The Loneliness of Self-Publishing

Excuse the super-long post as I talk about something close to my heart today. I recently discovered that two people I know through blogging have decided to self-publish their work. Not only have they decided to self-publish, but they have told me part of their decision to self-publish was because of me and my own path to self-publish Cinders. I won’t get into why this scares the crap out of me. Instead I want to talk about a side of self-publishing I don’t talk about very often in public.

First of all, you must know I’m a huge advocate of the Indie movement in publishing. I love small publishers. I love self-publishers. I love doing things myself. I love the unbeaten path. Last September I did a series of posts on The Literary Lab blog about my self-publishing journey titled: Why Self-Publishing Is Better Than You Think. I still think self-publishing is a fantastic way to go for many people, but as you’ve probably noticed, I didn’t stay on that path. I knew I most likely wouldn’t, and that it would be more of a necessary stepping stone than a complete path. For some it is an entire career choice. For me it was one bridge to cross over to another. Today I want to share a few things I discovered as I journeyed on that short bridge.

not for the faint of heart

It took a lot of courage to self-publish my novella. A lot of courage. I lost sleep over it. I made myself literally sick many times, but I also knew deep down that it was something I truly wanted to try.

Honestly, it was a risk.

I knew that it was my first book, my debut, in a way. I knew that by putting it out there with my name on it that my career as a serious writer would be impacted forever. Even if I took the book down and never sold another copy, people would still have it on their dusty shelves, on the dashboards of their cars, in the bottom of their handbags – forgotten, lent out, torn, and maybe even read more than once. My words. My name. My story. My first book.

That’s a scary thought. I also knew that every single editor, agent and publisher who was interested in my work in the future would look up my name and see this self-published book come up with that name. What would they think of that? Would it weigh against me? For me? Would they see the bad reviews? Would they try to look up sales? They wouldn’t see all those books I sold by hand or mailed out. They wouldn’t have accurate numbers. They wouldn’t see all the reasons I self-published the book. They wouldn’t see the absolutely 100% invaluable knowledge I have gained from that venture.

So needless to say, these were huge things to consider. Huge. I knew my career would span to traditionally publishing one day and that the choices I made the day I self-published my book would impact the rest of that career for better or worse. Talk about a risk. Quite frankly, it’s still a risk. My career still has many more steps, and Cinders may follow me forever or it may simply fade nicely into the tapestry of my writing past. Who knows.

loneliness

I have many friends who are serious Indie authors. They’re making a lot of money self-publishing their books, or they are at least starting out with the much-needed excitement and energy it takes to get the ball rolling. The truth of the matter is that no matter who I talk to in the Indie world, there is a constant push against The Stigma. You know what I’m talking about. 

I recently attended a writer’s conference where I overheard several conversations about the evils of self-publishing. I also got the general vibe from some panels and other authors that there is only one way to respectably publish, and that is traditionally – preferably with a large press and a big advance. This isn’t anything against the conference or the authors, but seems to be a general attitude amongst writers – and mainly writers. Frankly, I get fed up with this attitude. It rubs me the wrong way on one too many levels. I have nothing against Big Publishing. I hope I get there one day, but it’s not my end goal by any means.

Attending that conference made me realize something. If I had decided to stick with self-publishing, I would never have felt very welcome at such a convention. It felt good to go there backed up with a “book coming out from a publisher,” and this depresses me when I think about it. Do I really need a publisher to feel validated? Really?

This all brings me to the loneliness factor for me. I have friends who are perfectly happy self-publishing. They don’t want it any other way. They might not feel the loneliness I have felt with a self-published novel, but I must put it out there that self-publishing is not an easy road. It’s hard to push against The Stigma every single day of your writing career. It affects your marketing, how you talk about your book, how you feel about your book, everything. I’ve only had a small taste of it with Cinders, but I’ve even felt it with Monarch and being with a small publisher instead of Random House. Perhaps it’s more of something I push onto myself than anything else, but I simply have not been able to ignore how isolated I felt with a self-published novel. Everything was on my own, even if I hired someone to do something for me – it was still all by myself. Even though I knew I was in good company and had many friends doing the same thing, it still felt so utterly lonely.

