Victoria Woodhull and the Victorian Antecedent of #MeToo

By Bradley & Rulofson, San Francisco ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

(This article is being posted concurrently on The Huffington Post)

The #MeToo movement began in 2006 as a way to empower survivors of sexual violence and then in late 2017 became a rallying cry against sexual harassment for all women. It occurred to me yesterday that the roots of the #MeToo movement reach back much farther in time than when Tarana Burke began using the phrase on MySpace. The original feminists, who were also the first suffragists, often took up issues of sex and sexuality. Victoria Woodhull, woman of so many firsts, was at the vanguard.

A little background on Victoria, in case you are unfamiliar with her:

Despite being born in 1864 as the dirt-poor daughter of a con-man and a religious zealot and having very little formal education, Victoria raised herself up to become a self-made millionaire by the age of 30, as well as the first woman to:

  • Speak before a House Committee of Congress (the Judiciary Committee, where she spoke in favor of female suffrage)
  • Run a stock brokerage on Wall Street (which she ran with the help of her sister, Tennessee, who was also called Tennie)
  • Run a weekly newspaper (Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, which she also ran with Tennie)
  • Run for United States president (in 1872, 48 years before women were granted the right to vote)

Advocate of Prostitutes and Free Love
Having suffered physical (and according to some biographers, sexual) abuse at the hands of her father, and having endured marital rape by her first husband, Canning Woodhull, Victoria was an outspoken advocate of female sexual rights. In 1871, she declared publicly, “Sexual freedom means the abolition of prostitution both in and out of marriage, means the emancipation of woman from sexual slavery and her coming into ownership and control of her own body” (Sterns).

Victoria was a member of a Spiritualist splinter movement called the sex radicals, who believed, among other things, that “hypocrisy tainted the social order and made class and gender equality inaccessible to women” (Frisken 27). Like many others of this group, Victoria was known to be a supporter of the rights of prostitutes. (Some posit that she worked as one for a time, which I don’t believe, but it is known that her sister Tennie, was a prostitute, thanks to her father who forced several of the Woodhull girls into the sex trade.) Victoria was known to have heard the plights of prostitutes during her work as a clairvoyant healer and to have been deeply touched by their plight. Indeed, when she and Tennie opened their brokerage in 1870, Victoria ensured it had a special back room with its own separate entrance for women. Many have speculated that in addition to rich magnates’ wives, heiresses and honest businesswomen, the prostitutes and madams Victoria once helped came to try their luck in the stock market and so Victoria made sure they had a private, protected place to do their legitimate business (Goldsmith 191). Editorials in Victoria’s newspaper (possibly penned by her, but also equally possibly penned by her husband Col. James Blood or her close friend Stephen Pearl Andrews) stated “Remove the causes and the effects will cease. Give woman employment and you remove her from the need of self-destruction…We hope all our girls will soon be educated up to the standard of preferring the glorious freedom of self support, even as washerwomen or ragpickers, to holding legal or illegal sexual relations undictated by attraction. She who marries for support, and not for love, is a lazy pauper, coward and prostitute” (Frisken 27).

Victoria not only spoke about women’s rights, she lived her beliefs. She was famously a supporter of Free Love, a movement that the press liked to dress up as the wanton belief that everyone should be able to have sex with anyone, anytime, but which to Victoria meant that the religion and government should not be part of marriage. She believed that when two people fell in love, a marriage should begin, and if they fell out of love, it should end and both parties be free to take other lovers. This was her explanation:

“Two persons, a male and a female, meet and are drawn together by a mutual attraction—a natural feeling unconsciously arising within their natures of which neither has any control—which is denominated love. Suppose after this marriage has continued an indefinite time, the unity between them departs. Could they any more prevent it than they can prevent the love? It came without their bidding; it not also go without their bidding? It is therefore a strictly legitimate conclusion that where there is no love as a basis of marriage, there should be no marriage, and if that which was the basis of a marriage is taken away, that the marriage also ceases from that time, statute laws to the contrary notwithstanding” (Sterns).

