“In-die” does not mean “In-experienced”

Hi there. Nice to see all of you at today’s Independent Publishers Anonymous Meeting. (Several people cough quietly in the room as they sit in their uncomfortable folding chairs.) My name is Katrina Joyner, and I am an independent publisher.

“Hi, Katrina.”

I’ve been an independent publisher – off and on again – for most of my life. Some would say I fell down this inkwell at an early age. Before I started elementary school, I was already telling myself picture stories on paper bags and paper scraps. On the bus ride to and from school in elementary school, my notebook paper was “wasted” with the tales I told to entertain my busy mind: viking ships, deer people, fox folk, dark-skinned nomadic orphans living by the skin of their teeth in dark alleys, and kidnapped princesses. They all lived – and still live – in the six inches between my ears.

In high school my father enabled my addiction by giving me typewriters – oh the glorious typewriters! The deliciously long nights sitting at those faithful keys, pounding my way to fantasy lands and adventure math and history could never give me! I was addicted. I was hooked. And no one could help me. I didn’t want to be helped.

So began my foray into the realm of professional publishing. My stories were submitted wherever I could send them: Isaac Asimov’s contest, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s magazine, you name it. I got feedback – actual personal feedback and not a form letter – when things were rejected. I got encouragement to edit and rewrite. Then when one of my poems was published in a small magazine – I was a senior in high school – my fate was sealed. The nails were driven into my writing coffin. I was and always would be… a storyteller – a noble profession with my people. A mark of high honor.

I married. I changed my name. I moved away, and although my writing slowed down it never stopped. Rejections kept coming – and then it happened. It was so terrible, I… it almost made it where I couldn’t go on.

“It’s okay, Katrina. You don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to.”

No…. no…. (choke)… I can talk about it now. (Deep breath) It happened while I was with my first husband. We had a subscription to a science fiction magazine – I can’t remember what it was called, Dragon Magazine or some such – and I saw a small ad in the classifieds. It said that the magazine was having a writing contest. The winner would be published in the magazine.  Excitedly, I pulled out one of my favorite stories – a gruesomely tragic romance about a mermaid wooed to her death by a bird man – and entered it. And waited.

The next issue came out and to my shock, there was no winner’s announcement in the magazine. There was, however, a beautifully written story about the love a fish and a bird had for one another – and how flying fish were born.

I stopped submitting stories as much after that. My drive to leap through those flaming hoops was pretty much destroyed. I’d enter something here and there, always to receive a rejection, and while I struggled with my crushed ego the writing world changed. Bantam Books disappeared, other book houses merged, the economy changed, book shelf lives shortened, and soon where it was already difficult to get published in the “traditional” manner it became a flying circus. These days when submitting your novel to a prospective publisher, you not only have to include the book you have to write a personal biography, and a small novel about the book and why the book is so different from the hundreds of thousands of books that are already out there. The process I knew as a child no longer exists. You no longer show them your work and ask them to tell you if it’s good. You convince them it’s good even if it’s not, and that gets published.

Quite by chance I came across the subculture of desktop publishing while the world changed around me. Doing things for yourself for the love of it, not for the business machine drama of it – yes! I could talk to you forever about this part of my life. From almost -becoming successful with my first webcomic to ‘zine publishing to running my own incorporated magazine, I got to do it all. And sure when I started out I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t and still don’t have a journalism degree. And the first webcomic, the magazine, and the ‘zines are all gone. I still did them, and I can happily say I did them well. And if I had the sources I’d consider doing them again.

I’m hopelessly an addict to publishing for myself. I like it.

“Admitting you have a problem is the first step to solving the problem.”

Yes, yes I know… but what if I don’t think it’s a problem? By doing these things I got to learn skills I never would have gotten by letting someone else do all the work. And now, with big publishing toppling from its glass tower while indie publishers take the field in a starved French Revolution frenzy, these experiences gave me the skill to survive this. I no longer run a magazine. I no longer make half-page sized ‘zines to send to my little distributor in the hopes of selling at least one. I format eBooks for other independent publishers, because I know how. Authors who once made a living through big publishing come to me for help as they find themselves forgotten and left alone here, in the alleyways of independent publishing. So I help them, because when I was younger they helped me. I give advice when I can, because I know what to say. I am making more of a living now than several years ago when I thought big publishing would always be king. And I love what I do – how many of you can say that? That you love your job?

And then, in time I’ve set aside for myself, I write and publish for myself. I work on my webcomic, my distributed comic, and my next novel. When the time comes I publish them. I don’t even stop to consider submitting them anywhere; there’s no where I would like to submit them to.

