After publishing my debut novel with micro-press Inspired Quill, I likened the experience to riding a mule. Now, with my third book and first short story collection on the brink of publication, I still feel something of an “inbetweenie” author, with neither the independence of the self-published nor the kudos of big-name backing. As identity is the overarching theme of my anthology, it’s hardly surprising I’ve been musing on my identity as a writer in recent weeks.
Readers don’t care who published a book as long as it’s engaging. But the challenge for the inbetweenie author is less about writing an engaging story than about attracting the attention of readers who are unaware of the rich literary landscape beyond those prominently displayed in bookshops. Among the people I encounter in one of my other identities, many can’t resist attaching the adjective famous to the word author, perhaps even rich and famous in their heads. I must then explain how, although they won’t see them reviewed in the Sunday papers, my books are still worth their money and their time.
If ignored by the broadsheets, we’re blessed by the blogosphere, and the myriad book-addicts who’ll accept a review copy if they like the sound of the blurb. Many don’t discriminate between self-published, inbetweenies and literary royalty, as long as they’ve room on their e-reader or shelf. But approaching them directly, as I often do, I’ve been mistaken for self-published, which irks me when, if it weren’t for my publisher, the book might not exist.
Among writers, I come across a mixture of support and snobbery, although most will encourage other authors regardless of the process through which our books are birthed. But when time is tight – and when is it not? – a certain amount of tribalism is inevitable. This is never more apparent than when a prestigious author pours praise on a mediocre book; I’m often puzzled until I realise the authors share a publisher or agent.
Self-published authors are also adept at mutual support, sharing expertise and finding creative ways to promote each other’s work. But if small-press published authors are banding together in a similar manner, I haven’t been invited. Do we have a shared identity? What would an Alliance of Independent Authors equivalent for inbetweenies look like?
Surely we don’t need another organisation? We have the Society of Authors after all. (As do self-published authors, as associates.) While I’ve definitely benefited from my membership, I’m bemused at handing over circa £100 a year to be informed I should be wary of the small press that signed me on four years ago.
Concerned that print-on-demand and digital technology enables anyone to set themselves up as a publisher, the SoA advises authors offered such “minimal investment” contracts to choose self-publishing instead. But this overlooks the contributions of micro-presses (some, like mine, non-profit) in bringing a wider diversity of reading material to the world. It is a category error to assume that, because some publishers are charlatans, all who can’t afford advances or printing and warehousing costs, will be cavalier about the quality of the product or about paying authors our dues. So inbetweenies also need to guard against being mistaken for hapless victims of a vanity press.
Of course, as an inbetweenie, my identity is not only a matter of how others judge me. It’s also about self-perception, and the smaller the gap between our achievements and our aspirations, the more comfortable in that identity we’re likely to be. I must confess that, on bad days, I can’t shake off the fantasy that, in a parallel universe, there’s another Anne Goodwin who headlines at festivals and whose books grace the windows of every bookshop in the land.
On good days, however, I’m brimming with gratitude. I have a small but enthusiastic readership, an inspired and energetic publisher, author endorsements and blogger reviews. I’m about to have more published titles than I have hands to hold them and have the freedom to follow the themes, plots and characters that beguile me, rather than what the market is said to demand. Whatever my status in the book world, I’m lucky to have a part in it. I’m lucky I can legitimately call myself an author and that I have a publisher’s support to do what I love.
Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, was published in 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity launches on Facebook on November 23rd, 2018, where the more people participate the more she’ll donate to Book Aid International. Subscribe to her author newsletter before 19th November, for the chance of winning a signed copy.
A former clinical psychologist, Anne is also a book blogger with a particular interest in fictional therapists.