The Vigilante Spirit

Some blogging authors and self-publishers spend a lot of time waging war on traditional publishers, booksellers, and agents. It’s understandable—and sorely tempting, too, because many denizens of the old order aren’t handling this disruptive, transitional period in their industry with good grace. They’re doing all the sorts of things that desperate people in old, dying regimes always have done in order to cling to their power and perks.

And, of course, it isn’t working—because it can’t work. You just can’t stop the inexorable march of technology and markets—at least, not without employing the nightstick of the law (which may be their last recourse). The old days and old ways are behind us. As always, we can only embrace emerging technological trends or be left behind in the dust bins of history.

So, I understand full well why many self-publishing writers, facing obstinate and unseemly industry resistance, adopt an embattled posture and focus on what’s wrong with traditional (“legacy”) publishers and their diminishing (“dead tree”) products.

However, your friendly neighborhood Vigilante Author would prefer to focus instead on the incredible opportunities opening up to writers, and to readers, as well. Readers now have a vast array of book format options to suit their preferences and convenience. Authors now can make a living by producing and selling a combination of these products, rather than rely on just a few print book editions.

Writers now can also bypass the entire gauntlet established by traditional publishing and bookselling. They no longer have to run their works past hordes of agents, editors, and marketing teams in order to get into print—only to worry then about how clerks will position and place their works on bookstore shelves, and for how long. They no longer have to satisfy the tastes or meet the priorities of anyone except themselves and their readers. And perhaps best of all, they can be assured that their books will never go “out of print.” Ebooks and “print on demand” books always remain “in print,” because they can stay on a computer forever, waiting for the next order from the next customer.

Which means that we authors can achieve the closest thing to immortality that’s possible on earth. Think about it: Our work can endure into the endless future, to be discovered by new generations of readers living centuries or even millennia from today.

Yet this revolution in the technology of book production and distribution shifts back onto us, the authors, full personal responsibility for our work. That responsibility extends from insuring the quality of our writing, to learning the processes of publication and marketing, to meeting challenges that arise along the way.

I know that when I first faced the prospect of self-publishing HUNTER, I felt intimidated. I didn’t know where to begin. I didn’t know anything about formatting a book or preparing a cover, or how to find people who did know. I didn’t have a clue about how and where to market the book, either. None of us are born with such knowledge.

What propelled me forward were the inspiring examples of people who were doing this successfully. Very successfully. These pioneers had managed to figure it all out, by trial and error. Many were generously sharing their wisdom and experience. I knew that success would take hard work, but I figured that it couldn’t be overwhelming.

All it required was a bit of “vigilante spirit,” and its source: a sense of self-responsibility.

For many writers, though, full self-responsibility is an intimidating prospect. They would prefer to endure the endless delays, humiliations, and pittances generated by the traditional “query-go-round” process, merely to avoid the psychological terrors that they imagine arise from a career based on personal independence.

I want this blog to help diminish their terror, by infusing them with “the vigilante spirit.”

I want them to know that just as they learned how to write, they can also learn how to reach their readers directly, without the need for phalanxes of protective intermediaries.

I want them to realize that they can dispense with legions of guardians and gatekeepers, whose appetite for huge bites of authors’ royalties is insatiable, and whose editorial interference and marketing blunders can be soul-crushing.

I want to inspire writers to take their careers back into their own hands.

And I want them to acquire the confidence that becoming a Vigilante Author is not only possible:

It’s fun.

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  • http://twitter.com/briankung Brian Kung

    I am completely behind the vigilante spirit. Facing fears, taking responsibility for success, inspiring others, and having fun while doing it is exactly what self-publishing means to me. Thank you for putting it into words.

    “Which means that we authors can achieve the closest thing to immortality that’s possible on earth. Think about it: Our work can endure into the endless future, to be discovered by new generations of readers living centuries or even millennia from today.”

    The prospects of literary immortality are as gratifying to me as they are intimidating. As you say in the next paragraph, the onus truly is on us as writers to perfect our craft, so that the value of our works lasts for as long as their digital shelf life – forever. Otherwise, we will be lost in obscurity, contributing only straws to a digital haystack.

    As literary immortals, what value do we need to provide to justify our immortality, if any?

    • Anonymous

      Brian, I loved your closely question, and the spirit behind it.

  • Anonymous

    Great point, Brian.

  • Shawn Reynolds

    I am not a writer, but I’d like to throw my two cents worth in on Brian’s question.

    If we’re talking about fiction writing then, to me, the value an author must impart to their work for immortality is to be sure he/she has written a work of sheer entertainment. The reader must be able to disconnect from reality and experience what they are reading. I think most fiction readers are looking for the ultimate escape from reality. We live reality everyday. If we want reality, we look at TV news or read a newspaper or surf the net or simply live it.

    When I read a novel, I want to live vicariously through the protagonist. I want to feel I’m actually in the story. I prefer there not be long passages of exposition if possible or at least keep it to a minimum. Again, it works best if it feels like an experience. I don’t want to be told a story.

    The settings and locales can be real. The characters can seem ultra realistic. The inspiration for the story can be based in reality. But the characters experience must seem like it is mine. I want an emotional connection to people and an emotional response to what happens to them. And I want them to experience something I’m not likely to experience in real life. Which perhaps summarizes what I’m trying to say: I want to escape MY reality, but I want to experience the characters reality.

    HUNTER is a perfect example of this.

    If an author can do that, I think readers will respond. And they will continue to respond through the years.

  • Rose Robbins

    It IS intimidating. It IS terrifying! At least for those of us who are perfectionists. But on the other hand…..
    I started submitting stories to publishers when I was eight years old, so I have been being rejected since 1979, you could say. I have published about a dozen stories/articles, and received probably close to a thousand rejection letters. No matter how much you brace yourself, those pesky rejection letters are a blow, and each blow leaves a mark. If there were a picture of me with all those marks shown on it, it would look like one of those “This is how many bullet holes Billy the Kid received in his lifetime” pictures.
    Also, I am a musician, so I have been being rejected by the music industry for many years as well. For every triumph, there have been countless rejections, and trust me, the music industry is FAR, far more insulting in their rejections that the literary industry! “You’re too young, you’re too old, you’re too pretty, you’re not sexy enough, you’re boring, you’re cheesy, you’re not commercial, you’re TOO commercial.”
    I can tell you from experience that NO amount of second guessing and anxiety on MY part can even come CLOSE to the beating I’ve taken from the industry. I would rather be my own boss, win or lose, rich or (far more likely) poor, than have ONE MORE JACKASS TELL ME I SHOULD SHOW MORE SKIN.
    Just sayin’.

    • Anonymous

      Rose, writers and musicians are kindred souls, surely in terms of what they have to endure in their respective industries and careers. Your last sentence symbolizes the fact that the respective industries have for too long demeaned and humiliated their artists — the sources of their very existence. Those days are over, now…at least for any artist who is willing to strike out on his or her own. What artists lose by doing that is easily outweighed by everything they can gain by going vigilante.