I am my own publisher…. (pauses, looks down at podium… voice cracks) I… I’m sorry. I… just give me a minute.

“Take all the time you need.”

Thank you… thank  you. (sighs, takes another deep breath. Wipes tears from eyes.)

I know… I know the mainstream world sees people like me as a freak. I know that. (choke) It’s just I… Well, I’m happy you know? I am what I am. Maybe I don’t know every single thing about the publishing world – I mean who does? I take time out every week to research and learn more and more, and there’s always more to learn because the publishing world is ever changing. And thank goodness that it is, or we may not have any books to read any more at all. Who knows, who can say.

But sometimes a a person will come along who makes a very ignorant judgment about me. They decide that because I don’t have a journalism degree or that my name hasn’t been carried by TOR I’ve never done anything professionally. I silently must bear with their snide comments or well-meaning words of advice – usually on topics they know nothing about in regards to artwork or writing.

And you know what? Their judgment of me isn’t the part that bothers me. It’s the lack of credit where credit is due. It’s when they talk down to me as if I’m garbage. They come to me because I’m recommended or because they saw something I’ve done. And even with my experience staring them directly in the face, they assume I know nothing. That I am nothing, nobody, and have never known anyone.

Isn’t that why all of you are here: because you, too, know how that feels? How many of you were talked down to or taken advantage of by some self-elevating “professional”? Raise your hands. (counts…) That’s most of you; about what I was expecting.

“But, there are a lot of us who don’t do a very good job self-publishing. They put out crap and get angry when someone tries to help them with a critique.”

Hey I know I’m not the best writer in the world myself. In fact I can honestly say my writing only just started to take a turn to the good. The difference between you and people like them is that we are always trying to improve. We check our work for spelling errors, if we can and need it we hire a copyeditor, and we prefer to have professional looking covers over clip-art looking crap. Even those of us who have only put out one book have grown from that experience. We work very  hard at what we do, and most of us love it.

So, I’m here to tell you that you have nothing to be ashamed of. Self publishing isn’t the problem we’re told it is, not when it’s done right. I don’t know who told you all that crap about indie publishing being full of bilk, but it’s not true. I’ve read just as many horrible “traditionally published” stories as I have “horrible indie” stories. And you’ll learn as you go. If you love it enough you’ll keep up with it as you go. You’ll become a seasoned quill warrior in no time.

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not a professional. You don’t have to work for someone else to be a professional. Being a professional suggests you’ve achieved a certain level of experience in what you do. It means you carry yourself with the kind of wisdom you only get from having been there and done that. It means you know what you’re talking about and, if you’re smart, you’re willing to learn when you don’t and just as willing to own up to your failings. It has nothing to do with who wrote you a paycheck and even less to do with where your experience has been had.

I am an experienced artist and independent publisher. I am smart enough to know I have more to learn and professional enough to go out and learn to do it.

My name is Katrina Joyner.

I was semi-professionally published in the Trouveare’s Laureate when I was 17 years old. Anne MacCaffery judged and picked my artwork out of thousands to be third in a contest run by a major publishing company. I have flatted comic pages for Darkwing Duck, Fineas and Ferb, Ben Ten, the X-men and more. I have painted works that have been requested by rich collectors. In 1999 I co-founded my own magazine, and in 2004 I self-published my first novel. I am told by readers that I make them squeal.

I have been touched by a lot of important people who have passed a lot of wisdom down to me; people like Marion Zimmer Bradley, Richard Pini, and Robert Reese. I’ve made mistakes, made bad decisions, and I’ve made very long strides towards becoming the artist I long to be in this world.

I have a lifetime of experience that I use to my benefit. I write what I know. I try to learn to know more to write about.

And I choose to publish independently – not because my stuff is horrible. Not because I don’t know what I’m doing. Certainly not because I’m inexperienced or stupid. I choose to publish independently because it was ultimately the right choice for me.

As I stand here today to bear witness to you up and coming publishers, I come to realize something very important about myself. I may not be rich, nor am I powerful or drop dead gorgeous. I am, however, largely happy in my quest for a better story. I am content putting my things out for myself, to see the small amount of sales I get per month, and even the negative reviews make me smile from time to time. I am a storyteller. These are my bones.

Maybe some publisher will pick me up tomorrow and make me an offer that will let me write full time. I probably won’t say no. But until then, this is my life. My path. The things I’ve been through.

I’m independent, not inexperienced.

I am a professional.