While that may sound reasonable to us now, in Victorian America, it was shocking. In those days, divorce was a religious issue, rendering asunder what God hath joined, and laws varied widely by state, resulting in uneven and unfair rules. Wisconsin and Indiana had the two most liberal divorce laws in country, and incompatibility was accepted as grounds, (Goldsmith 204) but in many states, the only grounds for divorce a woman could use were cruelty, the definition of which varied widely, and adultery, which it was hard to prove, so divorce was difficult for a woman.

Add to this the economic and cultural dependencies of women upon men and there were many unhappy marriages in which women were required to sexually submit to husbands they did not love. In that same 1871 speech, Victoria said, “Sanctioned and defended by marriage, night after night, thousands of rapes are committed under the cover of this accursed license. I know whereof I speak. Millions of poor, heartbroken, suffering wives are compelled to minister to the lechery of insatiable husbands when every instinct of body and sentiment of soul revolt in loathing and disgust. Prate of the abolition of slavery, there was never servitude in the world like this one of marriage” (Sterns). This is what she was fighting against with her very public ideals of Free Love.

Like many women who speak out today, Victoria was punished for her radical ideas. In 1872, Harper’s Weekly published a cartoon dubbing Victoria as “Mrs. Satan” because she urged women to fight back against sexual slavery and mistreatment within marriage, an image and a name that would dog her throughout the end of her presidential run and even hang on for decades after her death.

The Beecher-Tilton Scandal, The Original #MeToo
If that wasn’t enough, Victoria famously called out the most famous and beloved preacher of her day – Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, a Victorian Harvey Weinstein, who was said to “preach to at least twenty of his mistresses every Sunday” (Goldsmith, xiv).

The first time, in May 1871, she simply alluded to him in her newspaper, writing that many of the men who judged her “preach against ‘free love’ openly and practice it secretly. I know of one man, a public teacher of eminence, who lives in concubinage with the wife of another public teacher of almost equal eminence. All three concur in denouncing offenses against morality” (Brody 83).

But by October 1872, Victoria had had enough and took steps that eerily foreshadowed Rose McGowan’s 2017 public social media declaration against Harvey Weinstein. Victoria brought back her failed newspaper for one incredibly scandalous issue in which she blew the lid off of one of the biggest sex scandals of the age. Her article, “The Beecher-Tilton Scandal Case: The Detailed Statement of the Whole Matter,” was written in the form of a mock interview in which Victoria, after a brief introduction, answered questions from a fictional reporter about the affair. In the article she revealed her long-held secret knowledge that Rev. Beecher had a sexual affair with Elizabeth “Lib” Tilton, the wife of Victoria’s former lover, Theodore Tilton. The reverend’s scandalous behavior was an open secret in their society, but Victoria’s public account brought it unequivocally into the light where it could no longer be denied, resulting in a court case that was the O.J. Simpson trial of its day.

Thomas Nast [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Accompanying Victoria’s article was one by her sister, Tennie, which detailed the rape of a young virgin (or two, depending on the source) at an annual night of debauchery called the French Ball many years earlier.  It was Tennie’s use of the phrase “…to prove that he seduced a virgin, carried for days on his finger, exhibiting in triumph, the red trophy of her virginity” that landed the sisters in jail a few days later on charges of sending obscene content through the mail. Despite that phrase appearing in Book of Deuteronomy in Bible (and therefore everyone who had ever mailed a Bible being equally guilty), they remained in jail for several months, causing Victoria to miss the Election Day during which her name was on the ballot as the first ever woman to run for president of the United States. Both women were eventually acquitted of all charges against them. (See this article for more on the scandal.)

