Cynthia Hamilton


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Cynthia Hamilton

The “Independent” Spirit

I would hazard a guess that nearly all writers who are pleased with their work hanker for it to be published. This is only natural, as writing and publishing are the two halves of book production, which in turn puts books into the hands of readers. As with any manner of goods, without both components of creating the product and bringing it to market, there is nothing for the consumer to buy.

But how does an unknown writer build a bridge to the publishing house? The writer must first find an agent. That agent will become the human bridge to the publishers. As writers, we get that: publishing houses are behemoth enterprises that rely on time-tested literary agencies to perform the introductions.

So, how does a writer find this go-between? Hours, months, years of researching for the right agent for your genre, and hoping against hope some assistant will find your query letter and sample chapters enthralling enough to pass on to his or her boss. If that happens—and I’ve gotten to first base twice—you will receive the heart-stopping request to see more material. If you should be so fortunate to find an agent who loves your work AND knows which publishing house might want to offer you a book deal, then you’ve beaten staggering odds. Kudos to all of those gifted, lucky writers who have slipped into the ranks of the “published author!”

Only in recent years has it become less of a stigma to infiltrate the literary marketplace as a self-published writer. Or maybe it is better said that writers no longer have to spend a good chuck of their precious writing time on fashioning endless queries to the gatekeepers. Now, thanks largely to Amazon as the pioneer of the free literary marketplace, anyone who has written just about anything can put it out there for public consumption.

More published writers means more choices for the reading public, often at a fraction of what a publishing house would demand for the pleasure or peril of buying their product. That is a good thing, right? Okay, this also means more books are out there that haven’t been properly edited or vetted. But now the buying public has also made the transition from passive buyer, relying on a handful of critics to guide their purchasing choices, to being critics in their own right.

The result: all writers can be read and all readers’ voices can be heard. Good works will be acknowledged by the people who have read them and the writer’s career will succeed or flounder accordingly. Rather democratic, I’d say. And this brings me to my question: does the distinction between “traditionally published” and “self-published” really matter anymore? I’d like to think it doesn’t, but it is very difficult to hit the best-sellers list if a writer doesn’t have that publishing machine behind it.

Still, in my mind, the advantages of being an “independent” publisher far outweigh the lingering stigma of not having passed through the magical hoop that leads to seeing your book for sale. What I love about my independence is being able to publish my books, written as I see fit, deciding when—if ever—they will go out of print, charging much less to the end-user and making much more per sale than I ever could if I had sold my rights to a publisher. Plus, as my own publisher, I can make my books available for free whenever I chose.

Having all those advantages comes with a price tag, literally. I must hire my own editors, formatters, graphic artists, cover designers and printers, and wage my own publicity assault, something I haven’t fully mastered yet. I am learning. The biggest cost is time spent on those efforts, time taken out of my writing day. But in the end, I have a product I feel proud of that I feel is worthy of being read. Most importantly, my books are “out there,” in the marketplace, and there’s no better feeling for an author than that!

Until next time,

Independently yours,