“Journal of Janet Tallulah, Volume 2 was published this week. (amazon.com and smashwords.com) These Journals, Volume 1 and Volume 2, are the realization of my lifelong dream to publish my journals. Both are intensely personal. I think of them in the following way: Journal 1 is the hatching of a baby chicken – rough around the edges. Journal 2 is a bright yellow, baby chicken, beginning to experience life.* (*go to end of blog)
This brings me to Mark Coker’s “Indie Author Manifesto”. I particularly like #9.
THE INDIE AUTHOR MANIFESTO
By Mark Coker, originally published 2014 at the Smashwords Blog
We indie authors believe all writers are created equal, that all writers are endowed with natural creative potential, and that writers have an unalienable right to exercise, explore, and realize their potential through the freedom of publication.
- I hold these truths to be self-evident.
- I am an indie author. I have experienced the pleasure and satisfaction that comes from self-publishing.
- I have a right to publish.
- My creative control is important to me. I decide when, where, and how my writing graduates to become a published book.
- Indie does not mean alone. I choose my partners.
- I shall not bow beholden or subservient to any publisher. In my business relationships, I will seek partnership, fairness, equity, and mutually aligned interests.
- We indie authors comprise diverse writers, unified by a common purpose to advance, empower, and celebrate writers everywhere.
- I am a professional. I take pride in my work and I strive to improve my craft to better serve my readers, myself, my fellow indie authors, and the culture of books.
- My writing is valuable and important. This value and importance cannot be measured by commercial sales alone.
- I celebrate the success of my fellow indie authors, for their success is mine and mine theirs. Together, we are pioneering a better future for books, marked by greater quality, creativity, diversity, choice, availability, affordability, and accessibility.”
Okay, there you have it. Now let’s dissect it.
In the first sentence I wrote, “We indie authors believe all writers are created equal, that all writers are endowed with natural creative potential, and that writers have an unalienable right to exercise, explore, and realize their potential through the freedom of publication,” here I found a lot of inspiration from the preamble of the US Declaration of Independence, which states that all men are created equal and all men deserve the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
My critics said, “What do you mean all authors are created equal and all authors have a right to publish?” Yes, I believe that. Now I don’t believe that all writers are of equal talent, but I do believe that all writers have something valuable to share with the world. Then they should have the right to publish it for the judgment of readers. I believe it’s not anyone’s place to put one writer over another, or to decide what readers can read. Censorship and restraint of publication is almost always a bad thing.
In the spirit of the US Declaration of Independence, if it makes a writer happy to publish, then, gosh, darn it, let them pursue their happiness and publish it.
Now on to the next part, the part the begins with, “I hold these truths to be self-evident.” I used the word “I” and not “we” here because I wanted to allow writers to make the manifesto their personal declaration of publishing independence. Then following that line, “I hold these truths to be self-evident,” I list the 10 points.
Item number one: “I am an indie author.” I viewed these simple five words as the ultimate affirmation of independence. Considering where the world stood a mere five years earlier, back when self-published authors were subjected to ridicule and shamed, today’s writers are wearing the indie author label as a badge of honor. A new generation of writers view self-publishing as their option of first choice rather than as their option of last resort.
Now to item number two: “I have experienced the pleasure and satisfaction that comes from self-publishing.” If you’re already self-published, you’ve experienced this. But even if you’re preparing to publish your first book, I’m sure you can relate to it. Number two speaks to the pleasure of creative expression and the opportunity to control your own destiny. It also speaks to the heart of the human experience.
We are social animals. If you lock a person in solitary confinement long enough, they will die. We humans thrive on social connection and communication. As any writer can attest, there’s a joy in creative expression and there’s no deeper or more intricately complex or capable form of human expression than this amazing magical vehicle we call the book.
Now to item number three: “I have a right to publish.” I touched on this in the preamble of the manifesto, but I thought it deserved its own affirmative statement in the body as well. This was a radical idea when I started Smashwords in 2008, and it was a radical idea when I wrote the manifesto. Even today, it’s not a universally acceptable or accepted idea, this idea that every writer has a right to publish, but you know and I know that you deserve the right and the freedom to publish.
