. They just don’t want to admit it because it would blur their identity in their own minds.
As one of Joe’s commenters said, “If we pay attention to what these self-appointed bastions of literature have to say about who may call themselves writers, then we’re allowing ourselves to be subjugated and dismissed.” Another comment reminded us that many artists made no money in their lifetime, but their work is now worth millions. Do we dare to say they weren’t “real” artists?
I especially liked this response by Joe to a comment: “Why do you feel the word ‘author’ is devalued because anyone can now publish? How are you hurt by that?” Also, “If you need the approval of strangers, you’re doomed to be unhappy.”
Like Joe, I have no quarrel with those who choose to try the Legacy route, and Hybrid authors seem to do well financially. However, if it’s only validation you’re looking for - if you just want someone in the “business” - to say you’re good enough, then try this. I don’t recall who suggested it, but the idea is to pitch your book to an agent. Then, if the agent says it’s good and he/she wants to represent it, say “Thanks very much,” and go away. You’ve got your validation, but you don’t have to pay the agent 15% forever or sign a bad contract. Self-publish and use the agent’s complimentary words in your promotion. Win-Win.