[T]hree things—autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward—are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether our works fulfills us. …Work that fulfills those three criteria is meaningful.
Over and over again on websites and in personal correspondence, I hear writers who have chosen to self-publish talk about how energized (or re-energized) they are. While there’s the inevitable grousing about low-sales numbers or promotions gone haywire, rarely are there complaints about the work itself. I know I find myself ready to write every day, eager to get to the page and get my latest words down.
That’s because, according to Gladwell’s definition, self-publishing is meaningful work.
The vast majority of would-be writers get up in the morning and write for a faceless agent at an unknown agency. They write so they can add their manuscript to a growing pile of manuscripts so large that at some agencies the interns can sit on them like chairs. That manuscript may be rejected for any number of reasons that, in most cases, will never be communicated to the author, leaving no opportunity for improvement.
The self-published author writes for himself or herself and sets the standard for quality, content, and length. There are no bosses—or, they are the best kind to have: readers and fans. Writing for yourself means there are no barriers or go-betweens. The relationship consists of you and your audience, and that’s it.
How many traditionally-published authors get to write in more than one genre? Or more than one format? Or write something that deviates from the norm in approach or tone or voice?
I’m simultaneously working on three short stories, a novella, three novels, and two non-fiction articles. The short stories are fantasy, the novella is horror, and the novels are crime fiction. I’ve got a trunk full of literary fiction, science fiction, and non-fiction ideas. Nothing’s going to keep me from publishing them when I feel that they meet my standards of quality. If I feel like publishing poetry next year, I’ll do that without batting an eye. And if I decide a book with a mixture of verse, prose, and hyper-links is the next thing that lights my creative fires, I have the freedom to do so.
A Connection Between Effort And Reward
I can’t recall reading an account by or talking to a traditionally published author who has sung the praises of their publisher in terms of promotional support, career advancement, or financial probity. I can, however, think of a half-dozen authors who have complained about little or no advertising support, minuscule advances, a paltry 17.5% royalty rate, terrible covers, and being dropped when sales numbers didn’t beat (often unrealistic or handicapped) expectations. These same authors understood that they were expected to produce at the top of their abilities, regardless of the actions of their publishers.
Even if I never make a cent off my writing, I still feel the direct, immediate reward of work well-done—work I’ve done–when I write a story, format the content, create the cover, and publish my title myself. I understand instantly the ramifications of a poorly edited manuscript, or a lousy cover, or a rushed blurb. More importantly, I can affect the outcome directly. Responsibility, effort, blame, and accolades all rest with me. Money I make from the sales of my work is gravy, but even then I have instant access to my earnings and can adjust my promotional efforts accordingly. Someday I want to make a living off my words, but for now it’s a thrill just to see others interested in my writing.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why, after years of trying to catch an agent’s eye and writing in futility, self-publishing agrees with me and so many other writers. But I have Gladwell to thank for putting the feeling so succinctly. The idea of writing as meaningful work fits so perfectly, like a key in a lock, that I think I’ll print it out and hang it above my desk.