A Waltz With Stigma

Ready to dance?

There are things in this world — like all-day family outings to Wal-Mart and old men and convertibles — that are as much their stigma as they are the truth behind them. I would say — generally speaking — stigmas are the rule not the exception; because let’s face it, labels must originate from somewhere, yes?

You tell us “I’m a surfer” and instantly we are measuring you against what we think we know to be true: you spend the majority of your time at the beach. Your car is messy. You’re laid back. You’re spiritual. You prefer outdoor venues. You tend to run late. You travel shirtless. You listen to Bob Marley. You own several, or one extremely well-worn, pair of flip-flops. You don’t notice if your bum-crack is visible. Time escapes you easily. The words “bro” or “dude” are typically found in your daily vernacular. You’re open minded. Your yearly income falls under 40k.

Inadvertently you have been set to rise then hardened within a mold of your own doing. Occasionally, there are a few who break through, who defy proven theory, but this is rare. And while no one would argue that each of us is a uniquely designed human being, whether it be positive or negative, true or false, your stigma communicates for you; and chances are it’s not entirely incorrect.

Another example: when I mention to someone I am a christian, the response — again, I am speaking broadly — is either tolerant, enthusiastic, or repelled. It is true the label “christian” means something wildly different to each individual, but it does mean something to every individual.

And lastly, when someone asks me “So what do you do?” and I respond “I am a writer.” you know I can actually see little word-bubbles forming behind their eyes. Some, automatically, think me articulate and intelligent, arrogant and pretentious, sensitive, creative, moody, a deep thinker, a scholar, a struggling artist, a provocateur. I find it ironic that some of these inferences contradict one another, but . . . therein lie the essence of stigmas.

Self-published.

What does this mean to you? When you hear the words self-published, what sort of words, emotions, or perceptions come to mind? Do you think scam-artist or go-getter? Lazy or driven? Cowardly or courageous? Patient or impulsive? Winner or loser?

For many years while I wrote my first novel I held firm to my “belief” that self-publishing, in one way or another, was synonymous with cheating. My thoughts behind this were as follows: if my work is good then eventually someone will take notice and publish it. And after a while — a very long while if I am being honest — this began to happen. Over and over again. I entered writing contests and won. My short-stories and poetry was published. And these days I am frequently approached by friends and strangers alike to proof written content or commissioned to write speeches. Each time this happens I am incredibly honored. Sometimes I don’t feel worthy of their faith in me. But still I am blessed that many in my life have come to see me as their language icon; as someone commanding the English language; someone they trust and rely on for most things editorial and creatively scriven. In all actuality I know less than I know. I have much still to learn about the enigmatic craft of creative writing, and this is a fact which thrills me.

So when the time arrived to pitch Awakening Foster Kelly, I felt nervous, yes, but also confident that after a hundred or so queries there would be at least one agent who saw something in the story, in my writing. Form letter after form letter trickled in and my spirits sank; but even then for a while I was quite sure it was only a matter or time.

A few agents were kind enough to take a few moments and offer feedback, which, if you’re an unpublished writer, you understand this means she found something worthy enough of her precious time. Again and again I was told my book was too long; that no one in their right, sound mind would publish a debut author standing behind 400k. Pressed but not crushed, I was able to shave off 70k. The active market for your average Young Adult novel tends to orbit close to the 80-100k marker. At 330k I was nowhere close. They were on Earth and I was still on Uranus.

I refused to fillet my characters. Doing so would have jeopardized my novel’s integrity, threatened to dilute a highly intricate, involved plot-line. With this decision came more decisions. Now what would I do? Could I stomach more edits? Would I put AFK to sleep and focus on my next WIP? Or would I *gulp* jump off the cliff strapped to a questionable parachute and hope for strong wind?

I jumped.

I have never purchased a self-published book. I would, I just haven’t. I took me into serious consideration when making my decision. I also considered the truth: that close to 75% of self-published novels are hastily written, rife with errors, and pocked with forgettable characters and subject matter. In fact, if you have ever purchased a hard-copy version of the typical self-published novel then you are aware that often times what is delivered to your mailbox doesn’t even resemble those things queued neatly along your local Barnes & Noble’s shelves. It looks like a manual. Who wants to read a manual? Not I, said the fly. And it is these facts that nourish the roots of the self-published stigma. In case you’re wanting a mental picture, it looks kind of like a Bird of Paradise.