I envy any self-published writer who doesn’t feel these stigmas and pressures and voids called loneliness. At the same time, going through all of this has taught me valuable lessons in what I want out of my writing and my life. In the end it does not matter who publishes my work, only that I am happily writing and successfully sharing my work. Period. I’m keeping this in mind as I watch my friends boldly put their work out there by themselves. It’s exciting and honest and courageous and something I stand behind 110%.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle

36 comments

Amy Allgeyer Cook

I agree, though in my case, 'loneliness' isn't strong enough a word. As a self-published writer, I felt absolutely shunned at conferences. I stopped promoting my book completely; my heart wasn't in it anymore and honestly, my skin's just not thick enough to endure the eye rolls and catty remarks that writers (even unpublished writers) direct at self-published authors.

You're right about the stigma. I know people who wouldn't buy a self published book. The general consensus is if its so good, why doesn't a big publisher want it? I'm sure you've heard that question a thousand times. They don't understand the industry at all. I must admit that self publishing would be my last resort simply because I would like all the support and backing of a publisher and an agent, but my story will be told one way or another. I guess int he end, its all about how bad we want it. Thanks for sharing.

Oh, Michelle, you've given me much to think about today. I'm not so brave. I hate feeling stigmatized. I don't like loneliness.But then, it's lonely being a novelist without a published book, too. There's a stigma to having X-number of agents reject your work, even though you know it's good, too.Even if I had a book published by one of the Big Six, I'd feel stigmatized if it didn't make the LISTS. I'd still be one of the You-Don't-Counts.But I've never been part of the "In Crowd" before, so why worry about that now?As for your career, I can't imagine that publishing Cinders could ever be seen as a negative.

I think we all suffer from imposter syndrome, no matter what route we have chosen to take. Even authors who have the "validation" of a large advance with a large publisher talk about how they fear that someone is going to come tell them that someone made a mistake by giving them a contract. The irony is that writing is such a subjective thing. There is no way to definitively prove that one book is better than another, just that one book is liked better by a particular subset of readers than another. At some point, we have to stop looking for validation from other people, decide if our writing meets our own expectations, and move on.

Patricia Lynne

I feel ya there and glad to know I'm not the only one the idea of self publishing is getting to. I've been stressing over what I want to do. I'm waiting on a few betas to get back with me on my MS and while I'm waiting (and should be writing) I'm trying to figure out what to do. Everyone has their opinions on what I should do. Some say go traditional others say self pub. I've made a pro and con list of both but that didn't help any either.I know self pub has a stigma and that scares me but I also think it could be a good stepping stone to get a traditional publishers attention. I also love the idea of having to do it myself. That aspect excites me.But I still don't know what to do!

There's a lot I'm trying to say here, Michelle, but I'm not sure how to say it, so I'll just say this, which is part of what I'm trying to say:Every kind of publishing has its rewards and its challenges.For any author, no matter her path to publication, no matter her individual challenges, the answer does not lie in the system. They lie in their friends, their families, their spiritual lives if they're so inclined.Just as they hammer us EMT's that the foundation of our job is physical health, and that without it our jobs are going to be miserable, so it is for writers. The foundation of our job is emotional, social, and psychological health; without it, we're going to be miserable.As you know, the answer to the loneliness of self-publishing isn't going to a big publisher. Likewise, the answer to the emotional pressure of a big publisher isn't self-publishing.Writers need strong, personal support networks. Without them, we're toast.

Domey Malasarn

Michelle, Thank you for writing this. I'll say first of all that I keep in mind all of the GREAT things that you gained and learned from publishing Cinders. Given what you wrote today, I also feel really sad that the industry has gone so far out of its way to make self-publishers feel so bad. It's a shame, and I hope that self-publishers know that I at least really appreciate and admire the effort.

