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Guest Blog by Johanna Harness – Writer Shaming May 2, 2014

Posted by techtigger in Uncategorized.

In honor of the release of Johanna’s book “Spillworthy,”  the Soapbox is proud to share her story –  a very brave, and candid look at the choice to self publish.

writershameComing from a traditional, big-publishing path, I believed agents and editors spent their time making books better. When books were good enough, they’d be published.

I feel somewhat naïve for believing this. In truth, big publishers focus on making books marketable. Better and marketable are not synonymous. If they were, celebrities who make us cringe would not be offered massive book deals. If they were, Firefly would not have been cancelled after season one. Sometimes we don’t get what we want.

I had a good agent. She was doing her job well when I fired her.  Like many relationship break-ups, we just didn’t want the same things anymore.  I hired her to sell my work to a big publisher and she gave me the advice needed to make my work more marketable. I decided to go another direction.

If authors don’t want to change their writing to fit the market, we’re called bad names. After all, a real writer would do it. A writer with enough talent would think nothing of it. If a writer won’t change, she’s either too proud or too arrogant. She shows a lack of respect for everyone ever published by traditional publishers, and risks the possibility her friends inside the industry will quit talking to her.  She’s not willing to play by the rules. She must want publishers to fail, and by association, libraries. She wants to put independent bookstore owners on the street.  And probably she doesn’t care about the coffee shops where they buy their mochas. She’s committing career suicide.  She’s such a loser she has to self-publish.

Writer shaming.

Just change the book.  Sell your rights. Ignore the cover with the black kid set in shadow. It’s not like you had any say in the matter. Don’t make the kids so smart. You’d do it if you were a real writer.  You’d do it if you were hungry.  There are a lot of people who will do it if you won’t.

Yeah.  That’s me. I’m taking my writer shame, boxing it up, and setting it on a shelf.  There’s a door to the side of the room, the one that leads to self-publishing, the one that everyone says not to open. Sometimes it glows white hot with possibility and that’s when we’re told to fear it the most.

I’m tired of fear and shame.  I need to know for myself.

I walk through with the worst expectations.  I accept the future predicted for me and, instead. . .

I find a world good, and sweet, and generous.  I cry when readers write to me and tell me they loved my book.  I cry when I get good reviews. I cry when people tell me they love my cover. I cry when they ask about my next book. I cry when I am loved.

I cry even more when someone says I’ve inspired them, that they’ve come to believe they might also be worthy of love.

Writer shame be damned.

“It’s good?” they ask from the other side of the door.

“Yes.”  My answer is unequivocal. “It’s very good.”

– – –

Johanna Harness lives in Idaho in a life filled with beauty and generosity. The corners of her world are filled with chickens, cats, guinea pigs, sheep, and children.  Her debut, middle-grade novel, Spillworthy, is independently-published. It contains smart kids thinking smart thoughts, homeless people who are not burned out with despair, and caring adults who don’t die in the first chapter.

You can buy her book here: http://www.amazon.com/Spillworthy-Johanna-Harness-ebook/dp/B00JZ6PHKI


1. tyunglebower - May 3, 2014

I am only just starting to explore self-publishing. (I’m publishing a collection of short stories later this summer.) My experience is a bare bones one right now, but i see the potential benefits of having more control.

People have tried to shame self-publishers, and by extension, me, for this choice. But I’m not feeling to worried about it as I pick my own cover, set my own date and decide my own prices for a work that, as they keep telling me, agents and editors want nothing to do with these days. (Short stories collections.)

Johanna Harness (@johannaharness) - May 3, 2014

Control is the prime reason I chose self-publishing–control over content, cover, schedule, future rights, etc. The flip side of control is that so many decisions have to be made. It does take time and the learning curve can be steep.

Never trust anyone who thinks self-pubbing is as easy as clicking a button. Either they have very little experience on the topic or they’re not doing it right.

2. Jon Strother - May 3, 2014

I am so glad you shared your experience with everyone, here and elsewhere. It should help allay some of the fear people have taking that path. Of course, for it to work the book really does have to be good, and having read yours I know, yours is. Best of luck, Johanna.

Johanna Harness (@johannaharness) - May 3, 2014

Thank you, Jon. At a recent conference I attended, the keynote speaker actually said, “I know none of you are self-publishing or you wouldn’t be here trying to improve your writing.” I looked around the room and started counting the number of people who were either hybrid authors or writers working toward self-publishing. She’d offended at least a third of her audience.

Indie writers are concerned with quality and they’re seeking out conferences with solid tracks focused on craft. I’m already amazed by the work I’m seeing in this community, and it’s going to keep getting better.

It’s also worth noting that indie authors have always represented diversity–something publishers have chosen to call niche markets. It’s fascinating to watch the reaction to homogenous publishing with BookCon this year–but that’s another post. 🙂

3. ganymeder - May 3, 2014

Great post, Johanna, and good luck!

Johanna Harness (@johannaharness) - May 3, 2014

Thank you!

4. Shari Risoff - May 3, 2014

Reblogged this on Thinking Out Loud and commented:
Johanna Harness speaks for many of us! And I love her new book Spillworthy! I’ll be blogging about it this coming week.

5. revgerry - May 3, 2014

Thanks you, thank you, thank you. I am tearing up. I am just in the beginning stages of my book, but reading stuff online was drawing me away from what I really want to do: help people heal from deep depression and anything else smothering their soul, so they can live their lives as the gifted, resplendent beings they are.

6. cmdrsue - May 4, 2014

I read Spillworthy last night and loved it. Good job heading out into the big bad world of self-pub. Things are pretty nice on this side of the door.

7. Viv - May 4, 2014

That really moved me.
I’ve been thinking the same sorts of things; and feeling terribly sad about it. The fact that people assume that self-publishing is for losers who couldn’t hack it the other way is so entirely not true. Yet it gets perpetuated. My blog post for tomorrow touches this too.
All the very, very best wishes for the new book. xxx

8. johannaharness - May 11, 2014

Congratulations, ganymeder! You won a kindle copy of Spillworthy. Please contact me for details. johanna@johannaharness dot com.

9. johannaharness - May 12, 2014

Congratulations, tyunglebower, you’ve won a Kindle copy of Spillworthy. Please contact me to claim your copy! johanna@johannaharness dot com.

10. Jon Strother - May 12, 2014

“It’s fascinating to watch the reaction to homogenous publishing with BookCon this year–but that’s another post.”

Yes, please. I’d love to hear about that.

11. JC Rosen - May 17, 2014

Thank you for being so honest and facing hard truths in the publishing world, Johanna. This was a great post.
Take care,

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