What do writers have in common with indie rock stars?

DIY (Do-It-Yourself) culture is everywhere these days. What started as a punk rock ethos of spurning the system and making your own clothing, albums and films has become an essential part of our economy (it even has its own cable channel). Self-publishing, one of the oldest forms of DIY (I doubt Gutenberg had a corporate publisher before there was such a thing as mass-produced books), is a brazen statement of independence and resiliency, no different from someone making their own shoes or outdoor shower.

Then why don’t we associate self-publishing with something as radical and cool as someone selling cassettes from the trunk of their beat-up Volkswagen? Possibly, it’s the very nature of writers to be reclusive — not trumpeting their works from behind a microphone and sweating all over the front row of screaming teenagers. And yet almost each week we see a new author who chose to self-publish, to go DIY, become a media force, able to connect with thousands of fans through Facebook, YouTube and public events.

Self-Publishing is as DIY as it gets, it just looks a little different. A writer decides not only to brave perhaps the most solitary experience in the world (the writing of a book), but to also to try to market and help that book find an audience with little help from (or interference by) a publisher. They’re able to rely on friends, other authors and even strangers to help edit their book, to spread the word, to create an underground sensation. That’s why it’s always a shock to everyone whenever a self-published book finds its way to the best-seller list — because it was done through a network of loose acquaintances. It’s just like when an independent band suddenly explodes onto the scene — a slow, underground, DIY product has taken the world by surprise.

So, while we do admit that there are some key distinctions between indie rock stars and writers, we like to point out their similarities: they both now participate in a great tradition of creating your own work, controlling your own work and building community around that work. When you self-publish, you aren’t handing off your book to someone else and saying, “now this is your problem.” Instead, you’re looking at what you’ve created, recognizing you’ve done something outstanding, something that not many do and inviting people to help your project grow. You’re ready to Do It Yourself, with the help of others. And that’s what DIY is really all about.

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One Comment

  1. I’ve been self publishing for over twenty years now. The first “commercial” copies of my books were home made with construction paper covers with hand drawn line art and ten cents per page copies that I bound myself with a cheap rib binder I bought for $200. I have sold literally thousands of books since then, growing all the while until my products today are of a higher quality than some of the published stuff on the same market.

    But I don’t do this for a living. I would like to, but I make my living as a musician. And that’s why I decided to comment on this post. There’s nothing cool about bands struggling on their own and selling merch from the trunks of their cars. There is a twisted mentality out there that believes musicians have to starve before the music is any good. That’s ridiculous. Is the same true for programmers, accountants, doctors, lawyers or any other profession? It’s just silly.

    The truth is, good music cannot last without financial backing. The best bands/musicians become the best bands/musicians because they have what it takes to survive. I wouldn’t be the quality of musician I am today if I hadn’t been a pro for 25 years. If I had to “get a day job to support my music habit”, I wouldn’t be as good as I am today, I wouldn’t have written ANY books, I wouldn’t have composed even a fraction of the music I’ve written and my musical life would just be some dream I regret having missed out on.

    I’m sure it’s the same for people who want to write and self publish books. If they cannot make enough money selling those books, their writing time will be cut short and their creativity stifled. I’ve been “inde” my entire career and I’ve seen so many musicians and bands come and go. The only thing that spells success for any of them is when they learn how to generate and properly manage an income from their music. The rest end up having to get jobs as they “grow up.”

    For that reason, there are pros and cons for being published. I believe Lulu compensates for a lot of those with the POD and publicity packages. I really do think Lulu is the best thing out there. But being broke and just barely surviving is NOT cool.

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