Monday, 6 May 2013

All authors are not created equal

Self-publishing as a profession is so new that we haven’t got established words for calling authors who publish their books themselves. There are several options though. Which one do you prefer?

The tweet above prompted – deliberately, I’m sure – yet another debate on how to call self-published authors. I’ve followed and participated in a couple of them and they’re mostly the same. This time, too, some opinions were for being called an artisan author and some were against it, calling for other options, and some were so bizarre I couldn’t quite follow the reasoning so stopped reading.

I personally dislike the name artisan author. I understand that it’s supposed to convey the idea that we do everything ourselves, by hand, if necessary. I do, but that’s not true for all. Most of us buy the editing services at least; many buy the cover design and maybe even the formatting for their books. What remains, then, is the writing itself, the ‘author’ part of artisan author, and marketing. And I defy you to find a marketing person who’d allow themselves to be called an artisan. So why should we?

I oppose the name artisan for another reason also and that may be cultural. I understand an artisan to be a skilled craftsman that (often) employs otherwise forgotten techniques to produce artefacts that, regardless of their beauty, aren’t quite art but products to sell for a living instead. There is, then, a two-tiered system of artists above and artisans below.

Making a living is important for everyone, but if that were a factor when giving names, all authors would be called artisans. It’s the idea of a two-tier system that bugs me in this. It brings home so clearly that artisan authors are lower tier authors. Moreover, it gives me a notion that some books aren’t art because of the way they’ve been published. That it would be factually true – that my books aren’t very good – is beside the point; it's not the publishing system that makes them so. Besides, there are those among us who are actually very skilled and deserve the chance to be recognised as such.

When I published my first book, I found the name self-published author slightly annoying too, but I’ve grown more accustomed to that one over the course of the year. It’s a factually true definition: I publish my books myself. Nevertheless, I like the name independent author, or indie, more. The word independent has such a lofty ring to it. I’m not dependent of anyone or anything; I’m independent. But some participants in the Twitter debate yesterday objected to that one too. According to them, it would disdain independent publishers. The argument that there have always been indie artists outside the system didn’t seem to carry any weight. I like it though.

I’m also developing fondness for a new word authorpreneur. I’m not sure where it came from, but I find it clever. It seems to have both sides of the occupation covered, writing and marketing, without being negative. As a neologism, it also lacks the burden the old words have when being used in new contexts. Of course, those that cherish the purity of language and don’t want new words – especially such bastardised word – to be created may find authorpreneur annoying too.

What is wrong with all these definitions, however, is that they are given to a group of people by people who don’t belong to that group. It’s a basic tactic with which majorities always treat those in minority: trying to make sense of the other by giving it a name; deminishing the threat the other poses by defining and marginalising it. Human race has done the same for millennia. It doesn’t really matter if the name is accurate or not, it’ll always convey a sense of being labelled for those thus named; being looked down to by those who do the naming. 

We, the authors outside the system, are the other. We are the different and the not-quite-acceptable. In this case, acceptable into the community of authors. It isn’t a unique way to treat minorities in the literary world either. Everyone knows we have authors and women authors. Nothing has happened to that labelling either, so indie authors can’t really expect to be free of labels any time soon. 

It’s a nice dream that we would all be called authors one day. Until then, the best option would be that we don’t let others define us but do it ourselves. So what would you like to be called?

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