“Outliers:” Artists and Independent Authors

Outlier Artists Get Their Due

Outlier Artists and Independent Authors
Cover of program from National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Many outlier artists originate from the populations of African Americans, women, disabled people or prisoners. They lack the agency or access to traditional path. So, at one time the public largely disregarded or forgot them. I learned about their engaging art, which communicates strong messages and offers fascinating perspectives in times of social, political and cultural upheaval, at an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

My friend and I toured paintings, drawings, sculpture and other creative pieces. Plus, we listened to docent explain that these artists are variously termed naive, primitive, visionary, folk or outsider. Despite their limitations, they create art with high motivation. Outlier artists take risks to express their art without the support of the traditional art establishment. Their work now gets attention in broad public view.

Outlier Authors

Afterwards, I reflected on my experience of this exhibit. I could connect the art of these “outliers” to self-published authors. Mostly, self-publishing provided the last resort for authors. With a reputation of poorly written, weakly edited and carelessly designed, self-published books seldom gained recognition, acknowledgment or readers. Traditional publishing houses normally wouldn’t go near these authors and books.

But that has changed since AmazonSmashwordsBookBabyIngram Spark, and Draft2Digital. These and other platforms have thrown the doors open for anyone who wants to publish a book. Quality has improved tremendously. Authors who go the independent route have more creative control and far better royalties. However, it doesn’t just happen with the push of a button. To start, they must believe in their book. Next, they have to risk making an up-front investment, before even one book is sold. That investment pays for the services of editors, designers, illustrators, copy editors, proof readers and marketing strategists who will help prepare and sell the book. For writers who don’t want to manage this professional team themselves, hybrid publishers offer some of the same services for a fee.

My Experience as an Outlier Author

Like the “outliers” in the National Gallery, I wanted to get my book “out there.” So, I chose not to pursue the traditional publishing route this time with my novel. I wanted the benefits of creative control. For any author, it is a risk just to write your cherished story, share it with the world and wait to see if anyone likes it in the form of reviews and sales. Deciding to self-publish and making that up-front investment are other risks.

Outlier artists and independent authors

In addition to committing financial investment, I needed to learn much more as an independent author. Fortunately, I found help from the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA). They are a group of authors, designers, editors, marketers and other professionals who believe in self-publishing. BAIPA members share their experience and their wisdom with those who come to their meetings. At the meetings, we ask naive questions, engage help from the professionals or learn how to do it ourselves.

Like the “outlier” artists, self-published authors write their stories, share their wisdom and express their ideas, with great motiviation. Now, the availability of new publishing platforms allows us to by-pass the gatekeepers of the traditional publishing establishment. And this has resulted in a radical shift in the book business. Similar to the “outliers” in the art world, self-published books now can garner recognition and respect.

What risks have you taken to promote an agenda outside the traditional establishment? What motivated you?