I've never been to a writing conference, so I've never had that experience of being shunned personally (thank goodness). I can imagine it would be pretty tough to take, though I have considered attending a regional conference just to meet other writers in person. I may rethink that, for awhile at least. Online I can sort of minimize the damage by being cautious of who I'm around, what blogs I read, and so forth – sort of "insulating" myself. I've always been sort of an outcast though – never was part of any cool cliques and every group I've been in I've been on the sidelines, never part of the core. I'm pretty used to shrugging off naysayers – I've done it all my life, starting with being home-schooled from the 3rd grade on. The self-publishing stigma is a lot like the stigma against home schooling, actually…so maybe that's why I can sort of brush it off in most cases. I do find though that the better my books sell, the less I care about what other writers think. I value my writerly friends very much, but when it comes down to it, I write for myself, and I publish for my readers. As long as I'm happy, and the readers are entertained, that's really what matters to me.

Michelle, as always, this is an honest and inspiring post. I've thought long and hard about all the pros and cons, and The Stigma has been one of the cons. Ultimately, I crossed it off ( my reasons are a long story). It doesn't mean I won't suffer the pangs of The Stigma – I do and I will. It just means that weighed against my other goals, it shrunk in importance. I'm not sure that reader's even care – as long as the book is good. And, really, the readers are the important ones in this industry. I sometimes think The Stigma is all ego-based: it satisfies the human need for a hierarchy of power. It is a lonely path to walk outside society's established hierarchies. One has to be a fool or a gambler to start that journey. I'm both, so I'm following in your brave footsteps and only hope I can be as encouraging to those who come after me as you are to us.Judy (South Africa)

Great post. I think that the stigma is likely to fade at least a little, now that e-book publishing has become so easy. Best of luck. And remember that we're right behind you in spirit. 🙂

Anne Gallagher

To you, who has been a friend and colleague, who has self-published when everyone else said it was foolish, I salute you. That took guts, and balls, and a LOT of brains. I watched how you went through it all and I was, still am, amazed at all you did. From the writing, to the type-set, to the cover and artwork, the marketing, everything. I know, I could NEVER EVER do it or even ATTEMPT to do anything like that. I just am not that smart. You should be proud of yourself, Michelle. I know I'm very proud of you. I am in awe of the things you do, how you find time to write for 3 blogs, and FB and Tweet and take care of home and family, and write more books, and edit and revise and clean the house. I can't even do half those things.Screw the conferences. I've never been to one, nor do ever think I will. It's just a popularity contest. And I was never popular so why should I start now? It's what's inside you that counts. How you feel about the work you put out there, whether by Indie, self or big 6. And if I were you, I'd be walking around with a big ol' Cheshire grin because what you've done is simply amazing.

Stephanie McGee

*hugs*I think that a lot of writers feel loneliness. I know that I feel wholly disconnected these days from the writing world. Especially after moving states. It seems like every writer whose blog I follow lives in Utah or not in the state I'm in. It feels like there's no writing community out here.I'm at a far different place in my writing journey than a lot of the people I interact with all the time. It feels lonely watching people get agents and deals and wondering if I'm going to be there someday, if my book is ready to query, etc.Loneliness is a part of this writing journey, no matter what path you take to publication.

I can't add much to all these great comments, but I do want to thank you for sharing the flip side of this brave, scary new world of indie publishing. (Actually, it's not that new, is it? Benjamin Franklin, Charles Dickens and Anais Nin all self-published.) But right now, breaking outside the prescribed, corporate, color-inside-the-lines world that restricts every aspect of modern life takes an extraordinary amount of courage. Yes, it's lonely outside the hive. But is the hive all that great? Most of us don't even want to ask ourselves that question.Thanks so much for this honest and heartfelt post.

scott g.f.bailey

What Anne said.You are very brave and inspiring, Michelle. Anyone who says differently doesn't know you at all.

scott g.f.bailey

Both Annes, that is.

Butternut Squash

You are worthy. I do think that self-published authors will be more accepted as they become more common. Jealousy will also continue to thrive in varied form. There are critics lurking in every corner. You have to be tough and do what works for you.

