Self (Publishing) Help: Tell the F*cking Truth!

by Flickr user Roque Mocan

Listen, today is independence day.  Independence is cool.  Independent publishing is cool.  But some people don’t find it to be liberating.  Some people are ashamed.

In my work as a journalist, I have encountered some self-published authors who are so defensive about being self-published that their websites are full of lies.

So in honor of freedom of speech, press, and publishing, I have the following things to say to ANYBODY who’s considering self-publishing.

1. If you’re embarrassed about self-publishing, DON’T DO IT.  Get traditionally published instead.  If you’ve sent your manuscript out and nobody wants it, it probably sucks.  Work on it some more and send it out again, okay?  Don’t give up.

2.  If you decide to self-publish, call yourself a self-published author, instead of a published author.  Don’t lie about it.  It’s not cool, and journalists and anybody who needs help being impressed will find out you’re lying.

3.  This is not to say that you can’t phrase your accomplishments and achievements to maximize their appeal.  Penelope advises people to do precisely that in her post about writing a resume.

4.  But if you write on your resume that you were a manager when you were a clerk, and a potential employer calls for a reference, you will not get the job.

5.  Ergo, if you write on your website that you’re a “published author” and it turns out that you’re self-published with no other publishing credits, well, that’s a problem.  Or if you write on your website that you’ve written a dozen books, but these books can’t be found anywhere because they are nowhere linked with your name, that’s also a problem.

So focus on what you have.

6.  Self-publishing is hard work, and if you’re honest about it, people are going to be a lot happier to help you achieve sales goals, and help you to publicize.  If you’ve done it, own it!  Shout it!  Be proud!  It’s an accomplishment!

6a. But if your writing sucks because you didn’t spend any money on improving it or listen to any editors before you went to print or epub, don’t expect it to be easy to find people to be as proud of you as you are.

7.  But remember that self-published authors who spend significant money on their books do much better than those who don’t. Here’s a great post from Catherine, Caffeinated about this very topic, so you don’t have to take my word for it.

7a.  And if you think I’m reliable and want to take my word for it, here are some other Self-publishing Help posts.  Here, Here, Here, and Here.

8.  Writing your web copy in the spirit of plausible deniability has a ripple effect.  I take my responsibility to the truth as a journalist really seriously.  I know a lot of journalists who do.  We won’t, in good conscience, propagate half-truths.  We will either not mention your invented credit, or explain it in language that is plainer than you would prefer it to be, plainer than you have explained it.

9. You lose 100% of your credibility if any look deeper than the surface of what you write on your website reveals half-truths or blatant lies, or things that can’t be fact-checked (which are always read as lies, even if they aren’t, so don’t tell them!).

10.  Local press (where you are) and tons of print and web magazines welcome writing from freelancers.  These publishing credits, when you get them, are often easily linked online (which is good for your web presence or online portfolio), and a totally transparent sample of your work. They also signal that you have the chutzpah to pursue work in writing, even if it isn’t what you believe you are cosmically destined to be doing, whether that’s writing fiction or poetry or lyric essays or memoir or whatever.

11. There are HUNDREDS of literary journals that accept work from unpublished people.  Subscribe to Writer’s Market online, or go get the book, and submit, submit, submit.

12.  None of this is sexy or easy, but nothing worth accomplishing, is sexy or easy.  Most writers who make their living writing what they want to write instead of what they are being paid to write spend years in the trenches of copy editing, news jockeying, and doing work that is far outside their ideal writing life before they get to do what feeds their souls. But they do the stuff that feeds their souls anyway.  They keep at it.  Even though it’s hard and unsexy.

13.  You should, too.

14.  And always tell the fucking truth, even if you perceive some kind of stigma on your truth, okay?  Lies are never worth it.

Is Fake Journalism Viable as a Career? Methinks Nope.

I took this picture at a hospital on a freelance project.

My journalism studies stopped abruptly after my first semester of college when I realized that my true love is fiction & writing it.  So after–or perhaps it was during–my second semester, I did a ninety degree turn and switched from Journalism to English with a Creative Writing concentration.