And on Through the Decades
Unlike the #MeToo movement, the Beecher-Tilton scandal did not result in an outpouring of similar accusations; Victorian society would not stand for that, so women stayed silent. In the end, the lurid headlines did little to change things. After a six-month trial that ended in a hung jury, Rev. Beecher walked away unpunished and his congregation paid his trial costs, leaving him richer than before Victoria spoke up (McMillen 193). He may have been one of the first, but he certainly wasn’t the last. Throughout the remainder of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century, women were routinely abused at home, in their places of worship, and increasingly in the workplace. According to Time magazine, “By the 1920s, working women were advised to simply quit their jobs if they could not handle the inevitable sexual advances” (Cohen). In fact, discrimination against women in the workplace only became illegal with the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In 1970, Lynn Povich and the women of Newsweek sued their employers for sexual harassment and discrimination, citing the withholding of advancement because they were female. (This is the subject of the unfortunately canceled but excellent Amazon series Good Girls Revolt.) According to Time, “the phrase “sexual harassment” was coined in 1975, by a group of women at Cornell University,” after a woman named Carmita Wood “filed a claim for unemployment benefits after she resigned from her job due to unwanted touching from her supervisor.” After the university refused her a transfer and denied her benefits, a group called Working Women United was formed. At the group’s events, “the women spoke of masturbatory displays, threats and pressure to trade sexual favors for promotions” (Cohen) – all things cited 42 years later when Hollywood women spoke out about men in the entertainment industry.

Sexual harassment was a major issue of the Second Wave of Feminism, which took place in the late 1970s and 1980s in the United States. In 1991, Anita Hill famously testified against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, alleging sexual harassment when she worked for him at the Education Department. This moment is said by many to mark the beginning of the Third Wave of feminism. Thousands of cases followed, some picked up my the media, but many not. And of course, in 2017, #MeToo happened.

One hundred and twenty years before Anita, nearly 150 years before #MeToo, Victoria Woodhull uttered words that still hold true today, “Women are entirely unaware of their power.” She continued, “If the very next Congress refuses women all the legitimate results of citizenship, we shall proceed to call another convention expressly to frame a new Constitution and erect a new government” (Sterns). Perhaps such a revolution is exactly what the #MeToo movement will bring about in our own day – not by a literal overthrowing of the government, but by a re-writing of the rules of society that allow sexual harassment and rape to go unspoken about and unpunished. Victoria raised the cry nearly 150 years ago; it is time that women are finally heard.

Nicole Evelina is the author of Madame Presidentess, an award-winning historical fiction account of the life of Victoria Woodhull. She is currently researching a book about the history of feminism in the United States.

Sources

Brody, Miriam. Victoria Woodhull, Free Spirit for Women’s Rights.

Cohen, Sasha. A Brief History of Sexual Harassment in America Before Anita Hill

Frisken, Amanda. Victoria Woodhull’s Sexual Revolution.

Goldsmith, Barbara. Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull.

McMillen, Sally. Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement

Sottile, Alexis. ‘Good Girls Revolt’: Inside Landmark Lawsuit Behind New Feminist Series

Sterns, Madeleine. The Victoria Woodhull Reader. (Source of Victoria’s speeches.)

 

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2018 Word of the Year and Goals

All of the year-end Best Books of 2017 lists (and an article on 10-year planning I read) have brought me to a conclusion about 2018: I need to focus on getting traditionally published.

I’ve known all along that I would try that route again someday, but if I’m going to become “the Nora Roberts of Historical Fiction,”* which is my goal, I don’t know that I can do it without at least a few traditionally published books. Plus:

  • I want to be on those year-end lists.
  • I want to get big-time exposure.
  • I want to get foreign rights deals so I can get more international fans.
  • I want to be on the USA Today and New York Times best-seller lists.

And realistically, the only way these are going to happen is either by an act of God (like Colleen Hoover and Bella Andre experienced with their indie careers) or with a traditional contract.

I’m hoping that my indie publishing successes will give me enough credence to make getting an agent/publisher easier than it was the last time. I know that because of what I’ve already experienced, I will go into this round of querying and submissions with so much more confidence. And probably less stress because I know this time that it’s not the be-all-and-end-all of my career; if it doesn’t work out, I can always self-publish the books.

