My favorite new TV show is “Game of Thrones” on HBO. The real hook that pulled me in was Sean Bean. He is one of my all-time favorite actors, always has been since I saw him in Patriot Games. Then he nailed all the Sharpe movies and finally, he was Boromir in the Lord of the Rings movies; maybe the best casting job of the whole thing. Bean is the consummate actor, who can play a good guy or a bad guy with enough charisma to make you like, or at least identify with, his character. He is terrific as Lord Eddard Stark in Game of Thrones.
However, a strange thing happened on my way to watching Bean kick some serious Lannister butt up and down the King’s Road. I found a character that I liked better than Bean’s Stark: Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf… the Imp… played wonderfully by Peter Dinklage. He is smart, hysterically funny and more than just the comic relief: he is the most well-rounded character in the whole group.
There is a scene where Tyrion is talking to Stark’s bastard son Jon, who is feeling sorry for himself because he is not recognized as an official son of the Lord of Winterfell. Jon has been seated with the servants during a feast, so he leaves and is outside brooding (good word, huh?). Tyrion, who is no stranger to being alienated, picked on, and looked down upon , literally, gives Jon some advice about being a bastard.
“Never forget who you are, for surely the world won’t. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”
When I heard it, I wrote it down because I knew it was special. Now a month or so later, I know that Tyrion Lannister was speaking to all of us who have chosen to self-publish. Because as much as we have pumped ourselves up for all that we have accomplished as a group and individually, we have become the bastards of the writing world.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the facts. As Joe Konrath pointed out on his blog, the Mystery Writers of America will not accept self-published authors, no matter how successful they might be. Also, Amazon.com announced on June 9 that best-selling author Michael Connelly had become the seventh member of the “over one million e-books sold for the Kindle” club, with the other six members being Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Charlaine Harris, Lee Child, and Suzanne Collins… and they left out Amanda Hocking and John Locke, who will soon join that club. Do a search on book bloggers who review books and you’ll find that most of them say absolutely and unequivocally “no!” to self-published books… and these aren’t corporate reviewers attached to magazines with millions of subscribers; these are folks sitting in their homes blogging in their spare time. Then, read the blogs of the most famous literary agents in the country and notice how they refer to the e-book craze as a curiosity, almost like you would describe a really interesting looking shirt hanging on a rack, and they talk about self-publishing like it’s the modern day equivalent of leg warmers and the pet rock.
You don’t have to go to Konrath’s blog or the message boards to see the scorn. Walk up to a friend you haven’t seen in a while and tell them that you are now a published author. You’ll probably get the wide eyes and the “Oh, wow!” look. Then tell them that you self-published. The “Oh, wow!” look just became a “Man, that’s too bad” sympathetic frown. Ever told someone that you won a contest, then that the prize was a fruit cake? Same look.
This is not the way it has to be. I say we learn from Lord Tyrion Lannister. The quote is good enough to say again. We should all frame it. “Never forget who you are, for surely the world won’t. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”
He is right. The world will never let us forget that we are – GASP! – self-published. Amanda Hocking signed a seven-figure deal with St. Martin’s Press. But the first time she goes to a conference or awards banquet, she’ll get the looks as she walks up, and if not then, definitely as she walks away from any crowd of the glorious, most-esteemed traditionally-published ones. “She started out self-publishing, you know… on the computer. Poor thing, probably had to eat grilled cheese and Spaghetti O’s, too.”
We should revel in the fact that we are doing this our own way. That we had the cajones to do something that others couldn’t bear to do. That is important, but it’s not exactly what Tyrion was talking about. We should do it better than those who are traditionally published. Write better books, craft characters that are so real that readers fall in love with them, take those who buy our work on a path so astonishing, so enjoyable that they will not be the same after they turn off their e-reader or put down their print copy.
As self-published writers, the publishing world’s bastards, we must be extraordinary. Tyrion Lannister, if you have only seen the show and not read the books I won’t ruin anything, but suffice to say he is a highly intelligent survivor who always seems to defy those who think he is too short, too stupid, or too much of a bastard in his own right to ever achieve anything.
He proved them wrong. So should we.