There’s a bit of a brouhaha that’s been… “brouhaha-ing” in the fantasy community for a couple of days that I just caught wind of today thanks to a post on Fantasy Faction by Marc Alpin titled The Man Who Thought He Was King. It seems there is an author by the name of M. R. Mathias who uses his real name, Michael Robb Mathias Jr., as the publisher for his books. The short version of events that led to the unrest is that Mr. Mathias is upset his post promoting one of his titles was moved to a spot on the forum for self-published authors. His argument is that the fact he publishes his own books doesn’t make him a self-published author. It makes him a small press.
Why is he running from the self-published moniker? It’s a term invented by the publishing industry decades ago to demean authors who paid to publish their own books. I understand Mr. Mathias’ frustration being associated with the s-word. Let’s face it; it comes with a lot of baggage. I even disavowed it once. I was invited by some students to speak to their creative writing club. Before the students arrived, the woman in charge of the club spent several minutes telling me she was so discouraged by all these self-published authors ruining the industry. She was an otherwise pleasant lady so I let the comment slide and simply said that she might want to get used to the trend because it was here to stay. She looked horrified by the notion. The problem came during the Q&A session with the students. They asked me how I got published. I looked at the woman and scrambled for an answer that would not embarrass her or make me feel like an idiot for being one those authors who is destroying the publishing industry. I simply told the students that I was an indie author and described the process I go through with my agent to try to get bigger publishers interested in my books.
So, I do understand why Mr. Mathias doesn’t like being called a self-published author. People still use it as a derogatory term. But, I’m afraid that’s where my empathy for Mr. Mathias ends. He committed the worst of sins in his defense of his outrage. He claimed to be a great writer, a better writer than some established traditionally published authors in the fantasy genre. Writers cannot claim their own greatness. Why? Because no one will ever agree with an author that claims they are great. It is a surefire way to flood the online universe with reviews that rip every aspect of their books apart.
Aplin actually makes a great commentary on this particular strategy incorporated by Mr. Mathias:
It throws up an interesting debate in regards to how a self-published author attracts an audience. Typically, self-published authors send out copies of their books and interact with the community in the hope that, after a few people have read their book, word of mouth will spread and they’ll gain a readership. However, as with other media – you have those rock stars and models who get famous because of their self-destructive nature or their willingness to make outrageous statements. Can this work in book publishing?
The answer to his question is no it can’t work. It shouldn’t. Self-proclaimed greatness isn’t the way to build a fan base in the world of publishing, but it’s the perfect way to attract critics. Building an author brand is incredibly tedious, but it’s not difficult. It’s really simple. I can describe it in six steps.
2. Promote with humility
3. Acknowledge compliments
4. Don’t respond to criticism
5. Study your craft
6. Repeat steps 1-5
That’s it. It’s not rocket science. The “self-destructive” behavior may give you a short term bump in sales, but it will do damage to your brand over the long run. I get the sense that Mr. Mathias felt as though he was backed into a corner and as a result, he felt compelled to defend himself and the more he did the bolder his statements became. I don’t know him personally, but I’ve seen other people respond the same way. It’s human nature to want to defend your good name. His best approach would be to release a mea culpa and back away from his own greatness. The good news is his brand can recover if he makes the right moves. It’s evident that he is committed to publishing because he is fairly prolific. The industry needs his kind of enthusiasm. Here’s hoping he survives this fray and gets back on track.
I’m R.W. Ridley, and I am not a great writer, but I’m working on it.