THIS DOES NOT MEAN I’M GOING TO STOP INDIE PUBLISHING!

Not at all. I have plans to self-publish at least four or five more books related to the Guinevere series (Mistress of Legend, Isolde’s story, Morgan’s story, Soibian’s story and a companion guide, plus maybe a few novellas), and possibly the other three or four books in the Chicago Soulmates series, which began with Been Searching for You. Plus whatever else traditional publishing doesn’t take. I’ll become a hybrid author.

So that means 2018 is shaping up like this:

  1. Get Mistress of Legend done and published. (I know that will make many of you happy. Me as well! Publication date TBD.)
  2. Continue on the Rose Ferron biography, which I’m hoping to have done by late summer.
  3. Research and start writing two WWII books that I’d like to get traditionally published.
  4. Research the feminism book I’d love to have out by August 2019 (I doubt it will be ready by then).

In my fantasies, I will also have time to write Isolde and Sobian’s stories and start researching a 19th century historical that I am also going to try getting a traditional contract for. That might be possible if I wrote full-time, but I don’t. So just let me live in my deluded state. I’m happy here.

But I will have more time to write because I’m only going to two conferences and am going to limit my speaking engagements. I may pull back on social media as well. I see 2018 as a year of retreat, and by that I don’t mean running away from battle; I mean it in the sense of a quiet, calming spiritual retreat, a chance to get away and focus. But instead of prayer, my focus will be writing, which for me is a spiritual act. I know I say every year that I’m going to focus on writing, but this year feels different.

They that when we make plans, God laughs. Yes, but God also knows that I need plans because he/she/it/they/whatever made me this way. At least I know that if things don’t follow my plan, it’s because he/she/it/they/whatever has something better in store for me.

2018 Word of the Year
So this brings me to my 2018 Word of the Year: Leap. I’m tired of baby steps. Been there, done that. I’m ready for action, so I’m going to take the metaphoric leap of faith and soar into the unknown by trying once again to go traditional. I’m ready for success; I’m ready for the big time. As they say, God helps those who help themselves, so my helping myself is going to be writing several books with traditional potential and putting myself out there in the publishing industry again.

*For all of you wondering how I define being “the Nora Roberts of Historical Fiction,” here’s my thinking: She’s prolific (perhaps too much so; I’m not aiming for that level), well-respected in her genre, beloved by her readers, and one of the queens of the author world. I don’t care so much about the last one (although I so want the perks like money, films, and bestseller status); the others are what really matters. I hope I’ve made a few strides in that direction already with my own small efforts. I plan to expand exponentially from here.

What is your 2018 Word of the Year?

Reflections on 2017 Goals and my 2018 Reading Goal

My book case of TBR books (the short one is research books).

So it’s the day after Christmas and the first real day of my vacation, so I thought I’d get my brain thinking about writing my looking back at my goals for this past year. Considering I didn’t know The Once and Future Queen was going to happen when I wrote these, this ought to be good.

  1. Write and publish at least two books. Yeah, so that didn’t happen. But I wrote one, so I get 50% credit, right?
  2. Write Isolde and Morgan’s stories for 2018 publication. Nope. But I have thought about both and did some planning for Isolde’s story. And then Sobian decided she wanted her own book…
  3. Continue to attend conferences and speak. This one I did and in spades! 2017 was quite a busy year for travel. The highlight had to be the Historical Novel Society (HNS) conference in Portland. Those are totally my people! Getting to sit on a panel with Patricia Bracewell and Mary Sharrat was such an honor and I am soooooo glad I got to meet Leanna Renee Hieber, my sister in all things feminism. The RWA conference was pretty awesome, too, but I don’t fit in as well there because I don’t write typical romance.
  4. Turn some of my blog posts/presentations into online classes. This is almost done. As soon as my voice is back to normal, I’m going to record these and get them live. Look for more information on or near January 1.
  5. Continue to learn about marketing and indie publishing. I’ve done this. Being Self-Publishing liaison for my RWA chapter helped because it makes me more attuned.
  6. Break even on expenses incurred in 2016 and 2017 by the end of the year. HAHAHAHAHAHAAA!!! Um, not so much. I wish I would have made this one. But I am doing better than last year.
  7. Lose 30 lbs by my 20-year high school reunion in September, which means exercising regularly and eating right. Not so much. I actually gained more weight this year.
  8. Reignite my social life. Yeah not really. But I don’t really care anymore. I love my writing and that is my life outside of my day job.

