Who here remembers a little film from 1977 by the name of Star Wars? It did pretty well at the box office. And for a few years after. Almost 40. Do you remember which major Hollywood studio produced the film? 20th Century Fox eventually picked up the project so it would have wide distribution, but not until it was finished. George Lucas wasn’t a big fan of the studio system, having had commercial but not personal success with American Graffiti, which he felt wasn’t entirely the film he had envisioned. So with Star Wars he went out on his own, shot the whole picture with his own production company, Lucasfilm, and grafted in the special effects through his own Industrial Light & Magic.
After a rather paltry (by today’s standards) opening weekend taking in just over $250,000, the film has grossed over $800 million. That’s just the original, not the sequels. Not bad for an indie film.
It was this spirit of independence that allowed Lucas to make the film he wanted, rather than the film the so-called experts in Hollywood, many of whom poo-pooed the concept, wanted. It’ll never work, they said. Nobody wants to see a movie about robots. It’s too elaborate and won’t make back the cost of production.
Once again, Hollywood was wrong. (For further examples, see most Oscar-nominated pictures.)
Of course, Lucas is by no means the only successful independent filmmaker, a fact Hollywood would really rather overlook, thank you very much. The established film studios hate competition. With each other is fine, but not with outsiders, the unchurched of the movie biz. After all, independent director don’t make quality movies, right? Nobody wants to see a movie about robots.
So it is too with publishing. The Big Six publishers don’t exactly hate indie presses, as so far indies aren’t a huge threat. In fact, sometimes they like indie authors. Vince Flynn, for example, self-published his first book. Then someone at HarperCollins read it and signed him to a lucrative contract. Flynn became a very rich man, thanks in part to the indie publishing world.
But so far, the indie publishing industry is still regarded by many readers as second class drivel, a burgeoning collection of crapola that wasn’t good enough for “real” publishers to consider worth the ink. Tell someone you self-published and they politely set the book back down and smile as they slink away.
But that’s changing. Partially because of semantics.
Slowly, independent books are climbing the status ladder, thanks in part to better quality books, but more because of the way they are positioned in the market: not as self-published, but as “independent,” like films.
After all, it’s still the same deal. An author, like a director, gets an idea and crafts a story, only on paper instead of on screen. A few loyal supporters spread the word, often through social media and low-cost channels, and awareness begins to rise. There are book signings and blog posts, and if enough people agree that it’s a good book, they recommend it to friends and off it goes!
Is the self-publishing industry really that much different from the self-filming industry? Not really. The advantage the self-filming industry has is that it never called itself that. They were always independent films, which lent a certain credibility to the art.
So I propose we do away with the term “self-publishing” and stick exclusively to “independent.” It’s really a more appropriate term anyway.