Jan 11, 2012

First Step: A New Identity

It was recently pointed out to me that I now get to add a new identifier to my name: Amazon Best Selling Author. At this moment, "Reaper's Return" is sitting at #8 on the children's Science Fiction and Fantasy list, #16 in the overall Fantasy list, and #371 overall. I have to keep looking at that in a desperate effort to make it sink in. Two years ago, I was just barely a published author, and now... this? Okay, so I have more than 7 books published at present, fine. And the numbers are bumped enthusiastically due to the current promotion I have on Reaper's Return, so I can't just totally lose my mind over this. A truer test will be to see how much of this translates into the rest of the series getting picked up, and I acknowledge that, even as I grin and Snoopy Dance, that numbers are only numbers and not the entire story. Regardless, I'm really grinning.

I've pushed the Amazon promotion out through midnight tonight, and I'll probably relaunch it later as well to see if I can maintain a bit of the momentum across the entire series.

But that's all maintenance stuff, and not the big thing that really struck me as interesting this morning.

It occurred to me as particularly interesting how we both shape and are shaped by our identities. We all pass through those during our lives - defining ourselves (or being defined, depending on how much control we have over the process) as children, siblings, friends, lovers, enemies, et cetera. Student, Teacher, Leader, Follower, Visionary, Victim - there are so many hats to wear, and we don't even always have the choice of whether or not to wear them.

I've gone through a lot of those through my life: from the Nerdy Little Freshman to The Freak in my junior year of high school, a Missionary, Musician, Husband, Father, Author, and so forth. Some of the roles we wear come with some pretty heavy specificity, some come with badges, and many become a matter more of perspective than any sort of official designation.

But lest I totally drown in rhetoric, the thing on my mind today is that I have this new identity, now. Part of the challenge in the present publishing climate is that there persists a sort of stigma with regards to being "self-published." In many circles, self published equal unpublished. I listened to one publisher a scant year ago compare self published authors to overweight twenty-somethings banging out fan fiction on a beat up computer in their parents' basement. You may be shocked to know that I'm pretty much quoting him on that, too. I didn't believe his assessment then, and I don't believe it now. Are there examples of that? Oh, I'm sure there are. I'm also equally certain that there are some financially successful authors who fit that same general description. Ripe fruit can grow wild in untilled soil.

I've seen a lot of the complaints levied against the self-published set: lack of editing is the most common one, however. Overall, I've seen so many folks who dwell in the midst of the status quo defend their own roles as Guardians of the Consumer, and I think that might be a bit of an overplay as well.

But really I think it comes back to a misconception that stems from the current publishing process' adoption of the term "traditional publishing."

Traditional? Really? I can't help but think folks have neglected their history classes when I hear that term bandied about.

Traditionally, books were manually printed on a press, usually by the author himself, and then taken around and sold - usually, again, by the author himself. Before that, they were hand-written.

The current process of agents, distributors, chain retail stores and publishing corporations are a much more recent process, just through the past 120 years or so. Granted, we've constructed some other, fairly elaborate traditions in that same time frame, so what's one more contrived entity between friends? And if you can't think of any offhand, we did just go through a holiday season that's rife with a plethora of fabricated "traditions". Like, why does Santa wear red? Google it if you don't already know, you probably wouldn't believe me if you didn't look into the background of that yourself.

Are you a writer? Do you want to be an author? Then publish. Do your best to make the book as good as you can make it; get it edited (an extra pair of qualified eyes never hurts!), and get it out there for people to check it out. Will everyone love it? No, of course not. Will everyone hate it? Of course not! Will you make thousands of dollars and be able to retire? Well, probably not, no, let's be realistic. Not everyone can have a #1 book, it's just the way of things. But neither should that be our goal - it's not something anyone can truly control. What you CAN control is whether or not you write a book, whether or not you decide to get it published, and what you decide to do about it if you do publish.

In the paraphrased words of a dream version of Jim Morrison, the only thing stopping you is the stopping.

And, like all journeys, it all starts with a first step - in the spirit of "fake it til you make it," the starting point as I see it is to define (or in some cases, redefine) yourself. What are you? Who are you? What are you doing? What have you done?

Seriously, take a moment and figure that out. Knowing that simple detail can and often will affect your course through the wackiness of life. Certainly, not knowing it can definitely affect you, but rarely in a good way.

And if you don't have the answers to any of those questions, take the time to answer them. And if you don't have definitive answers, that's okay. When it doubt, make something up. Who do you want to be? What do you want to do?

And, yes, it really is that simple.

So, if you haven't done this, or you haven't even thought about this before, take a moment to figure out who you are. What you are. What you're doing. What you want to do and who you want to be. And if one of those is "be a writer", "write books", and that sort of thing, then congratulations! And if it's, really, anything else.... Congratulations!

Cos in the end, what you are, specifically, doesn't matter so much as that you are.

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