I’ve already started on my goals for 2018, which I’ll share closer to the first of the year. But there is one I can share now:

Read only books I already own. (This doesn’t include research, library books or those I review for HNS.)

Having been to so many conferences over the last two years (and having a serious weakness for book sales), I own at least 200 print books and probably another hundred ebooks that I haven’t read. So my goal is only read those; no purchasing of new books other than those already on pre-order. *smirks* we’ll see how long that lasts!

Plus, I plan to set my Goodreads goal to 100, since I’ve surpassed that the last two years.

Now I’m off to talk with Guinevere about Mistress of Legend!

The Tax Man Cometh…Or the Uncertain Future for Indies Under the Senate Tax Bill

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Image purchased from Adobe Stock. My ability to write off my stock photography subscription would be eliminated under the current tax reform.

You guys, I am scared to death that the Senate tax reform is going to become law.

Before I go into why, a disclaimer: I am totally not a political person and I am not posting this to bring up anything about either party. In this article, I’m putting aside the ACA inclusion, the wins for big business, and other factors included in the proposal to focus solely on the concerns of small business owners, indie authors included.

At issue is the fact that small businesses – sole proprietors like myself, LLCs, S-corps and partnerships – are what is called “flow  through” or “pass through” businesses. This means that I don’t pay taxes as Lawson Gartner Publishing, even though that is my company. My business taxes pass through…

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So, Does This Make Me a Bestseller?

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This is kind of an off the wall way to promote a new book,  but no one ever said I was normal…

My first non-fiction book, The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend, was published earlier today, and within a few hours, it had some pretty awesome rankings on Amazon:

I was beyond floored to be in such esteemed company and thrilled to see those rankings. There was a major adrenaline rush, I won’t lie.

But I’m also a bit skeptical of  now calling myself a bestseller. I know some people would, but to me there’s a HUGE difference between making #1 in a niche category (which Arthurian Literary Criticism obviously is) and being on the overall bestseller list. I mean, 57,858 books were selling better than my book was at the time that screenshot was taken. If I was #1 in overall literary criticism, I’d at…

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Have You Hugged Your Indexer Today?

In case your wondering what I’ve been up to lately…

Spellbound Scribes

This post is a day late because I was on a deadline to get final edits and the index of my non-fiction book, The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend, back to my formatter.

Yep, I compiled my own index. For me it was a matter of money, as in I didn’t have any more to spend on this book so I couldn’t pay someone to do it. But I learned a lot, so I thought I’d share in case anyone else has to do their own someday.

  1. I will never look at an index the same way again. Previously I’d never really given much thought to where they come from. I just had some vague thought that probably the publisher and some software were involved. (See point 7 below for more on the role of the publisher.) And yes, there is some software you can use…

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Arthurian Non-Fiction

Guinevere’s journey from literary sinner to feminist icon took over one thousand years…and it’s not over yet.

Literature tells us painfully little about Guinevere, mostly focusing on her sin and betrayal of Arthur and Camelot. As a result, she is often seen as a one-dimensional character. But there is more to her story. By examining popular works of more than 20 authors over the last one thousand years, The Once and Future Queen shows how Guinevere reflects attitudes toward women during the time in which her story was written, changing to suit the expectations of her audience. Beginning in Celtic times and continuing through the present day, this book synthesizes academic criticism and popular opinion into a highly readable, approachable work that fills a gap in Arthurian material available to the general public.

