I had an interesting and rather eye-opening occurrence last week. My first e-book was published about a month ago, and I had finally gotten around to announcing the news on Facebook. I tend to sadly under-utilize Facebook, as I don't have as many followers there as on Twitter, and I find process of digging through all the updates somewhat tedious. In any case, somehow, the HR coordinator at the company I work for found out about it, I think via a mutual friend. On her daily visit to our unit a few days later, she insisted on gathering all the other employees around me for a round of applause for "getting my book published".
Maybe I shouldn't try to be a writer. I don't do well with attention. I get embarrassed, I blush, and in this particular case, I wound up stammering something about how "It's not like I actually got it published, it's only an e-book."
Only an e-book? Wait a minute. Some of the best-paid authors in the world right now are selling nothing but self-published e-books. So why am I belittling my own accomplishment, encouraging people not to take me seriously? Partly, I think it's because I don't expect many people outside the indie books movement to understand that this really is the future of publishing. And so it's easier to downplay my achievements, and those of e-books in general, rather than face the jeers of people who don't know what's going on, who might think that I'm getting a stuffed head over something with no real legitimacy.
But that's just it. What's legitimacy? It's not in the hands of the publishers anymore, thank god, because I've read too many published books that were total crap. Is it in writing something that people will like, and will buy? Maybe that's why I'm still inclined to keep the fact that I'm a writer on the down-low; the book's only been out for a month, it's not even on Amazon yet, and I haven't sold that many copies. But then at what point will I feel legitimate, if I judge by sales? When I sell my hundredth copy? My thousandth? When sales reach a certain monthly volume? Knowing me, as I reach each mental milestone, I'll find a reason to keep pushing it off, to keep considering this hobby of mine just a hobby, and a waste of time.
When will I, and when should indie authors start thinking of ourselves as "real authors"? The moment the opus gets uploaded? Or should we continue to allow others (via sales, etc.) to confer legitimacy upon us? If you look at it that way, the whole idea of allowing readers to serve as gatekeepers will wind up inducing the same kind of Stockholm Syndrome that has been such a problem in the death throes of print publishing. The same kind of elitism that we faced over signing, agents, bonuses, imprints, will still exist, it'll just be based (admittedly, more honestly and transparently) around sales, instead. Should anyone who's written and published something feel comfortable calling themselves an author, or should only people who can actually support themselves on their sales call themselves authors?
Honestly, I'm inclined to go with the former. It takes a lot of gumption to put your work out there for others to look at, and a thick skin certainly helps. But even though sites like Smashwords are flooded with a lot of stuff that frankly... isn't that great....everyone who's up there should still be recognized for the process that they went through. They wrote, they edited, they formatted, they made or hired cover art, they put a large piece of themselves into this work that they're now hanging out on a shingle in hopes that somebody will like it. They are real authors, even if they aren't very good ones. There are gradations in every profession, and we need to get used to that in writing, as well. Without the hurdle of getting accepted by a publishing house, we're just finally going to see more of the spectrum, which admittedly has both good and bad sides.
I'm going to focus on the good, though. I am an author. I can acknowledge it to myself, but I need to work up the self-assurance to start saying it to more people than just random names on the internet. I need to be able to tell everyone I know. There's no shame in calling yourself an author, no matter how you were published, and no matter how many books you've sold. And I hope that all the wonderful, friendly, and supportive indie authors I've met out there can say the same.