One of the things that stopped me doing just that – and one very pleasant surprise – was discovering just how friendly and supportive a place the self-publishing community can be. Having heard some horror stories about literary rivalries and rows, I was initially quite worried about this. Was I going to get embroiled in Facebook fights? Chatroom spats? Forum feuds?
To my immense relief, this never happened. Wherever I ventured – in the blogosphere, on social networking sites or forums – the response from other self-publishers was at worst cautiously polite, and at best exceptionally warm and encouraging. I was surprised, and touched. Within months, I’d forged some good, if virtual, friendships. Say what you will about self-publishers, but there is a sense of camaraderie, a feeling that we’re all in this together. That’s not to say that rows don’t occur – I’m sure they do – just that they’re far less frequent than you might imagine, and outweighed by genuine goodwill. Self-publishing is not just an activity, but a community – and, like any community, it relies upon individual members giving something back.
Straight away, any mention of ‘giving back’ might raise some hackles. In the world of self-publishing, mutual support is sometimes dismissed as a cynical ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ exercise. It raises the grisly spectre of the quid pro quo, of desperate indie authors giving each other’s books gushing five star reviews whether they liked them or not, or indeed whether they read them or not. It evokes visions of spamming campaigns and irritating promotional blitzkriegs. Such is the unflattering image that still clings to self-publishing – and it is absolutely not what I’m speaking about. On a purely personal level, I’m speaking about paying back some of my karmic debt.
Obviously, there’s a limit to what an individual can achieve, especially when – like most of us – you don’t have much in the way of power or influence. There are, however, certain things that almost anyone can do, the most obvious being to buy and read other self-published authors’ books. You can leave reviews on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads. Since self-publishers don’t have marketing departments behind them and rely primarily on word of mouth, you can help by mentioning them on your blog, or on Twitter and Facebook. You can visit authors’ blogs and websites, leave comments, and ‘like’ posts – none of which may be very much use in and of itself, but can shore up flagging spirits.
In fact, all of us probably have something that other people might want or need, some kind of know-how. You might read and comment on writer friends’ works in progress. Perhaps you’re a whizz at formatting, or an initiate of the dark arts of marketing and publicity. Perhaps you can unravel the mysteries of Amazon’s algorithms, or have navigated the intricacies of Smashwords’ Meatgrinder and lived to tell the tale. Even if you can’t do any of these things, you can almost certainly offer something, even if it’s only sympathy and a friendly ear.
Being a self-published author can be lonely work. There’s no publisher or agent waiting in the wings with advice and assistance, no established network of encouragement and expertise. The burden of your success or failure (however you define those terms, which is a rather different question) rests entirely on your shoulders, and the prospect can be a terrifying one. The obvious answer is for self-publishers to stick together, and provide some of that missing backup system.
It’s the New Year and, while I’m not a great believer in the tradition of making resolutions, I’ve pledged to do more to ‘pay it forward’ in 2014. To buy, read, and review more. To visit more blogs and websites. To do what I can, whatever it may be, and however humble it may be.
It’s not much. It won’t change the world. But it might help to strengthen the support structure from which I’ve already benefited.