Nicole Evelina has spent more than 15 years studying Arthurian legend. She is also a feminist known for her fictional portrayals of strong historical and legendary women, including Guinevere. Now, she combines these two passions to examine the effect of changing times and attitudes on the character of Guinevere in a must-read book for Arthurian enthusiasts of every knowledge level.

Preview the book.

Buy print and ebook:      

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Formats: ebook, paperback
Publisher: Lawson Gartner publishing
ISBN: 

  • 978-0-9967632-2-6 (print)
  • 978-0-9967632-3-3 (ebook)

Indie Author Day 2017 Speech

Once again this year, I was invited by a local library to speak on Indie Author Day. I was asked to speak about self-publishing and I wanted to share my speech here since not everyone was able to attend. Hope you enjoy.

I always thought I would be a traditionally published author. I hate to admit it, but I used to look down on self-publishing. I thought it was only for people who couldn’t make it with the big publishers in New York and was, therefore, inferior. Unfortunately, that’s a stigma that remains today. I said I would never do it. I’ve learned never to say never because I will end up doing exactly that. (I also said I would never blog and I’ve been doing that for six years now.)

Who Am I and Why Should You Listen to Me?

I’ll give you a short version of my history as a writer so that you can see how I came to have such an about-face of opinion. I started taking my writing seriously in 2008. Once I figured out that if you wanted to be published traditionally you had to get an agent, I started querying them. It took me two years and nearly 40 rejections to get my agent. I was with her for about two years. She was great at first and Daughter of Destiny did well on submission – it went to acquisitions three times at major houses – but no one made an offer, either because I was new or they didn’t know how to market Arthurian legend. Around the time my second book went on submission, my agent basically stopped doing her job for all her clients. When she wasn’t receptive to my suggestions for a better working relationship, I left her because I could see she wasn’t long for the industry. Not long after I began querying other agents, she stopped being an agent. I had a lot of interest in my next book, Madame Presidentess, but no offers. I wanted to have it published before the 2016 election, so there was a limited amount of time for me get representation because traditional publishing takes so long. At the same time – this was summer of 2015 – the industry was changing and I was beginning to see more indie success stories, both among my author friends and in the press, so I started opening my mind and investigating. In August of that year – on my birthday – I decided I would give it a go since most of my books had already been shopped, at least somewhat, so I had nothing to lose.

The Traditional Punishing Industry Today

Sadly, I’m not alone in getting SO close to traditional deal and then deciding I’d be better off doing it myself. That’s the thing: because publishers no longer want to nurture careers – they are only interested in the next best seller or at least what they think will be the next big thing – they are taking fewer and fewer risks with new authors or unusual subject matter (or in the case of historical fiction, time periods and places that don’t have a long history of strong sales). And because of that, agents have to be more selective in who they choose to represent, so it is getting harder and harder to break into traditional publishing if you’re not already a household name in some other way, like being a reality or Youtube star.

But despite this, there are still many valid reasons to try to break in. There is a greater chance of fame and riches with a traditional house, and foreign rights, movie deals, and other subsidiary rights are easier to exploit. Then there is the advance, where someone pays you for your writing, rather than you paying the cost of publishing, which is a clear financial advantage. Plus, there is validation in having a major publisher say your work is worthy, and there’s a lingering cache to being able to say you’re traditionally published. Some authors have no desire to be marketers and business people – all the additional things that come along with being an indie author. For those who want to just focus on writing, traditional publishing is likely the right path

However, there are disadvantages to being traditionally published as well. For one, you as the author have little to no control. Some houses will edit your book with an agenda in mind and even though it’s your story, you’ll have to change it how they want if you want it published. Most authors, with the exception of the really successful ones, also have no control over their book cover and varying degrees of control over the back cover copy, so they may or may not actually reflect the book inside. Traditional publishing is notoriously slow, and that limits the number of books traditionally published authors can publish. This is why many use pen names, so they can publish more books faster. In addition, royalty rates are very low, around 10%-12% and it is hard to earn out an advance. Finally, an author under contract at a traditional house faces constant instability and uncertainty. If your books don’t sell enough, your editor leaves, or the imprint goes in a different direction, you can be dropped. Lines and imprints can close. A friend of mine had that happen and lost three book deals in one day. And contracts can be canceled as well.