Oh man, you all make it sound scary. Thank you all for sharing this though, it's absolutely essential that us future indie authors know what we're getting ourselves into. (I always was the type to do things the hard way, lol!)And thank you Michelle for bringing up these topics and presenting them with such honesty! I'm very grateful that people like you have paved the way ahead of me.I guess, for me, I'll have to gather up strength from the fact that I *don't want* a traditional publishing contract, at all. Maybe ever. So if there's stigma to be had, then I'll just have to wear it with pride.Maybe I'll make t-shirts, lol! 😀

Michelle, thanks for this frank post. I think one of the biggest issues for a self-publisher is truly knowing what they want from thier writing…I am clearer and clearer on that all the time.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Rena: Hehe, thanks. 😀Amy: Shunned is a good word for it. There were several times I was literally sick, but I pushed it aside. I figured it was all me anyway, but that's just a way to deal with it. TC: I completely understand why there is a stigma, but I think there should be a point where we as writers should judge works based individually, not as a whole. It's as bad as any prejudice out there. Every writer needs different things, just like you say you'd like to be backed up by a publishers. Some writers need that, some don't.Linda: I respect you in so many ways! You have such an excellent point about it being lonely no matter which route you take – especially remaining unpublished. Cinders has NEVER been negative for me except for this aspect, and even then, this aspect has been more frustrating than negative. Like I said, that frustration has helped me realize some important things, and in that respect it's very positive.Timothy: Exactly. That's the point I mean here in the post. What I've learned from all this is that happily publishing – no matter how I do it – is the most important thing to me. The validation is not as important as my own expectations and measuring up to myself as a writer.Patricia: Self-publishing can be an excellent stepping stone, yes. It has gotten to me where I am right now even though I'm pretty sure I would have been able to get traditionally published in other ways. This was a good route for me, and it has taught me a lot. It's certainly a personal decision only YOU can make. I did Cinders for the reason that I wanted COMPLETE control. It excited me, too! I had an absolute ball doing it. I wouldn't trade it for anything!Nevets: Yes, that's what I'm getting at here – that the answer simply does NOT lie in the system, no matter which system it is. Your comment is brilliant, thank you!Davin: I'm so glad this post didn't scare you off! It's sad, yes, that many writers fall into the stigma trap, but so many things in life are that way. There's no way around it. The most we can do is break down those walls on an individual basis. Jamie: It's sad that we feel like we have to insulate ourselves, isn't it? If you want to meet other writers, the conference may be a great idea. Just be prepared for what you might run into. I'm happy to hear you can brush it off. That makes me really happy that you can! It gives me hope that more indies can do it as well. You're right. The readers are who matter.Judy: You'll find that most readers who aren't "in" the writing circle could care less about how your book is published. They just want a great final end product. I think you're right about the hierarchy of power. It's a natural human instinct to fall into that. It's something I believe won't go away for a very long time. You know I'm always here to support you! Your book will be amazing!Misha: I think there will always be a stigma, but it might shift to different areas, which is hopeful!

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Anne: You always make me glow inside, did you know that? *HUGS* Thank you for your kind words. I really am proud of what I've accomplished, but like you imply, it takes a lot of work and it's natural to get down on myself. Thank you for always being there to lift me up. Stephanie: It's true that loneliness is a part of this journey no matter where we are – even if we reach the Big Publishing. I know some writers personally who are there, and it's still hard ever single step of the way. I don't believe it ever gets easier.Anne: I'm discovering that even inside the hive this loneliness exists. Still, I think it's a great journey to see what's outside the hive, at least, to explore, and then decide where to go from there.Scott: Aww, thank you!Butternut: Doing what works for us in our own circumstances is the only way to go. It's sad that some are judged for that, though. I hope it does get better. It looks like things already are from the amount of people here who have commented!Laura: Sadly, it IS scary! However, I think publishing in any form is scary. The most successful Indie authors I have seen are wearing that stigma with pride. I say go for it!Bridget: It wouldn't surprise me if self-published authors in general have a clearer vision of exactly what they want out of their writing.