Now to number four: “My creative control is important to me. I decide when, where, and how my writing graduates to become a published book.” When I talk with indie authors and ask what they love most about self-publishing, creative control is almost always at the top of their list. They can publish their book their way. They control how they write what they write, how they price, how they distribute, how they engage with readers, how they do everything.
On the flip side of this, if you’re a writer who wants to focus all of your attention on writing and delegate the rest of your publishing business to someone else, then maybe self-publishing isn’t for you. That’s okay, too. Self-publishing is not for everyone.
I love self-publishing, and I think every writer should consider it, but I also want to be completely straight with you and remind you that although publishing is easy, reaching readers will always be difficult. Self-publishing requires a lot of work. The great news is that it’s your choice. You’re in control. You can choose to pursue self-publishing or pursue traditional publishing or you can pursue both.
For number five, I wanted to get across the idea that independence does not mean all alone. Most indie authors realize it takes a village to professionally produce, package, and market a book. Sure, an indie author can do everything alone if they choose, but the most successful indie authors partner with others to help their book reach its full potential. These partners can be an editor, a book doctor, a professional cover designer, a distributor, a retailer, a publicist, or even a traditional publisher. To a great degree, much of your success will be determined by your skill at selecting the right partners.
Now to number six: “I shall not bow beholden or subservient to any publisher. In my business relationships, I seek partnership, fairness, equity, and mutually aligned interests. Number six is where I caught flack for coming across as anti-publisher. If “bow beholden and subservient” sounds a little like a master-slave relationship, that’s because that’s what it was. Sure, in the old days, you could publish without a publisher, but if you want to reach readers, you have no choice. You played by the publisher’s rules or you didn’t play at all.
If you listened to the prior episodes of this podcast or if you’ve read any of my other writings over the last 10 years, you know I’m not anti-publisher. I love publishers. A great publisher is one that can do things for you that you cannot do or don’t want to do for yourself, yet we can appreciate publishers and still call them out for past transgressions and current inadequacies.
For example, most traditional publishers pay ebook authors only 12% to 17% of the list price, whereas indie ebook authors typically earn 60% to 80% of the list price. It’s completely fair for authors to believe that they deserve greater compensation for their traditionally published ebooks and it’s fair for them to believe that they deserve greater control over how publishers price and promote their books, or that they deserve more equitable rights revision clauses in their contracts if the publisher doesn’t meet certain sales threshold. It’s also fair for the publishers to pushback, to disagree and argue their case for why their terms are fair and equitable given their value add.
My main point of number six is that authors and publishers can have great relationships and great partnerships, but to achieve this greatness, both the author and the publisher must work together to achieve mutually aligned interests. My biggest criticism of traditional publishing is that due to their business model and absolute domination over print production and distribution they’ve developed long ingrained attitudes that aren’t always as pro-author as they should be.
Publishers have long practiced a culture of no. Their business model requires them to say no to most authors and to view most writers as unworthy. It’s in their business model that you serve them and they serve themselves. It’s in their business model to judge books based on perceived commercial merit.
Now you’re the author. How do these long ingrained attitudes and business model limitations make you feel? What author wants to be treated as a powerless lackey by their business partner? The power dynamic isn’t balanced.
In my view, the key to publishers’ future success is to change their attitude and recognize that publishers are service providers to authors, and not the other way around. The best publishers will treat you like a partner. Although publishers have had the power to say no in the past, today’s authors can say no to publishers. Many authors now turned down publishing contracts in favor of self-publishing. In the show notes, I’ll share a link to an interview I did with New York Times bestselling author Jamie McGuire on this very topic.
Now to number seven: “We indie authors comprise diverse writers, unified by a common purpose to advance, empower, and celebrate writers everywhere.” For number seven, I wanted to underscore that the indie author movement has brought together a diverse universe of writers, all with different backgrounds and experience levels but united by a shared purpose: to advance and support their fellow community of writers. It’s always heartwarming to witness indie authors giving back to the community and standing by their community. There’s power in unity.