The Independent Publishing Industry Today

On the other hand, being an indie author brings with it great stability and control. You won’t drop you or cancel your contract. You can publish what you want, as fast as you want, without worrying about having to wait or change your name. For example, I’m at a bit of a disadvantage in the traditional publishing realm because I like to tell the stories of unknown women. Traditional publishers want marquee names. I also love Dark Age history, but traditional publishing only wants post-1066 time periods, unless its Greek or Roman, an concentrates most heavily on Tudor, Regency and WWI and WWII periods. Being my own boss allows me to publish where my heart is, rather than writing to trends that seem arbitrary. This is very important because the love and passion you have for a project shows up in your writing, as does the lack thereof. Publishing myself also allows me to ensure the book cover, back cover copy and all other details are exactly as I envision them and actually relate to the book. In addition, our royalty rates are often much higher than those in traditional contracts, up to 70%-90%. There are many reasons for this, but the most obvious is that we don’t have to pay a publisher and agent first.

But there are down sides to self publishing as well, and it’s best to go into it with your eyes wide open. Just as with traditional publishing, unless you are one of the few lucky flukes out there, you aren’t likely to get rich. The financial outlay is one of the biggest deterrents to self publishing. If you do it right, it will be a significant investment. I, for one, have yet to make a profit and I’ve been doing this for two years with modest sales. However, if you view that up-front cost as an investment in your company and your future – just as if you were opening a bakery or a flower shop – it is more bearable.

The other big downside is lack of visibility. Without a major publishing house behind you, it is very, very hard to stand out from the crowd. According to The Book Industry Study Group (BISG),  more than 4 million books are published each year, 2.8 million of which are in English. That’s a LOT of competition. But, there’s nothing saying that if you were traditionally published you wouldn’t have to face the same situation. Unless your book is one the house anticipates being a big hit of the season – one of maybe 10 out of the hundreds of books published each quarter – you will have to do most of your own marketing. There is a general rule among traditionally published authors that a writer should save a percentage of their advance, anywhere from 10% to 90% depending on how much they got, for marketing. The bottom line is that no matter how you’re published, your book won’t be a success unless you work hard to make it so.

What Indie Authors Can Do to Be a Success

But the good news is, there are many things  authors can do to become a success, and indie authors have even more control than their traditional counterparts. One of the biggest advantages we have is that we control the price of our books. That means we can set the price based on what our competitors are selling for, can price adjust if we see the marketing changing or sales are slow, and we can have sales anytime we want – all without asking for permission and fighting a bureaucracy. This gives us tremendous power in the marketplace. We can also sell and market however we see fit, without having to worry about possible conflicts or contract restraints. Blog tours, guest blogs, articles, advertisements, social media, public appearances are all completely within our control. It is up to us how big or small we take things.

I have five requests for anyone thinking of becoming an indie author  – things that, if everyone who self-published did them the stigma associated with our manner of publishing would dry up very quickly.