I spent most of the glorious next four years swimming in the ocean of literature, criticism, contemporary fiction, and writing.  I dropped the Oxford Comma habit, then picked it up again when I ditched MLA for Chicago Manual.

Now, ten years later, I find myself as a practicing journalist.  Would those lovey journalism professors I scorned during my energetic and immersed first year of college be proud of me, or would they think I’m a poser?  I feel like a poser.

I write hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of words each week for newspapers and magazines, and am in hot pursuit of more of this work using my trusty manual, Writer’s Market, and the online service, too. These are invaluable for the freelance writer.

And while all of the editors I work with seem to esteem me and my work somewhere between pleased and just-glad-to-have-a-reliable-freelancer, I keep finding and being offered more of this work, so I must be doing something right.

The jargon eludes me sometimes (though I cheat), and there are many aspects of AP Style that strike me as particularly un-stylish.

I’m kind of devastated by the realities of the print media business, and I am knees-deep in something that feels, in many ways, to be almost dead.  Rasping halted breaths after the world wide web and free content bludgeons it, print media is living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Nobody is paid well enough (especially not freelancers), and in the barren economic environment–or in the failure of print media to adequately prepare for and adapt to new media–the dearth of analysis and criticism that print media can afford its subjects contributes to the general disregard for critical thinking that is all too prevalent.

Still, I love talking to people and learning new stuff.  I love to do research and procure a working understanding of new topics.  And for the Williamsport Sun-Gazette (that I’m not linking here because every time you open their website, you get popups from Publisher’s Clearing House or Netflix), I get to talk to artists and musicians primarily, and I’ve met some excellent people, and learned about some groovy new tunes.  I’ve also talked to some Broadway celebs and authors I admire or respect.

But, I live in Williamsport, PA.  And while there’s tons of stuff that’s happening here that’s amazing, it’s not New York, Chicago, LA, or even Nashville.  We get d-list celebrities and Glenn Beck. Besides which, freelancers for small-town newspapers don’t really get to talk to the national acts (which is totally understandable and I am NOT complaining), and even when I do get to talk to national acts, it’s not like they’re folks who’re up-and-coming.  American Songwriter probably doesn’t want a piece about Foghat.  And the two pitches I’ve made for singer/songwriters that I thought would work there have been handily ignored.  (Again, not complaining.  Rejection is a reality of a career as a writer)

And in this huge Wildcat Comic Con project, I’m meeting even more cool people and learning even more cool stuff.  Ditto my podcasting for Billtown Blue Lit.  And these are up-and-comers.  So I’m hoping to mine a goodly number of pitches from this work.

But I find myself wondering why I expend so much energy and get paid so poorly (or not at all) when the likelihood that this work (or more of it) will still be available for me in even two years is slim.  Staff writers are more-or-less a thing of a bygone age, with staff writers having made a laborious transition to being called editors and getting paid less to do more work, so I don’t delude myself.  I am an apprentice to an industry that won’t be able to provide for my retirement.

So I mostly view this work as personal enrichment, and building a solid base of published pieces that I can leverage into better-paying gigs, plus writing practice because (say it with me), All Writing Is Writing Practice!

(I am also considering applying to graduate school again.  Don’t tell Penelope.)

Too, I’m getting my name into the world, on the internet, and the more people who know about me, who see my name in conjunction with things they enjoy, the greater my odds of being offered freelance writing work of any stripe.

But Penelope says that when you’re in your 30s, you have to stop doing work that people in their 20s do. I feel like I’m doing what I should’ve done the moment I earned my degree, and the realities of efficiency and the limited number of hours each day means that honoring this low-paying work while pursuing better-paying writing jobs is a tightrope walk between self-torture and -affirmation.

And I get Writer’s Digest, and I read blogs about freelancing, writing, media, and personal/professional development. I learn more about how to freelance as a writer every day.  So maybe I’m doing everything right? Or maybe I should just keep on keeping on and quit worrying so much over the theory.

Anybody care to weigh in?  I’d love to know what you think.  I approve all comments, even if I think they’re wrong, unless they are decidedly trollish.