Part of the Indie Author Series
I’m reading a fascinating book--David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. The subtitle says a whole lot: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Yes, it tells the familiar story of David and Goliath, but it takes a different approach. It tells how the very thing that makes a giant a giant might also be their weakness.
In one chapter, the author tells the story of the Impressionist artists who birthed Impressionism. Wikipedia describes Impressionism as “a 19th-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s.”
The moment I read this section, I recognized many similarities between the Impressionists and indie authors.
Impressionists sought the approval of prestigious institutions
David and Goliath tells the story how the Impressionists spun their wheels trying to get their art accepted by the Salon, the art exhibit of their time. When one artist didn’t make it to the Salon, he committed suicide. The note he left behind said, “The members of the jury have rejected me. Therefore I have no talent.”
How many indie authors have banged their heads against invisible gates, trying to get past gatekeepers? It’s a natural desire to seek the approval of the top tier in any field.
Acceptance came at a cost
Some of the Impressionists were able to get their art displayed in the Salon, but they weren’t at eye level. Instead, they were placed high on the walls near the ceiling, practically invisible. Halfway through their run, those pieces were exiled to a dark room at the back of the building. Gladwell writes, “...acceptance by the Salon came with a cost: it required creating the kind of art that they did not find meaningful...”
How many authors have been given the golden ticket--a publishing deal with a major publisher--only to be disappointed by the lack of respect and attention they felt their book deserved? Or disappointed with artistic decisions made by editors and cover designers? Or binding contracts that tied up their digital rights?
Prestigious institutions may not be in our best interest
The Impressionists faced a decision: “...keep knocking on the Salon door or strike out on their own and stage a show just for themselves.” Well, we know that they struck out on their own and made history. “...the choice between the Salon and a solo show wasn’t a simple case of a best option and a second-best option. It was a choice between two very different options, each with its own strengths and drawbacks.”
Many authors face this same decision: do I continue pursuing the traditional path, or do I strike out on my own? Only the author can make that choice for themselves. I’m glad that Hugh Howey, and others like him, didn’t publish traditionally. They wrote their books their way, and didn’t wait for someone else to tell them their work was good. They’ve honed their craft, taken chances, and made their own history.
I’ll leave you with this quote from David and Goliath: “We strive for the best and attach great importance to getting into the finest institutions we can. But rarely do we stop and consider--as the Impressionists did--whether the most prestigious of institutions is always in our best interest.”
What say you, writers? Do you think the prestigious institutions are always the best way to go? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your opinion.
Julie Musil writes from her rural home in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and three sons. She’s an obsessive reader who loves stories that grab the heart and won’t let go. Her Young Adult novels, The Summer of Crossing Lines and The Boy Who Loved Fire, are available now. For more information, or to stop by an say Hi, please visit Julie on her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.
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