Late last year, I was a guest at a function with a friend of mine and as I was introduced around, one lady said, “Hello, and what are you?”
I smiled, shook her hand, chuckled a bit and replied, “Um, human?”
She did not seem amused at my response though her companion (a male), did chuckle. She cast him a sideways “look” and pressed on. “No dear, I mean what is your job?”
“Ah!” I nodded. “Well, I’m a retired US Air Force veteran and a…”
Before I could finish, she interrupted with a tone of irritation behind her tight smile.
“Yes, I heard that already,” she frowned and sounded very exasperated. I stared to become uncomfortable. “I mean what job do you do NOW?” She was leaning into my space for emphasis (I think).
“I am a writer.” I said, flatly. “Actually, I’m an author.”
She stared at me and said, “I heard about your hobby, dear. But don’t you have a real job?”
And then the snark in me, smirked, leaned in very close, and whispered, “I’m actually a midnight sex goddess but I don’t like to brag.”
“You aren’t very funny.” She huffed and her companion laughed out loud as she jerked him away.
“Obviously.” I smirked and went to get a coffee refill.
This conversation serves to highlight something I think most writers experience. Unless you have a full-time job as a journalist, creative writing professor, professional blogger, ghostwriter, magazine editor or some sort of profession where you draw a regular paycheck for your written words, you have met the enemy who thinks you have a frivolous hobby as a “writer” and basically you are a waste of space.
Worse, if you are a self-published author, you most likely have met the demons who believe you are a narcissistic writer.
Among writers, editors and other creative people, the world of the Indie Author no longer draws the skepticism, cynicism, and mockery of years past. However, there remains a large population of the traditionally published, the yearning-to-be-published, the I-only-read-NY Times-best sellers readers, and a whole generation of writers over 50 who think self-publishing means vanity press. You know, pay the publisher on proviso that you buy 500 books (or more). Or someone will ask, how can anyone possibly be seen as serious if you don’t have an agent and a Simon and Schuster, Random House or Penguin imprint contract?
The times they are a-changin’ but maybe not as fast at the “real world” level as magazines and literary books might want you to believe.
There still exists this idea that if you are a “real” author, then you are a James Patterson or Patricia Cromwell, making serious money and doing nothing else. Or, what is really believed is that you are a struggling author, barely surviving. Anything else assumes that your writing is a hobby, something to be done in the dark, late at night, when your “real” work has ended (little do they know this is truer than they realize). Worse, you are some late night hack, posting to fly-by-night websites who serve no purpose but to annoy and clutter the already overpopulated web landscape.
The truth is that the Indie Author is becoming as mainstream as the traditionally published author. And most of the long-term Indie Authors (the ones who are serious and working at a book or two a year), make more in royalties than the new traditionalists (unless you wrote Harry Potter, The Historian or Fifty Shades of Grey). Still, the stereotype continues that assumes Indie’s are lacking in talent or know-how to achieve traditional publishing, when the truth is that traditional book publishers are fading in the shadow of the Indie author. Writers and those who work with writers know this.
The Indie Author is a trailblazer, a risk taker, a storyteller, a historian, a reporter, a teacher, a parent, and a child. Inside every author all these characters exist, live and breathe and are merely waiting to be born. The Indie Author knows that to deny this need is to deny oneself true self. The author knows no sex or race or religion or creed other than the Indie Manifesto – “To write the best there is, to share, to write again.”
The problem is that the average guy on the street, or woman in the party, does NOT know this. The word is not out to the everyday person. The average “Joe” is still operating on stereotypes and the battle to overcome stigmas continues. Few understand that being a writer, to become an Indie Author, is the work of the heart, and usually fills the same need as breathing.
Sadly, those who do not write DO NOT GET IT. The only way to convince the uninitiated and uninformed is to write the best damn book you can and sell it to them. We’ll win them over one well-crafted book at a time, one story at a time, one best-seller, one award-winner, one neighborhood tale, one fan fiction, one biography….one extraordinary effort at a time. It may take time. Be patient. Rome was burnt in a day but it took centuries to build the legendary city.
Be prepared. The truth is NOT out there. The Indie Author is not a fully accepted member of society. Outside of the bigger cities, people are unlikely to understand your self-serving, narcissistic, self-actualizing, vanity book. Press on anyway.
I’d like to put in one little proviso. Once upon a time, I was warned, “You can’t confuse what you do with who you are.” In other words, you are not your “job” and your job isn’t you. A caution not to define ourselves to our work so that we don’t become our jobs and forget that we are so many other things beyond our work. However, writers often do define themselves with their work. I am a writer. A writer writes. I write. Therefore I am a writer. But again, we are so much more too – wives, sister, mothers, doctors, priests, lawyers, librarians…see what I mean? So I will remind you not to confuse who you are with being a writer. But let writing become a part of who you are. You write. You are a writer. And hopefully, you will be an Indie Author.
Meanwhile, the lady who tried to put me down for being a non-functioning member of society with a writing hobby? She’s since purchased my book and I heard her tell another woman, “Oh yes, I know her. She’s an award-winning author. You haven’t read her poetry? Do you live under a rock? It’s been out over a year….”
There you have it. One book at a time. One person at a time. Write well. Sell yourself. Sell the concept and success of the Indie Author and convert the enemy at the gates!