Now to number eight: “I am a professional. I take pride in my work. I strive to improve my craft to better serve my readers, myself, my fellow indie authors, and the culture of books.” I know number eight resonated with a lot of indie authors because these authors know how much sweat and sacrifice they’ve devoted to pursue this crazy dream of authorship.
In number eight, I wanted to draw an important distinction between amateur and professional. For writers who adopt the Indie Author Manifesto as their own, the mere act of speaking these words out loud, of feeling these words, “I am a professional,” serves as a personal declaration of professionalism. You’re making a commitment to strive for professionalism.
Many people out there still consider self-published authors as amateurs. Most people don’t believe in you. Anyone can be an indie author amateur. These are the lazy self-published authors who don’t bother to learn best practices or who don’t bother to professionally produce a product that will make their readers proud, or who remain willfully ignorant to the reasons behind their inability to reach readers.
Indie author professionals, by contrast, approach self-publishing with pride and professionalism. Professionals honor their readers with the best possible product. They know it takes a lot of work to create that product. Professionals understand that success requires equal parts skill, perseverance, and luck.
Now to number nine: “My writing is valuable and important. This value and importance cannot be measured by commercial sales alone.” For number nine, I state a point that I’ve repeated multiple times here on the Smart Author Podcast. Indie authors and traditional publishers have widely divergent views on how books should be valued. I wanted to remind authors that the value of their writing transcends monetary measures. If your book has the potential to bring a smile to a single reader, your book is important. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, your book has the potential to change lives and maybe even save lives. What can be more important than that?
Just because your sales suck doesn’t mean that you’re not worthy. Most writers’ sales suck, whether they’re traditionally published or self-published. Most writers will have good months and bad months, good years and bad years. If you only measure your success by money, you’ll probably burn out and quit, but if you develop other measures of success, like finding joy in the creative process or making your next book better than the last or finding joy in pressing the publish button when you’re finally ready to share your soul with the world, then you’re more likely to continue writing and publishing. Therefore, you’re more likely to eventually emerge from your obscurity to achieve the greatest commercial success.
Now to the final item in the manifesto, number 10: “I celebrate the success of my fellow indie authors, for their success is mine and mine theirs. Together, we are pioneering a better future for books, marked by greater quality, creativity, diversity, choice, availability, affordability and accessibility.” Boy, that’s a lot of abilities.
This final item is packed. This idea of shared success, which I touched on in the last episode (E8: ART OF DELUSION), is a common characteristic that I observed in the most successful indie authors. They work hard, they fight to earn and deserve every reader, but they recognize that their gain is not someone else’s loss and someone else’s gain is not their loss. Every time an indie author pleases a reader, it benefits all fellow authors and it benefits all of book culture. It becomes yet another reason to celebrate indie authorship.
Number 10 also gets across the idea that, as a movement, we indie authors care about something greater than our own selfish interests. In fact, we realize that our selfish interests are inextricably linked to the fate of the greater movement. We care about books and we care about the culture of reading. We care about diversity of thought and expression. We abhor censorship in all its forms. We care about serving readers and making books accessible to all. We will all sink or swim together.
That concludes Episode Nine on the Indie Author Manifesto. I trust now you have a greater appreciation for the pivotal role you play within the indie author movement and how your contribution fits within the greater context of the centuries-old struggle for free expression. If the Indie Author Manifesto resonates with you, make it your own. Visit the show notes at smashwords.com/podcast for links to where you can read it, download it, print it, and share it. I’ll also put links in the show notes if you want to further explore the history of book publishing.
Looking ahead, for the next six episodes I have a special treat for you. Earlier in the podcast I mentioned I’ve got an updated edition of the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide coming out. It provides an expanded checklist of over 60 book marketing ideas that will help take your book marketing to the next level.
I’ve decided to serialize the new marketing guide here on the podcast first. It’ll be like a podcasted audiobook. I’ll present it in six logical chunks of approximately 30 minutes each.
After you hear the final installment, I’ll release the complete ebook everywhere for free.
If you’re enjoying the Smart Author Podcast, please share it with your friends.
Working together, we can change the world one indie ebook at a time.
Until next time, keep writing. I’m Mark Coker.
*Advertisement, page 125, Gainesville High School 1955 “Radiator” – GHS yearbook.