  • Have your work professionally edited – no matter who you are, even if you are an editor by day or know someone who is really good at it, you need a fresh set of eyes to evaluate your work. There are inconsistencies, dropped plot lines, missing characters and spelling and grammar errors that you are too close to your work to see. The goal of indie authors should be to produce books that are indistinguishable from traditionally published works.
  • Use a professional cover designer – We like to use the phrase “don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” but we all do it. Studies show that you have 10 seconds to capture a reader with your cover and book description. If a book cover appears homemade, we will judge the contents as inferior. That is the last thing that any author wants. Many people skimp here because they want to save money, but this is a mistake. Keep in mind that just because you or your child or grandchild or neighbor have some Photoshop skills does not mean you know how to effectively design a book cover. There is a science and entire hidden language to book covers that professionals know and that avid readers perceive. The fonts, images and placement are all done very carefully. For example, in romance, the heat level of a book is indicated by the way the characters are clothed and interact, as well as the colors used. You can get an idea of the language of your genre by looking at best-selling covers in your genre for the common elements; they work for a reason.
  • If you’re aiming to become a career author, treat it like a job – There is nothing wrong with self-publishing to have a book available for family or even just your own enjoyment, but here I’m talking to those who want to make being an author their career. You’ve heard the phrase “dress for the job you want rather than the one you have.” The same goes for how you view your job as an author and how much effort you put into it. Some people are lucky enough to write full-time, whether they are retired or just don’t have to work. Many of them put in at least as many hours as those of us who work office jobs, sometimes more. But no matter what your situation is, you can be professional about it, and regardless of how much or little time you have, your number one duty as a professional author is to write. If all you have is an hour a day, or weekends or vacation days, use that time to devote to your business. That is the only way to success. The more of us who act like professionals, the higher esteem in which we will be held.
  • Join professional groups for indie authors – No one writes or markets a book alone. In that regard “self-publishing” is a misnomer. The best way to keep up with the changes in the industry, learn best practices and get your questions answered is to join groups like the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) and the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). They are relatively inexpensive and incredibly valuable. Also don’t forget your genre associations and professional associations for all published authors like Novelists, Inc. and The Author’s Guild. Plus your local writer’s groups: here locally a few that accept authors of all genres include: St. Louis Author’s Guild, Missouri Writer’s Guild, and Saturday Writers.
  • Join groups like Self-e that are aiming to promote the best of the best of self published books – There are many groups out there fighting to showcase the best of indie publishing. This being Indie Author Day, I want to give a plug to our sponsors, Self-E. Library Journal, one of the most respected names in publishing, is the sponsor of this program, which  connects indie author’s books with libraries and readers. It is free to submit your book for their consideration. Right now they are actively seeking adult and young adult fiction. They are also accepting nonfiction, poetry and children’s submissions, but are still working on plans for when they will begin actively reviewing those genres. When you submit your book, it will become part of your state collection, which means it is available to libraries all over your state. If your book is selected as a Self-E Select book, which means it is one of the best of all self-published books, you will be entered into their national Self-E select catalog, and be eligible for a review in Library Journal, which is right up there with Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus in terms of industry endorsements. All of my novels are Self-E Select designated and Daughter of Destiny was reviewed positively by Library Journal. Self-E also helps you connect with your local community, which is the best way to begin building your reputation as an author. In addition, they have an annual contest to select the best indie books in certain genres. If you are a speaker, you can also join their ambassador program, whereby if you’re selected, you’ll have the opportunity to speak and sell your books at events like this.

Looking to the Future

This is both an exciting and scary time to be an author. The industry is in flux and that can be frightening, especially because no one knows what will change from one day to the next or what the future will bring. But it is also extremely exciting because we have more options than ever before, especially as indies. With success stories like The Martian, 50 Shades of Gray and authors like Colleen Hoover, Bella Andre and Hugh Howey, we have proven that indie publishers mean business and we are here to stay.

There really is nothing you can’t do as an indie author if you put your mind to it. It might take a little extra work, but why not make your dreams come true on your own terms? Audio books, illustrated companion guides, foreign translations, stage or screen adaptations, aren’t only the realm of the traditionally published anymore. And if you decide indie isn’t right for you, there’s no reason you can’t go back to the traditional route or become a hybrid author who publishes both traditionally and independently. The flexibility is part of what makes being an indie author so great.

In her novel The Light of Paris, Eleanor Brown writes that the surrealist artists of post-WWI Paris were “making space for themselves without waiting for someone to give them permission.” That is exactly what indie authors are doing now. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be an indie author and represent such a diverse and thriving community. I say with full confidence that we are the future. I hope you will join me.