Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Independence for Writers

Independence is a funny thing: with tomorrow's celebration of the independence of the United States from Great Britain we will hear a lot about freedom but not so much about responsibility.

The standard narrative often runs along the lines of, "Things were difficult in 1776 but the founding fathers were men of vision and courage—and look where we are today." We conveniently gloss over the first 100 years of the country's history when its viability and sometimes its continuing existence were more or less in doubt.

Independence is a consistently harder road than dependence: like investments, greater rewards are always accompanied by greater risks.

During the last five years we've heard various proclamations that writers can now stand independent of publishers. The standard narrative about independent publishing is similar to the narrative about American independence: heavy on the new-found freedoms authors enjoy but light on the new responsibilities they must shoulder.

My aim in sharing these observations is not to argue that either the old or new ways are better, but to point out the deeper challenge of taking responsibility. The principle of taking responsibility should come as no surprise to writers: offering a book to readers under your name means you've taken the responsibility to provide intelligible, error–free, and grammatically–correct problems that tells a coherent story that will entertain and/or inform. One of the comforts in the old way of publishing was there were enough people involved that if you needed to apportion blame you could exempt yourself—the publisher chose a bad cover, the sales force to promote the book properly, or some event distracted the public, none of which was your fault. The inescapable truth of independent publishing is that, rise or fall, the book's fate is no one's fault but your own.

Some of you may think taking full responsibility for your book sounds harsh. There is nothing wrong with finding partners for your publishing project, but even there you are still responsible for making sure they are the right partners. While we might throw around dichotomies like right and wrong or easy and difficult, taking responsibility is ultimately about maturity—something to think about tomorrow, both as a writer and as a citizen.

Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at

Image: Simon Howden /

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