Why I Heart Indie Writers

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I was thinking about the brouhaha over at Big Al's Books & Pals blog concerning the now-infamous Jacqueline Howett, who wrote THE GREEK SEAMAN. If you missed it and you're in the mood for some eyeball-pinwheeling excitement, click here.

Welcome back. Still dazed? Here, let me get you a chair. Sit down and catch your breath.

I'm sure that the unpleasant incident has spawned hundreds of blog entries about professionalism in publishing. But I'd like to use it to talk about something much more upbeat: the fact that I've been extremely accessible to other writers and readers on Twitter for almost two months now, and have only met one soul who was a bit clueless, but only because he hadn't done his homework. (Steven Umstead can tell you I was quite the ignoramus when I first landed on Twitter--shut up, Steve, and keep the dark secret about the crazy old writer lady! :D)

The amusing thing is that all my indie friends recoiled from Ms. Howett's over-the-top behavior more than I did. Having been in the writing profession forever, I've seen lots and lots of temperamental types and plenty of bad behavior.

It's the occasional temperamental/insane type that some print-published authors remember. Unfortunately, there are always one or two of them at almost every sort of convention, and I have more than a few harrowing memories of being confronted and physically frightened by such individuals.

I can't speak for other authors, but I suspect that this fear of danger or unpleasantness is what makes some authors avoid rubbing elbows with their fans.

But here's my philosophy: 99.9% of the readers/writers I've encountered over the course of my career have been absolute sweethearts. Many of them are now long-time friends. I really like them--because, for one thing, they share my love of a good book. They READ.

And I really love indie authors, because they're not resting on their laurels, the way too many print-published authors are. They're out there trying to learn as much about writing fiction as they can. Most of them are able to disengage their egos and learn the importance of rewriting. Can I repeat it here? WRITING IS REWRITING. I have to work hard at it. There's no point in trying to become an author if you aren't willing to sweat blood.

But you, o professional indie community I've found on Twitter, you guys love to study the craft. You love to talk writing. You love to read and learn. You are uber-polite and helpful. How can I NOT adore you? How can I NOT feel like I've stumbled onto a treasure trove?

Before I first warbled on Twitter, I felt very isolated. I've been writing 30 years, and as Stephen King says, there's no way you can sit down and write every day for 30 years and not get better at it. I started out as a teacher, however, and I miss it terribly. In fact, I was recently considering teaching creative writing at a local university, but realized there was no way I could teach and meet my deadline obligations.

Now I'm having the time of my life chatting with friends on Twitter about the craft of writing. I still don't have the time to teach or read manuscripts, but I feel better. I get to talk about something I love with other people. (My DH's idea of a great read is a treatise on economic theory. He doesn't do fiction. And frankly, my dog isn't all that interested in hearing about it, either.)

There's only one part about this that makes me sad: I like to help people, and unfortunately, the problem is that I get several hundred requests (or more) every year from people looking for someone to help them "break into" publishing. Imagine this, dear indie writer: You're a normal person, a teacher, say. You get laid off, so you decide to write a book during your "free" semester. You work all by yourself, too shy to go to conventions or to befriend other writers. You study all the books on writing you can get, work your bottom off to write a good, exciting manuscript, send it off one day, and--amazingly--it sells over the transom. Unagented.

Suddenly you're a commodity. Suddenly everyone wants to be your agent. Suddenly your in-laws, your friends, your cousins, your cousin's friends, all whip out manuscripts. You start to become reluctant to admit what you do; from that moment on, most of the people that meet you will see you only as a means to getting published themselves. I've had neophytes try to shame me into it: "Certainly someone helped you get your start."

Um, no.

Or, worse, your very presence in the room will make some people feel inadequate or nervous. (Since I started life as a severe social phobic, this always makes me feel bad for the other person.)

But here's the bad news: It doesn't matter who you know in publishing.

Did you hear that?

IT DOESN'T MATTER WHO YOU KNOW IN PUBLISHING. BEFRIENDING AN AUTHOR ISN'T GOING TO HELP GET YOU PUBLISHED.

At best, it might get you some really helpful pointers on how to improve your fiction. If the writer REALLY likes you, you might even get your manuscript partially edited. But in the end, with publishing, THE WORK SPEAKS FOR ITSELF.

That's it. That's the secret to publishing. Write a good book, one that's exciting and makes the reader want to turn every page, and you'll get published.

So...the wise indie writer knows that THE most important thing s/he can focus on isn't Twitter or social media marketing or networking. (I'm NOT saying they're aren't important, they are...they're just not THE ONE MOST IMPORTANT THING.)

It's the quality of the work that matters. It's the work that sells. Not you, and not the amount of marketing you've done. The reader doesn't give a fig about your ego; she cares only about the words on the page. Therefore, take the most care not of your image, but of your writing. Develop a callus when it comes to accepting valid critiques of your work and when it comes to editing yourself.

NEVER SETTLE FOR OKAY. Okay doesn't sell. Keep striving, and most importantly, keep on writing!

Are you on Twitter? Do you like to talk about books, writing, techniques, craft of writing, etc? Come hunt me down. I'm @jkalogridis. Don't care who you are. If you love writing, feel free to say hi. I'm tame and don't bite.

3 Comments

Great post. I cringed at Jacqueline Howett's behavior because unfortunately, right now indie's are judged on the behavior of the most vocal of us. Being indie may mean we can challenge a few rules now and then, act a little punk, use our creative license to try new things, but it is never an excuse for unprofessional behavior OR bad grammar. Being indie is not license to publish crap and then blame the reviewer.

Like I always advise new writers (and myself), "Learn the rules so you know how to break them with style". As Jacqueline Howett shows, that doesn't just apply to the mechanics of writing, but also to the social dynamics of the industry.

And networking doesn't work like some people think it does. It's not about putting on an act to impress some connected person so you can then pull them like a lever and make them do your bidding...

Networking is about being yourself, making genuine friends and contacts, leaving whatever impression (or not) you can on an honest level, and then letting whatever happens go naturally. It has to be a two-way relationship, give and take. And any positive benefits I get from "who I know" are subtle... aside from benefits that come from "normal" relationships with "nobodies" (and nobody is a nobody! All contacts are important!), the most I can expect is knowledge and possibly new contacts (from which I can only expect more of the same).

I think great people rub off on each other and help each other become great, but it's not because the one in the powerful position goes to an editor and gets their friend's crappy manuscript published. That never happens. It happens because great people are willing to learn from one another, and as you said, accept criticism.

Insightful post. :) Thanks!

We heart you as well, Jeanne. Thanks for being encouraging and supportive to all writers.

Thank you so much for that post Jeanne. I am a self-published author, and it is extremely important for me to receive such kindness from an author who has chosen the traditional route.
I agree with you up to a point. I am not sure what exactly it is that makes some books stand out from the crowd. I have read best sellers that did not touch me to the core, and I have read books that did not sell a lot, that kept me awake for many nights in a row.

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