Putting Down Self-Published Things In 2013 Makes You Look Stupid

Without Their Permission by Alexis Ohanian
Hi, person.

I love you. And by that, I mean that I love you as a human being, living and breathing on this Earth, full of potential to do amazing stuff with that potentially amazing brain and body of yours. To that end, I don't want you to look or sound stupid. I really don't.

So I'm going to do you a favor and educate you a bit on the times, the technology, the business of making art and, in general, just being a decent person. But first, a question:

Have you ever made anything? Anything at all? A finger painting in Kindergarten? A bird house in woodshop class in middle school? A science fair project in high school?

No? Well, right there we've diagnosed your problem. You're a useless idiot that contributes nothing to the world. Thanks for breathing our air, eating our food and otherwise wasting space.

But I'm guessing most of you have at least made something at some point in your life. So, when you made your thing, whatever it was, did you take pride in it? Did it matter to you? Did the hours you spent building something out of nothing fill you with a sense of accomplishment?

Did you go on to make something bigger that wasn't for a grade or a paycheck? Restore a car, perhaps? Build a beehive? Sew a quilt? Make some jewelry? How about an album? A comic? Open your own store? Start your own business? Make your own video game? Shoot your own movie?

How about one close to my heart: ever write a book?

Have you ever written hundreds of pages of text? That all by itself is enough to break a person. It's not easy. It's actually the opposite of easy. And I'm not even talking about sitting at a keyboard and typing out hundreds of pages of words. You have to make them all make sense.

After you wrote those hundreds of pages of text, did you go back through them dozens of times to make sure that there was cohesion between plot points, or proper formatting of chapter headings, or that the page count was right? Did you then go through word by word looking for misspellings and grammatical errors?

Did you then decide to try to put that thing out yourself? Did you research the various services for printing? Did you do price estimates and cost analysis? Did you scratch your head for a few days wondering exactly what trim size to pick? Did you try to figure out the actual difference between 5.5" x 8.5" and 6" x 9" besides “One's a little bigger?”

Did you sweat bullets when you couldn't make heads or tails of a cover design because you didn't quite know the spine width as calculated by the page count and the paper type? Did you agonize over how to get an ISBN for your book? Did you research distribution methods, price discounts, shelf availability, Kindle formatting vs. Nook formatting vs. ePub formatting? Did you submit multiple final PDFs because the trim and bleed were just a little bit off and the proofs were rejected?


Well, I'm not your dad or your psychologist, but I can tell you that you obviously aren't thinking through much of any of that when you look at someone's book and say “Oh, it's self-published…” with that note of disdain, as if a publisher in 2013 is the mark of quality that determines if something's worth reading or not.

For someone like me, it just rolls off my back these days. I chose to go back to self-publishing after having my 2nd book published by Penguin Books – who, I might add, chased ME for the rights. It wasn't just about numbers. I sold far more copies under Penguin than I did of my first book, which I self-published. But I made far less money overall, and the process was far slower. So I opted to take back control over my books, my process and my future. When you attempt to insult or categorically dismiss my work because I make and distribute it all myself, you are throwing darts at a steel wall.

But for the dozens of authors and potential authors who seek out advice from me, or ask me to their book signings, or lament their struggles to me, I can tell you, that one hyphenated word, said in italics, can crush them. And the same goes for comic illustrators, painters, game developers, artists, musicians, clothing makers, and anyone else who takes control of their own distribution and, thus, their future with their work.

Because when you look down your nose at a piece of work made 100% by a person, and you categorically dismiss it as lesser-than simply because they did it all themselves, you're saying “not only will I not read this thing you struggled to produce, I will also dismiss it BECAUSE you struggled to produce it.” And you sound stupid.

It's 2013, people. The era of needing the blessing of a gatekeeper (i.e. a publisher, record label, comic book publisher, clothing label, or anyone else) to make something you want to make has been over for nearly ten years. The era of having a gatekeeper's blessing translate to "quality" have been over for nearly as long.

You can walk into any Apple store and buy a device starting at $99 that you can shoot (camera), edit (iMovie) and distribute (YouTube) your own movies with. If you hate typing on an iPod or iPhone screen, for another $69 bucks, you can get a bluetooth keyboard that enables you to write (notes or Pages or Evernote or about 200 other word processing apps), publish (CreateSpace by Amazon, LightningSource, LuLu, CafePress) and sell your own books (again, through all of those providers). You can even make the cover with SketchBook Pro. You can record your own albums with GarageBand. You can make your own comic books with Sketch, SketchBook Pro, DipTic, or any other graphics app.

Remember the movie Clerks? Funny, well written, well executed. All on a budget. Kevin Smith claims he made Clerks for $27,575 and I can believe it. That was in 1994. Did you know you could make the exact same film with the exact same quality today for less than $500 bucks? And Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi was made for $5,000 in 1992. Ani DiFranco started recording albums with a four track, a guitar, borrowed space and $300 bucks to make her first wax pressing in 1993.

Today, all of that great material can be made with your phone. Literally. You could. And people are. And it's not just films and albums. What's even more amazing is that entire movies are being made by directors like Luc Besson and Stephen Sodherberg on equipment that costs less than a single camera cost just ten years ago. And they're putting them out on their own. Because they simply don't need anyone else to do it for them.

Look, It's your right to read or not read (or listen or watch or wear) anything you want. It's also your right to think and say whatever you want, based on how something was made. I'm probably not going to stop you. I mean, I want to, because again, I don't want you to look stupid. But I can't reach into your brain and take those thoughts out. I'm simply saying, you should probably consider just exactly what you're saying when you say “self-published” with that note of disdain, because you not only hurt people, you look and sound like an uninformed idiot when you do it.

It is 2013. Creative people the world over have been empowered to be creative. Quit judging them for taking the chance to do so without the big companies' permission (link goes to the co-founder of Reddit Alexis Ohanian's new book, which you should read now).