Susan Kaye Quinn

One of the things I love about you is your pure, open honesty! For a writerly world that thinks of itself as being very open-minded, there are many who can be very closed-minded on this subject. It's not the readers – they just like good stories. It's not really the publishers either, because I think they know full well the reality that many, many great writers will not make it through the traditional publishing gauntlet. It mostly seems to be our fellow writers, as one of your commenters mentioned, trying to establish some kind of hierarchy in a world so confoundingly subjective.Here's something to consider: ESTABLISHED authors, that have been previously mutiply published in traditional publishing, are turning to smaller publishers and even self-publishing. Why? Because the economics favor it, for them, putting up e-books their out-of-print backlists that were previously "approved" by traditional publishers but no longer justify a print run. There doesn't seem to be a stigma attached to that. Perhaps when the electronic dust settles, we'll see a shift in mores about this. I, personally, think there are different routes for different authors with different goals, and I wish them all the best of luck!

Thank you, Michelle, for another great post and words of wisdom! "Stigma" is the perfect description…But as I've watched you on your journey (and embarked upon my own) I have to say "suck it" to the stigma. I have never had more fun with my writing than I am having now!

josephrobertlewis

I guess I'm a little confused by this. Since self-publishing, I've made tons of new writer-friends and reader/fan-friends. I'm very far from lonely. The opposite, in fact.My confusion is, why would you want to spend time around people who treat you badly? If you choose to self-publish, why go peddling to the industry at their conferences at all? Why seek approve or acceptance from them?

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Susan: You're right that things are changing. It's good to keep an open mind about publishing and that there is no one right way to do things because everybody's goals are different. I think a lot of writers close their minds to this.Dee: Yes! That's so great that you are having such a fantastic journey. I am, too, and I wouldn't have it any other way or change anything I've done so far. It has been amazing!Joseph: I didn't go to the conference seeking approval from anyone. That's just the vibe I got. I mostly went to hang out with the genuine friends I've made through blogging and publishing. Amazing how that works! I'm glad you have had a great experience as well. When I speak of loneliness, I don't mean loneliness as in having no friends, I mean loneliness as in writing is a lonely profession, and self-publishing can make one feel even more isolated because of the stigma. I'm glad you haven't dealt with that at all!

Michelle, read the most recent interview on my blog . The interviewee, Julian Gallo, makes a cogent point: movie producers, singers and other artists frequently finance their own projects with no "stigma."Who do you think created the "stigma of self-publishing"? Who has the most to gain? Who, at literary conferences, are on panels deriding self-published authors? Well, could be that the agents and publishers are the ones who would like to remain the "gatekeepers." No one seems to mind that "big name" authors are putting their names on books others have written. But the now-fading gatekeepers have every reason to try to maintain the status quo for as long as possible. Look at J.A. Konrath's blog. He makes a superlative case for self-publishing.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Tom: Thank you. I honestly don't think Konrath is in the same boat as an unknown writer first putting out their book, but he does give us something to aspire to in the fact that self-publishing can be bigger than we might first think. It will be nice if writers ever reach the point where they can work like other artists and finance their own projects without a stigma.

I can totally understand your feeling of The Stigma – but I'm feeling it less and less after I've realized a few key things. First of all, it's traditional publishing that wants you/us to keep thinking that theirs is the only way, the right way, because that obviously serves their interests. Second, I had to really break it down and determine what advantage they really had over self-publishing, other than the distribution access. And I couldn't really find anything that would justify continued belief that theirs was the only way. Really, as an entrepreneur, you can do your own editing, cover, publicity, online sales strategy, etc., or hire someone to do it for you. That traditional print business model is collapsing, and, as we continue to see e-books and their platforms selling like crazy, The Stigma self-publishing still has has will diminish accordingly.Jim Arnold Communications

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Jim: Thank you for your comment. As someone who has both self-published and traditionally published, I'm beginning to see the differences. I see many pros and cons to both, honestly, and I feel that there is no right way to publish. Each author has to figure out what will work best for them. It's nice that we have the option!

