The Indie Writer Rejection Meme

That, above, is the meme.

It’s jet-skiing its way around Facebook right now.

It leaves me scratching my head. And my chin. And my nether-junction.

Let’s remove for a moment that this meme supporting indie writers has a number of misspellings — we can discount that because the list appears cribbed from this piece from Daily Writing Tips, which does not ascribe it any indie significance at all. The misspellings are from the original list. Originally I’d thought, “Ha ha, oh, the irony, some self-publisher propaganda that has — wait for it, wait for it — a passel of misspellings.” Ah, but it seems the “indie” banner has been attached only recently.

But that’s where I get lost.

Indie writers. Readers. Rejection. Support.

I’m trying to parse what these things have to do with each other.

“Great books have been rejected (but then published) so you should support indie authors because…” And here is where I start flailing about like an octopus on bath salts. Because indie authors have not been rejected? Is that somehow meaningful to a reader? “Because the reader’s opinion is all that matters. We write for you.” (As if traditional authors don’t write for readers?) So, self-publishers skip the submission/rejection process to put their books direct into the hands of readers. That’s fine, totally admirable, but that’s not cause to support anybody, is it? The motivations of the author matter? Not the story? Not the quality of the tale told? Just the motivations and business decisions?

Self-publishing is not charity.

It’s not a 6th grade trophy for participation. Readers don’t buy books by indie authors because they’re indie authors — well, I’m sure some do, but those readers are probably also indie authors themselves. Are you really hoping that readers will support you based on your decision not to tough it out in the traditional space? That they’ll “throw you a bone” because of a business choice? That, recursively, is insulting to self-published authors, isn’t it? That you should be patted on the head and given a lift because you made a different decision, not because you wrote a kick-ass book that deserves its space on all the bookshelves?

Here’s the other thing: this sends the wrong message about rejection.

It tells us rejection is bad. It’s not. Life is full of rejection. We need it. We need it for perspective. We need it to improve. Rejection isn’t always right. It rarely feels good. But it reminds us that we’re not special.

That we have to work for what we achieve.

Should we remove reviews? Because they’re a kind of rejection. Should we stop grading tests? Or trying to get jobs? Or applying for college, or scholarships, or internships? Maybe we should stop asking people out on dates and just bang a lamp or a pile of bean bags instead.

Now, you can make the argument that this meme proves how the system is fucked — how classic works meeting the Rejectionist’s Axe is proof of a broken machine. But that’s not at all what this meme suggests. Rather, these are books that made it. Books by authors who persevered and that ended up on shelves, in schools, in your hands. The very fact they exist — and have become the classics we all know and love (erm, excepting Chicken Soup for the Soul) — is proof that the system works. If these were all self-published after getting cornholed by the traditional system, hey, fine, I hear you. But these are books that the system supported. That became classics and sold bajillions out of that very system.

Sure, somebody rejected Harry Potter.

And it’s good they did.

Who knows what the book would’ve become under a different editor, different publisher? Oh, that rejection is proof that… humans are imperfect? That they don’t make perfect decisions all the time? Is the system flawed? Um. Duh? Of course it’s flawed. Everything is flawed. Nothing is perfect. No writer, no agent, no editor, no publisher. Could it be better? Sure. But that doesn’t automatically mean skipping the game just because you’re afraid you’ll skin a knee.

If anything, this meme proves that one rejection, ten rejections, two dozen rejections, doesn’t have to stop you. That you can keep on kickin’ and swinging for the fences because you only need one acceptance to make all those ugly motherfucker rejections fade into meaninglessness.

It doesn’t prove that you should be an indie author. Or that you should support an indie author.

If you want to be an indie author, go for it. It’s a path with value. But it’s not a path you take because of rejection. It’s not a path you should take because of something other traditional authors did or experienced.

You choose it because it’s right for you. Because you have the right temperament and ability. Because you want control. Because you think you’ll make better money and reach more readers.

Stop acting like the victim.

Stop making this choice based on your rejection of the “other” choice (or its rejection of you).

No more propaganda.

No more middle fingers to the “system” or its authors.

Oh —

And if you’re a reader?

Don’t support indie authors.

Don’t support traditional authors, either.

Just support good authors with good books.


*peels out of the driveway in a cherry-red Geo Tracker*


  • You nailed it, Chuck. There’s just choices, and there’s just books. Good books and bad books. If you are a writer and not trying to write really, really good books, then you’re focused on the wrong thing. How that book gets out there . . . well, that’s you’re own damn business and whatever way you go, you’re right.

    I still think traditional publishing is flawed enough that authors should actively try and subvert it with new paradigms, but no one should blame it for any failure or anxiety of their own. There’s an artistic cost and lottery-like odds for trad. publishing, if you go that route. Writers just have to accept that and move on.

    BUT, I also think self, indie, whatever publishing requires boatloads of know-how, business sense, blood, and the same lottery-like (worse, really) odds as those stated above. And you have to be a good writer, of course.

    It all depends on how you take your tea. My preference is two decade-old bags of Earl Grey dipped in motor oil, but that’s just me.

    Great post, Wendig.

  • I was unable to look at the meme for very long, because of the creator’s choice of eye-burning green.

    I don’t think we can take seriously anything in those colors.

  • *Chasing the red Geo tracker as it speeds down the street…

    “Come back, Shane!”

    Great post, Chuck. One thing nobody talks about is how the rejection makes the book better. My reasons for eventually going Indie were 100% business, though I began w/ an agent & the whole 9. We pitched & revised & got all the way to a Pub Board and took all the notes to heart. And you know what? If one of those editors picked up my book, they’d recognize little beyond the title. It is infinitely better, in part because of their notes. I like to think they would even say, “If he’d submitted THIS manuscript maybe we’d have considered it.”

  • In all likelihood, the one thing which united all those referenced authors is that they used the rejection process as an impetus to improve their writing again. And then again.
    And so forth.
    That said, this sterling behaviour needs to be placed in its historical context. We’re talking about a time when there was no other option but to take it on the chin, which – as I can testify – was both a blessing and a curse.
    As for these dubious battlelines – indie vs. trad – what I see is an awful lot of naked self interest, masquerading as righteousness of one sort or another; which is maybe not all that surprising, given the high stakes involved here.

  • Great post. Couldn’t agree more. I hadn’t seen this ‘meme’ before now and I was also scratching my head when I got to the bottom of it. The thing is, agents and editors reject manuscripts for all sorts of reasons, but the biggest two might be a) they might like it but they don’t feel passionate about it and passion is a requirement to muster the energy to sell the darn thing and b) they don’t think they can easily market it. Having something that’s easily marketable is a requirement because who wants to try and sell something that’s not an easy sell? I’m going through a round of rejections myself currently, and yeah, it sucks but life goes on.

  • I think a better argument would be a list of the crap books that traditional publishers put out only to suffer horrible reviews and die miserable, lonely, public deaths. That’s rejection.

  • Well put! I went the pitching agents route over a 1 year period, rewrote, edited, and then had two different agents who had read the full manuscript give strangely similar feedback of “I love it, it’s funny, I don’t know how to market it, it doesn’t fit a genre.” To paraphrase. Hmm. So I self-published ROOM FOUR and so far, so good. At least for now while I work on the next book, it seems more productive to put time into marketing than into crafting query letters. But time will tell. And no, I don’t expect a smiley sticker from the universe for “showing up” haha. But I did get a Kirkus Indie Star. Cheers.

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