When my young son came home from school quietly wiping tears from his eyes one day, I asked what was wrong.
Turns out some of the other kids at school in our gang-infested town had called him a “bastard” as he was walking home. Not for any particular reason, but just to be jerks. Kids do that sometimes.
That word carries an unfortunate and untrue stigma, that a person born out of wedlock is somehow a lesser person.
Of course, it’s all foolishness, even idiocy. But as children are wont to do, my young son took it to heart.
My reaction? I just laughed.
I didn’t get angry or upset or call the school or confront the little smart-alec wannabe gangsters. The latter were their parents’ and society’s problem, not mine.
When he looked up at me, surprised at my reaction and the broad grin still on my face, I said, “Son, do you know what a ‘bastard’ is?”
He nodded, then quietly defined it for me.
I said, “So ARE you a bastard?”
He shook his head.
I said, “Then what does it matter to you what they think or what they call you?” Then, knowing me, I probably recited the “sticks and stones” rhyme.
He looked up and smiled. Everything was fine.
Flash forward to the present day.
Some adults say things just to be jerks too, though I usually use another term for them that evokes another name for “donkey” coupled with a depression in the ground where dirt is missing.
When adults say stupid, harmful things it’s usually out of a sense of inadequacy and inferiority. Pulling others down to their level is their way of making themselves feel superior.
Readers and even other writers do it all the time. Sometimes, self-published (Indie) writers even do it to the writer in the mirror.
Out of the entire history of humanity, traditional publishing as it exists today has been around only since the late 1940s or early 1950s with the advent of mass-market paperbacks. That’s right. TradPub has been around for only 60 or 70 years. Before that, pretty much EVERYONE was self-published.
Yet traditional publishing has always harbored that sense of inadequacy and inferiority. That and a desire to maintain their sense of power as “gatekeepers” caused them to attack those writers who choose to believe in themselves enough to write when and what they want and to publish their own works.
But the TradPubs went farther. They intentionally attached an illogical stigma to self-publishing. And for some inane reason, a lot of people — even writers themselves — bought into that stigma.
But again, it’s illogical. Think about it.
If a chef believes in himself and his abilities and decides to open a restaurant (or a mechanic or carpenter a shop or a lawyer a practice), nobody snubs their nose and refuses to patronize the place because it’s a self-started, self-funded business. And it’s the same with any other business you can name.
And if you aren’t ready yet to think of writing as a business, that’s fine too.
Because it’s also the same with the other arts. If a photographer takes and sells his own photographs (or a painter her paintings or a sculptor his sculptures or a songwriter or musician her songs) nobody so much as bats an eye.
Yet a writer is to his or her stories exactly what a sculptor is to sculptures, a songwriter or musician to songs and music, a painter to paintings and a photographer to photos.
Why should it be any different for novelists and short story writers who believe in themselves and choose to publish their own stories?
Of course, the answer is, it shouldn’t. Because it ISN’T any different. At all.
So how do I combat that stigma?
I proudly proclaim that some of my long works have been traditionally published but that I would never go that route again.
When they look surprised and ask why, I say, “Because now I believe in myself and my work enough that I don’t need some 20-something acquisitions editor making minimum wage in New York to validate what I do.”
Some of them even ask a question they would never dream of asking another business person or artist: “But do you make any money at it?”
Frankly, how much money I make is none of their business, is it? But to feed the self-critical monster that’s feeding them, I smile knowingly and say, “Enough that I’ll keep writing.”
Finally, if you’ve never had works traditionally published and choose to be an indie writer and publisher, so much the better. You haven’t wasted as much time as I did on tiny royalties.
So good on you. Be proud of who you are and what you do.
‘Til next time, keep your head up and keep writing!
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