So this past weekend, independent authors Bernard Schaffer, William Vitka and Alexander Maisey attented the WIzard World Philadelphia Comic Con. You may recall that this was the panel I was going to attend, but couldn’t. It’s probably best, because I don’t really care for asshattery, and there was apparently some afoot.
So, here’s my fumbling attempt at an open letter to those who sneer at independent authors, who are published either through small press or on their own:
Let me say first that I’ve always loved being an independent. When I was younger I was filled to the brim with entrepreneurial spirit; I’ve done contract work aplenty as a graphic artist, and as a salaried professional have helped improve the digital presences of private businesses, nonprofits and government agencies. I can get things done, no problem. But when it comes to being a long-term indie, I’ve proven myself to be pretty shit at it. Writing has proven to be a change, so it looks like I’ve found my niche, but I’ve been on both sides of this equation. I’ve seen what it’s like to put your own self out there as your brand, to fuel your ideas on a shoestring budget, and to try and sell a product and brand without the considerable resources that an established company or organization can provide.
This being the case, let me say right now that anyone mocking independent authors seriously needs to reconsider their thought processes. Now I wasn’t there to be directly insulted, so I’m not going to wave my dick around like I own that outrage. What I’m going to say, however, is that these people should know better. So they have been established through more traditional channels; this is great, hurrah, and fantastic. It means they have a larger pool of marketing resources and – more importantly – a much wider distribution network. Indies have a much harder time of getting into bookstores, for one, and you can more or less forget it if you’re self-published. So while I understand this may sound like it’s amateur hour, oh critical auteurs of the Big Five Or Whatever, I’d like you to take a step back and consider that most noble and chaotic undertaking that writing a novel has very much ended up resembling, and that is starting a band.
Sure, there are going to be a lot of shit garage outfits out there, and they’re going to break up or burn out – or in the case of the author, give up and fade away. It happens. But let’s consider all the amazing artists that are out there who got where they did on their own speed, either through small labels or just through straight up playing clubs until they either built sufficient audience capital to move to a major label or just said ‘fuck it’ and made their own. Without the independent spirit you’d have no Big Black, no Sonic Youth, no Jesus and Mary Chain, no Stone Roses. There would be no Cocteau Twins or Meat Puppets or Replacements. Definitely no Big Black. No Sub Pop, no Dischord Records, no Matador, no NME, no C86 tapes. The Smiths would brood away forever alone in some lonely Manchester corner (which they may have liked in spirit, I guess, but I digress.) There would be no punk. There would be no jazz, no rock and roll. There would be no Nirvana – whose first album, Bleach, was a complete and utter commercial failure.
So maybe put THAT way, the importance of the indepedent and the self-published author may be more clear: the studios are in their basements, their instruments are their netbooks and laptops, their distribution network the wide and powerful landscape that is the modern Internet. They do not have the resources of the larger publishers, but in the end, time and time again it has been proven that they do not need one to be successful; perhaps not as successful as those in the bigger houses, but beyond the dreams of the young writer who committed their first tentative words to existence. Please. These people deserve your respect, just as you deserve theirs, and more importantly they deserve your recognition.
After all, we were all indies at the start.
That’s all I’ve got. Have a good evening, folks.