I am beginning to wonder why more authors don't self-publish. Oh, that's right. It's because of the onus of vanity publishing. That is changing.
There are lots of writers who still believe that legitimacy only comes with being published by a real publisher, real meaning established publishing house. They also believe that the only way to go is with an agent to look after your interests because writers just don't know about contracts and rights and all that legal mumbo-jumo.
There are even writers who insist that a writer isn't a real writer unless and until the name appears on the spine of the book as the only author, ignoring the publication of articles, co-authoring books and articles, anthologies and anything that isn't a fiction or nonfiction book authored by the writer and only by the writer. Too many qualifiers.
The real reason for placing all those hurdles is to differentiate oneself from what the competition. It's the same old schoolyard game of one-upmanship. If I have numerous articles and have co-authored a couple of books AND have published a novel then I'm a writer and you're not because you've only written articles and contributed to twenty anthologies. It's silly and petty and only silly and petty people still believe that way. A writer is one who writes. It's that simple. The dictionary says nothing about publication, just writing.
The Belle of Amherst, Emily Dickinson, is undoubtedly a poet even though she never published a book of poetry in her lifetime. Only a handful of poetry was ever published. In death, as in life, Dickinson remains a poet.
One thing writers need to do is stop fighting with each other. Our differences are our strength and shouldn't be used as a reason for exclusion, but people tend to be more exclusionist than inclusionist. Too bad, since it makes a sometimes lonely life that much lonelier, and more competitive.
During this time of changes and birth pains throughout the publishing world, we need to celebrate our differences and find ways to support each other. I was impressed with Barry Eisler and Amanda Hocking congratulating each other in a recent tandem interview. They each recognized in the other intelligence and business savvy, despite choosing different paths. They were polite and professional. We need more of that especially now that the face of publishing is changing so quickly.
I have found myself at odds with other writers over these issues and I usually end up shaking my head and walking away. I cannot abide jealousy in any form.
When I was just getting into the whole Internet thing and finding my cyberlegs, I visited many writing forums and offered advice to newbies coming in asking questions. I did have a limit, but when someone was interested in learning, I thought it only fair to spare them some of the anguish and offer tips and point out a few signs along the way. If I didn't know an answer, I knew where to find it and I sent them to the source. I caught a lot of flack from more seasoned writers and professionals because I was wasting my time and making it too easy for them. I was surprised, and I shouldn't have been. People can be mean, no more so than when they feel threatened. I never feel threatened. There are an infinite way of telling stories and an infinite number of combinations on the so-called 12 plots available. Of course, I hadn't heard about Mary Sues then either. I don't write fan fiction.
I have heard of mimics and I think most writers go through a mimicry stage when they try to write like their favorite authors. Some writers have made a very good living mimicking certain writing styles and authors. Mimickry (imitation) is said to be the sincerest form of flattery.
We all have to start somewhere and writing is the very first step. Get the words out of your head and onto the page. Once you do that and do it consistently -- every day is best -- you are a writer. The rest is business. That is what publishing is, a business, a means to earn money as a writer. Real writing is really writing day after day, week after week, weekends and holidays, and every spare moment -- even if it's just for your own amusement or to share with family, or as a legacy to future generations.
Emily Dickinson is not here to appreciate the impact her poetry had on subsequent generations of admirers and readers, but somehow, somewhere inside her, she felt the need to put her feelings and thoughts and ideas down on paper so we could share that corner of her life and abilities . . . because she wrote.
That's how to be a real writer. Sit down and write.