This post comes out of a tendency I’ve noticed in myself, as well as in very many self-published authors across the Kindle Boards, on Facebook, on Twitter and elsewhere.

It’s a tendency that does reflect the early maturity of the self-publishing sector, as well as the lonesome cowboy mentality of many self-published authors. Because that Wild West of limitless opportunity that many lit out for is now (so the self-publishing community tattle has it, at any rate) overrun not only by robber barons but also by snake oil sellers peddling not-enormously-useful advice and services.

When digital disruption first began to impact the publishing industry, the traditional publishers were The Enemy, the robber barons squeezing hard-working authors for all they were worth, monopolizing the means of expression.

And now that, in classic Marxist fashion, self-publishers have seized the means of production, opprobrium has shifted to the service providers and guides, the satellites and hangers-on, looking to bamboozle the poor innocent self-publishing gold-panners. And the theatrics, the antics of promotional stunts, the competing shouts of barkers, are all as exciting and exhilarating as any old-time medicine show. (So much more fun than struggling with dull old words …)

As a Brit, I’ll take the cheap shot and then shut up: Much of this reeks of the classic American cult of individual success. It’s not about the writing, it’s all about Me, and the big prize is to hype myself into the next Stephen King.

Self-publishing has all the paraphernalia needed to fit that myth: The promise of riches, the cheap and easy tools available to anybody, the big sky of opportunity and limitless self-projection. It also has the unacknowledged dark side: The big-money men, the arcane algorithms around recognition and visibility, the dark forces to pin the blame on if your ego just goes pop when it inflates to fill that limitless void. No wonder people are lining up to buy into the hype. (And no wonder, in passing, that Stephen King has become another Great American Sacred Monster like Elvis, Marilyn or Michael Jackson, with millions of followers pulsating in sympathy to every throb of his ego.)

I have my own patent remedy to peddle to anyone who needs a detox from self-publishing hype, of course: Forget yourself. Forget about your individual success and the rewards due to you just from being you.

Every story has been retold a thousand times (not least Death of a Salesman), and you are one more patient worker in a tradition, a succession passed on from writer to writer where even the greatest names are lost in the throng. No matter whether you win or lose, the words always win.

Listen to them first: They know better.

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Paul St John Mackintosh is a British poet, writer of dark fiction, and media pro with a love of e-reading. His gadgets range from a $50 Kindle Fire to his trusty Vodafone Smart Grand 6. Paul was educated at public school and Trinity College, Cambridge, but modern technology saved him from the Hugh Grant trap. His acclaimed first poetry collection, The Golden Age, was published in 1997, and reissued on Kindle in 2013, and his second poetry collection, The Musical Box of Wonders, was published in 2011.


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