Long, long, long, LONG before I ever jumped, I walked. Sometimes I crawled. Occasionally I just sat there and panted for a while, begging strangers for a sip of water. “Spare a bit of Adam’s ale for the creatively dehydrated?” There were months I nearly went stiff and crusty, like a piece of bread left on the counter. And then there were glorious months when I languished like a sodden sponge, unable to accommodate even one more drop. 

After 5 years, three complete reconstructions, four beta-readers, multiple edits, and a thorough education on What To Expect When You’re Expecting a Self-Published Novel (This book doesn’t exist; do not browse for it on Amazon), I was ready. It was ready.

If you’re a self-pblished author, maybe you’ll relate. When someone asks “Did you self-publish?” it sort of feels a bit like they’ve asked “Did you adopt?” as they stare into your blatantly Caucasian eyes, while your gorgeous Chinese child hugs your kneecaps. Immediately all sort of defenses rise up. I want to claw. I want to snap my teeth.

She’s mine.

She’s perfect.

Back off motha-flubbah. 

And as my friend Amanda would say, “I’ll cut you.”

It grieves me how the self-published market has espoused a sordid stigma; but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in the principles behind it. I support all authors. Those traditional cultivators and those indie dynamos. We are all in this thing together. Writing is hard. Editing is harder. Publishing is hardest. I now belong to the group of those taking action against what has become a tragically flawed and radically falsified industry. It actually breaks my heart a little; I know exceptionally talented writers who are fearsome of the taboo tableau. In their possessions are great works of contemporary and literary fiction, yet they refuse to consider what has been donned inconsiderable because, what will people say? What will they think of me?

Here me, please. There is an immaculate difference between knowing your manuscript needs work and knowing your manuscript will always need work but is ready as it will ever be.

For four years I felt the former. It needed work and lots of it. I don’t feel this way any longer. Could I, right this second, open the document and immediately begin to edit? Does the Trix Rabbit poop Skittles? The answer is yes . . . just in case.

So I jumped. I plan on waltzing with this stigma until its feet finally tire and give up.

Happy Monday, friends!

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4 thoughts on “A Waltz With Stigma

  1. Here, hear! (Your passionate stance allowed you to create an interesting typo! Sorry–in my other life, I’m an editor.)

    This is the BEST account of EP v. SP I’ve ever read. What you have applied these good words to is the sea-change that has happened to book publishing since the free-for-all-Internet era. There are always good and bad things about ANYTHING, but it sounds to me like the work you’ve done, the dedication you’ve acted upon, the thought you’ve given to your book AWAKENING FOSTER KELLY will be a positive in the world of publishing today. Help me–we must remove stigma! A book is a book–a collection of words offered for sharing, thought, change, truth, good and beauty. You have held to your standards–other authors may hold to lesser (or greater) standards but the bottom line for all is FINDING READERS. I the New Juxtaposition of Supply-Demand, a solidly produced, high quality self-published book is…all those things. It will find a market of appreciation just because it is what it is–and I hope that this novel will have so much truth, good and beauty in its pages or screenpages that it will emerge into the minds of a mass consciousness of individuals who value worktalent and standard. I wish you another new standard–an amazing experience–more than luck or success or even a financial windfall.

    Certain experiences are priceless–in a good way.

      • I thank you for weighing in, Mary! I felt the passion behind your words, also, and that dire urgency to move things that don’t hold a proper place among society.

        If you will, please help me to understand a couple things: one, where is the typo in my post, so that I might rectify it? And two, is ‘In the New Juxtaposition’ your novel?

      • I thank you for weighing in, Mary! I felt the passion behind your words, also, and that dire urgency to move things that don’t hold a proper place among society.

        If you will, please help me to understand a couple things: one, where is the typo in my post, so that I might rectify it? And two, is ‘In the New Juxtaposition’ your novel?

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