Thanks for the post, Michelle! I believe it comes down to why we write, and knowing our true intentions. After 2 years of rejections, I decided to self-publish. I had to transform my fear and embarrassment of self-publishing into love…love of the process and the message within story that wanted to be told. It is amazing, the process…my life each and every day is different beacuse of the choice I made. It is lonely if I believe that I am seperate from those around me. But, I realize we're all connected. My choices and actions ripple…Your blog found me and my night took a different course. So, in those days and night when i feel lonely, I remember these things…and the self-published books I've read in that changed my life for the good! 🙂

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Alexandra: We really are all connected, and that has been the biggest factor in helping me deal with the loneliness I have felt at times. Thank you so much for coming by!

Rick Perry, SelfPublishingHouse.com

I know that lack of lovin' feelin' towards self-published authors at trade shows. I started out self-published, did the trade shows, and then for many years published other authors. It is true that many publishers and book buyers used to breeze by self-published authors at trade shows. At Book Expo America, they actually group self-publishers together. Over there. Against the wall. Things are changing. Trade shows will grow to accommodate the increasing number of self-published authors. As we work our way in to the main floor, the self-publishing stigma will be gone with the wind. Publishers and self-publishers will integrate. It has to happen. We're just too many ants!To be a "special" ant we must stand out and show that we've got wings! To do that we must offer more than a book in a booth. Wherever you go to promote your book provide some kind of benefit. Make your presence interesting. Do a demo, offer free fix-it advice, give something interactive away. Offer food. Like cookies, milk and sample recipes to promote your cookie book (oh, and it better be a pretty special cookie book!). If you can slow people down you can begin a dialog. Talk about the things you are doing to promote your book. Get a crowd at your booth or table. We're rubber neckers by nature. Create intrigue. People must know what's going on. Then deliver. Point is, your imagination will end loneliness and any stigma. You might spend a few dollars, but you will stand out.It doesn't matter that you are self-published. That's not what disinterests buyers. Dullness is. Plenty of self-published books have beat the odds. Your success is directly linked to how dynamic, energetic, positive, and over-the-moon lovin' you are about your book AND promoting your book. We are contagious by nature. Let your contagious nature out. Be remarkable. You will shatter loneliness to smithereens all the while adding to the growing credibility of being self-published. Rick Perry

joleenenaylor

It is lonely, and that is one of the reasons I like it. i like to do it all myself, by myself, for myself. Control freak much? maybe.But, I know what you mean about the stigma. It's everywhere and I've also noticed it;s mainly other writers. Most readers have no idea where a book was published, and if you use an imprint name then it means even less to them. I won't lie. I don't bother with writer's conferences. But that's more of that "alone" syndrome, i think ;)Honestly, there aren't a lot of writers I get along with, though I've found more since I started the indy publishing journey. For some reason there's a large majority of writers that just want to be mean, catty and tear everyone else down. I just can't get into that.sorry for the ramble, but great post!

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Rick: Thanks for your advice!Jolene: I'm glad you get the loneliness thing, but that you are ok with it! I might not attend a lot of conferences in the future, but we'll see.

fran houston

i am self published with Maine Authors Publishing which is an authors co-operative. It is truly amazing. A wonderful experience. A one of a kind company. Check it out. http://www.maineauthorspublishing.com/

Julian Gallo

Hi Michelle!Happened to come across your blog post this afternoon. I totally hear what you're saying. I tend to look at it this way: When musicians release their own CDs, they're called "Indie Bands". When filmmakers finance and release their own films, it's called "Indie Film". For some reason, authors don't seem to get that title. They're sneered and jeered at (even though many now famous authors initially self-published—Walt Whitman being one of them–and authors have been releasing their own books for a long time—or at the very least had their friends finance and "publish" them.) The stigma is beginning to lift though. People of our generations who grew up understanding the whole Indie/DIY esthetic are beginning to move into the realm of books as well. Things will change. And once the herd gets wind that it's "ok" to self-publish, they'll all follow along like the lemmings they are. Ignore the naysayers. You're being read while they still have their novels sitting in the drawer. Think of it that way. 🙂

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