Stigma and Self-Publishing

We unfortunately live in a world that has a lot of people, each with a lot of stigma attached to even more things. Most of the time this stigma is cultural – based on how you were brought up, where you live, you religion, your political affiliation, your job, friends, family, economic status, just to name a few. Stigma surely came about as a way to preserve some sense of normalcy and cohesion, a way to classify the Other who is going against the common good. These days stigma still exists, though its grasp is constantly loosening.

Take, for example, women in the workplace. I just had a conversation today about a co-worker’s ex-husband who believed that a woman’s role is to cook and clean, to make sure the house is ready when the man, the traditional breadwinner, comes home. We all know that this stigma still exists today, and has led to things like wage gaps and inequality in the workforce. But to me, even entertaining the thought that sexes are not equal is archaic.

Tattoos and body modification are another such topic. Even a decade ago, having visible tattoos, piercings, even “extreme” hair dyes would be reason to not offer employment to an individual. I put quotes around extreme because it is the term used in the dress code of one of my previous employers. Nowadays, tattoos are becoming the norm. Doctors, lawyers, social workers, even CEOs could be sporting tattoos. Just the other day I met the executive director of a charity who had a fair number of piercings in his ears and nose. Funny thing is, ink, piercings and dye do not affect the competency of people in any of these roles.

I do not need to bombard you with paragraph after paragraph of examples, you get the picture. We, as a society, are progressing towards eliminating stigma and that is fantastic. Unfortunately, stigma will never completely go away. Even though I consider myself an open-minded, liberal, progressive-thinking individual, I sometimes even catch myself applying stigma to people in certain circumstances. Why is that person outside at 1am on a Tuesday? Immediately I could think “I hope they don’t damage my car” or “I bet they are up to no good”, but then I force myself to think of the alternatives: What if they simply cannot sleep? What if it is a medical condition? What if they work until late or start early, and just want to enjoy a walk? Again, I could probably recite a whole slew of examples of stigmas I attach to people. No one is perfect, we all have some sort of unconscious bias.

Now, I am in a new situation where I will be facing stigma from other people. One of the biggest obstacles for me in deciding to go the route of an indie author was the stigma attached to it. I briefly touched on this before, but would like to explain where I came from, and how I overcame this particular obstacle.

To keep it short, I thought that self-published authors only went that route because they were not good enough to have their book published through traditional means. I labeled them with terms like lazy, untalented, thought of them as second-class. If your work, your art, is not up to the standards of the big publishing houses, it is not worth the time of day to read it.

And there was not an “ah-ha” moment that made me change my mind, no light bulb suddenly turning on in my head. It was a culmination of certain events that led to my decision. An interest in micromedia, blogging, digital marketing and being able to wear multiple hats was appealing, combined with the ever-burning dream of being an author helped to spur it. The ease and convenience of eBooks when I needed something new to read, and the sheer magnitude of products out there that I was completely unaware of, all coupled with the fact that 2015 saw more sales in eBooks than physical books that got me thinking that maybe I was wrong. Maybe there were quality works out there. And it was not just a flood of second-rate works; the third-highest source of bestsellers last year was self-publishing.

So hold on. Not only are self-published books being read in massive numbers, but they are directly competing with the biggest publishers out there? And, on top of that, self-publishing has the opportunity for someone like me to not just be an author, but be everything that goes along with being an indie author?

Consider my stigma gone.

But it still exists for others, that is a certainty. Clearly it has declined with the rise of technology and the talent that is becoming more apparent in the indie author community. It also has allowed a more intimate relationship to develop with these authors, so they are no longer these extraterrestrial beings, but they are people who can and love to interact with their readers. There is still a long road ahead before this stigma, among many others, is gone.

On a final note, I would like to look at my own country, Canada. Just yesterday a bill moved through the Commons that would add discrimination based on gender identity, specifically transgender identity, illegal under the Criminal Code. It still has a long way to go, but the fact that something like this has such strong support is a testament to much progress we are making, and how much we will make in the future.

It won’t be easy, but no challenge worth fighting for is.