Indie Life - Control Vs Freedom

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Control Vs Freedom

Ask any child who has been allowed to sit at the BIG KIDS table for the first time, any teen who has driven solo for the first time, or any eighteen year old who has just spent her first month at college away from home: Being independent kicks all ass.

Understanding the degree varies by culture, it's safe to say most humans crave autonomy. We yearn to define our own boundaries. We pine to show our worth. We hustle to mark our unique spots in the world like an overactive male puppy in a fire-hydrant factory. 

I'll submit to you today that I think creative artist are the worst ME seekers of the lot. And justifiably so. After all, self-expression is our business, and doing-things-our-own-way is the only real product we have offer.

"Why buy my painting of trees when there are thousands of other tree paintings out there? Because my painting was done by me, and only I can see the trees this way. Now you can, too--every morning above your sofa for the small sum of $500 US ... cash."

But, I believe this is also why artists struggle so much with security issues, finances, and the like. We're conflicted, and here's why:

Writing is not a business, so you can (and probably should) throw all of the restraints out the window and do it all your way. Writing allows--encourages, in fact--us to think independently.

Writing feeds our habit. It feels good, even when it might be a little unhealthy.

Being an author, however, is a business. A business with boundaries, a business with rules. Yes, you can break rules and still be successful, but you usually have to be damn good at following them first. 

Being an author can be like going to rehab for our habit. It hurts like hell, but sometimes it's the best thing for us.

So what happens when you stick a group of highly independently-minded folks in a constrained environment with the provision of, "you can do anything you want, but you can't leave this area"

Imagine sticking a couple-dozen two year olds in an empty room and giving them the same orders. You'd return a few hours later to find: Poop. Blood. Tears. Little people trying to gnaw through walls to escape ... we're talking straight up Lord of the Flies level chaos.

"Where's Timmy?"

"We sent him through the air ducts to find freedom and haven't seen him since."

"Why Timmy?"

"Because I'm holding the LEGO, and the LEGO holder must be obeyed."

If that all sounds a bit too much like your writing routine/journey (poop, tears, blood, teeth gnashing, etc.), or your online writing group (Lord of the Flies), for comfort, trust me, you're not alone.

In the end, if you want to be a SUCCESSFUL published author, you might have to cash in some of that independence. You'll be asked to write in a way that is pleasing to a broad range of readers, agents, and editors. You'll probably need to understand terms like 'markets', 'genre', and 'metadata'. Heck, you might even have to change the names of your characters.

(I know, you LOVE Zartan and Estes, but readers think they're stupid names...) 

And here's the trick for Indies: All of the 'business' stuff applies more to you than it does other authors.

Ain't that a kick in the Dungarees?! You became an Indie to have fewer constraints and boundaries, not more, and now EJ is telling you that isn't going to happen. *harumph harumph harumph*

Being an Indie DOES mean more control, but sometimes that comes with less freedom than you might think. 

You get to choose your own editor! But you have to pick one who isn't illiterate that you can also afford. You get to decide which book cover you want! But you have to be willing to follow the rules of good design and marketing--yes, even if you liked the one with the cats more.

Why not just do what you want? After all, there's no one wagging a finger at you saying, "Fix this or it won't be published." 

You follow the business rules, because if the product sucks you're going to get ALL of the blame. That's why.

Your cover stinks: that's your bad, not the publishers. There are typos: that's your bad, not the editors. (Even they miss things, and your the last one to push the 'publish' button = your bad.) No one knows your book exists: that's your bad, not the marketing department at Random House. 

I guess all of this is to say: Don't become an Indie because of any pre-conceived ideas of total freedom. Total control, perhaps, but not freedom. Not if you want to be good at it.

It's still publishing, and publishing is still a business.



  1. I think I have enough freedom (and responsibility) with my publisher at the moment!
    Blazing Saddles - excellent choice.

    1. Yes, I couldn't miss an opportunity to get Hedey 'That's HedLey' Lamar in a post. :-)

  2. Wasn't that Meatloaf? "You can do anything you want, but you can't do that?"

    1. If my post has reminded someone of a Meatlof song, I think I can safely say that my work here is done. lol

  3. Even if going indie isn't total freedom, the control still makes it worthwhile, IMO.

  4. YUP. It takes work and it you're it.

    Hugs and chocolate,

    I'll be sending you an email later. Got a question for you.

  5. LOL - one with the cats! I saw an article last year that listed the top twenty things to place on your book cover, and #20 was a cute kitten. For real!

  6. Everything you say is true! While we're our own boss, we're still running a business and have to conform to a certain extent! Loved the lego bit, lol!

    1. I mentioned to Melissa below that if you have teens the 'totem of power' might change to an xBox controller or car keys. :-)

  7. So, so true! Lots of control but little freedom, but that's okay. :)

    1. I agree, Cherie. I'm finding the Indie route to be a pretty perfect blend of the two (control/freedom) for my particular brand of OCD. ;-)

  8. Excellent post, Ej. So true. We can't get away with whatever we want. Publishing is a serious business and we need to respect what works if we're going to be successful :)

  9. Holding a Lego is all I need to do to make people obey me? Gee. I wonder if it would work with my kids. :P

    Great post, EJ. Very, very true.

  10. I've worked with publishers and done indie and I much prefer indie, if only to control my cover and release. Publishers are good in that they take the worry out of finding a good editor or artist.

    Writing has always been a business to me.

  11. Thanks for the kick in the! I needed that...
    Great post EJ-yes, it all is business. We just have to tweak our right minded brains and conform, a bit! Where is my business plan for the right brained me-off to plot and plan! I'm thinking how I would contribute!
    As you said, perfect blend for OCD-for those wearing Obsessively Creative Dungarees!

  12. I signed up and will give this a shot on an upcoming blog post.

    Legos, huhn? Who knew?

  13. Excellent points. It's more work being indie cuz you have to manage it all and be smart about it. I really am hoping for a bit of both--the hybrid author, as it's being called. I need some hand holding, and some of it I wanna do on my own. If I had extra finances I'd do it all myself, but since thats not an option, it'd be really nice to have someone else pay to pub my book.

  14. Wonderful post and so true. I love being an Indie author but it comes with the cost of doing and staying on track. There is so much to being an Indie author because we do have to wear all the hats.

  15. Isn't it always a Timmy who ends up stuck in the air duct, or the well, or the thresher, or the fence, or out on the ledge?


“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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