It says something about our culture that, when I tell strangers I’m an author, they ask, “Really? Are you published?”
Fifty years ago, I don’t think that would be the first question. I think they would ask “Where are you published?” or “Have you written anything I’d have heard of?”. But these days, people know just enough about publishing to know that there’s a difference between a big-6 published author and a vanity press author. And yes, for many people, those are the only two possibilities. Either you’re James Patterson, or you’re the “Time Cube” guy.
So when people ask, “Are you published?” I don’t try to play coy by saying, “Yes, I’m published on Amazon, iBookstore, Smashwords and Gumroads.” I answer the question they really mean to ask. I respond with. “I’m self-published.”
At this point, I will usually get the faux-understanding nod and the “oh” that means “You’re one of those pathetic bastards who is delusional enough to think you’re a writer even though every editor on Earth thinks you suck.” I let them look on me with pity, because I’ve fought that war, and I’ve found it just as fruitful as arguing on the Internet. <<insert XKCD image>>
I’m not embarrassed by my work, or by my publishing status. I’ve done a lot of research, and I know that however bad my sales numbers may get, it could be a lot worse with a publishing contract. I’ve seen friends fight with publishers, agents, and bookstores. I don’t want to be there. I want to work with readers directly. So I’ve chosen this road, and not all the pity of strangers can make me feel ashamed.
Recently, though, I’ve noticed another trend. Those same people who shoot me looks of pity and walk away will tend to come back later. They will sidle up to me at some private moment and ask in a low whisper, “So, I’d like to talk to you later. When you’ve got a minute. If it’s okay… See, I have this idea for a story, and, of course, I’m no writer… But I was wondering if you could give me some pointers on it. Maybe give me an idea how to put it together.”
And I don’t laugh in their faces. I don’t point out the scorn and derision they showed in public. I nod, I smile genuinely, and I offer everything I can. I give them my e-mail address, and point them to some basic blog posts to check out. I give them the strategy for writing the easy way (for newbs).
I make it clear to them that I’m glad to help. Because someday, I like to think they’ll be where I am. Someday, they will look a stranger in the eye with pride and say, “I’m self-published.”