Don’t Be Surprised…Believe.

You're likely a better writer than you think and you probably even have FANS!
As with any author outside that magical one percent of one percent who get the huge contracts, I wangled myself into a signing at an independent bookstore. As a self-published author, I felt slightly out of place surrounded by ten other traditionally published authors. There were some big publishing houses represented at this little store and a few very well-known authors. My nerves were unraveling.

Calm down, you deserve to be here, I repeated to myself a few times, mantra-like. It was that damn stigma: somehow, every self-published book must be of poor quality. The fuel for that fire is simple, I knew that, without a third party screening, how could a self-published book be held to the highest standards – like traditionally published books are thought to be. I can almost read it on the expression of people I meet.

“Oh, you’re an author?”

“Yes, I am. I self-published.”

“Oh, you’re a printer, then?”

I can’t blame people for thinking like that, or even for saying it to me, which has happened. Honestly, what some self-published authors have written has not seen an editor. That is flammables for an already out of control blaze. Aside from some writing that’s low on high standards, I’ve reeled at what some self-published authors have done to promote themselves. I remember encountering a self-published writer pretending to be a fan of her own work on a message board. Why self-publish if you believe or at least perpetuate the stigma? Baffling.

I swore I’d be upfront about my indie-ness, and, that I’d have my work professionally edited before it went into print. In fact, I rewrote and edited the work for months before sending to the editor and even gave it two more passes after my editor was through with it. So, I quickly regained my confidence among the mass of the traditionally published – okay, it was, as I’ve stated, ten authors, but ten is a mass, right?

There was a commotion nearby and I watched a young girl absolutely melt at meeting her favorite author. She was no more than twelve, giggling and smiling, bouncing and squealing. When the author opened one of her books and began to sign, I truly believed this young fan was going to faint. Then, the author signed a poster and this gleeful fan could not help herself any longer and she threw her arms around her favorite author and squeezed. I couldn’t stop smiling. It was wonderful to see someone so excited and pleased about a special moment.

Then something extraordinary happened to me that has changed the way I see writing and publishing: I have a fan.

The day I’d dropped off several copies of my book, Afterlife, to the store this man had moseyed in and picked up a copy. The day of the signing, he’d made a point to come back to meet me and get his copy signed. This was not a family member or a friend, he was a complete stranger, someone I’d never met before in my life. And, he loved my book.

Inside, I was shocked. I had a Sally Field moment: “You like me, you really like me.” He made wonderful comments about the book, telling me his favorite parts. He asked poignant questions. He thanked me for writing a great book. I had to struggle to keep my jaw from hanging wide. I was in awe. I was surprised I had a fan.

Why? Why are self-published authors surprised that someone will enjoy their work? Why are self-published authors surprised that they will have fans and be accepted? I truly believe this has more to do with the mentality of writers than the more specific incredulity of the self-published.

As writers, we are so tuned to hearing bad news that good news sounds too good to be true. We’d much rather hear what’s wrong with our work, what needs fixing, than what’s good – perceived or factual. We’re conditioned to want the bad. Knowing what you did wrong is how you get better – a statement stenciled on our consciousness throughout our writing lives. We spend so much time asking for and hearing negative opinions that will help us improve, we can’t imagine anyone actually having nothing bad to say.

You will have fans. And, the worst thing you can do for you and your fans, is show how surprised you are that someone likes your book. In fact, it will be devastating. If you are flabbergasted, don’t show it because if you do, you will undermine your talents and deaden your fan’s experience. How would you feel if you asked someone to sign their book for you and they said, “Really? You want me to sign it? Honestly?” Takes the joy out of it wouldn’t you say?

There is a simple way to avoid having to cover up your shock at having fans. Believe it. A lot of readers will admire your work and be enamored by your words. You’ve put a tremendous amount of effort into writing, polishing and editing the book, so you know it comes down to the subjectivity of the reader. One reader will love the work while another will not. Accepting that will make signings and meeting fans easier on you as an author.

Writing, though our passion and joy, is still work. A pat on the back for your work in the form of a novel usually comes with the question, “Will you please sign it?”

I did. And it felt great.

As for feeling out of place in a room full of traditionally published authors, I needn’t have. It’s not the traditional publishing industry or marketing firms or booksellers that dictate who “belongs.” It is the reader. Believe me, I belong and so will you. * * * * *

Ian O’Neill is a freelancer, screenwriter, public speaker and author of Afterlife. His work has appeared in Seasons, Canadian Wildlife, Equinox, The Globe and Mail and The Ottawa Sun among other publications. He received a 2002 National Magazine Award for his work with Seasons.  

Ian challenges anyone to find a difference in quality between his self-published novel and any traditionally published novel. This challenge pushed him to create a quality book and he hopes others will do the same. Feel free to contact him at info@ianoneill.ca.   www.ianoneill.ca