Just

IWSG

Back in the late 1980’s, when I entered the workforce as a secretary, I was told that it was somehow demeaning to refer to myself as a secretary. I was an “administrative assistant” or “office assistant.” Some days, I was a “member of clerical support services staff” or a “word processing technician.” It was supposed to be all about taking pride in my work and demanding respect as an equal, sort of along the lines of not getting the coffee for the men in the office.

I went to a training seminar in Grand Rapids, where the instructor told us it didn’t matter what we called ourselves as long as we left out one very important word: Just. As in “I’m just a secretary” or “She’s the VP, and I’m just her assistant.”

That did more for my self-respect than any of those inflated titles, and I’ve held onto that lesson through the years. In later career moves, I never referred to myself as just a hairdresser, just a stay-home mom, or just a lunchlady. My ex-husband was never just a maintenance man, and in all his years on our local fire department, he was never just a volunteer firefighter.

That’s a big part of why, all these years later, I bristle when people ask me if my books are just self-published.

It’s true that anyone can self-publish a book these days. It’s estimated that there are between 600,000 and 1,000,000 new books self-published every year. It costs nothing to slap together some pages, create a cheap cover, and upload it to Amazon or Smashwords. Anyone can do it with any book, good or bad, but that doesn’t meant that all self-published books are slapped-together garbage.

Okay, some of them are. Let’s be honest. There are an awful lot of discussions in writers’ groups about a need for standards and gatekeepers and ways to improve the perception of self-publishing in general, but I feel that the change in that perception begins with how we refer to ourselves. It goes without saying that we need to produce the best work we possibly can, but it goes beyond that. If we want to be respected, we need to start by treating ourselves with respect. 

If I agree that I am just a self-published author, I am quietly agreeing that all self-published books are in some way inferior to those that are traditionally published. I’m apologizing for not being traditionally published. I’m dismissing my own accomplishments as unimportant. If I say, “My books are just self-published,” it sounds an awful lot like, “They aren’t good enough for traditional publishing.”

It is an insult to say that a book is just self-published. Here’s a backhanded compliment I saw in a review not too long ago: “It’s self-published, but it was actually good.” As though the reviewer was surprised! Just a wee bit condescending, don’t you think?

As writers, if we want our books to stand out from the flood of self-published works out there, it starts with how we treat ourselves and our work. If we want to change public perception, we have to set an example by treating ourselves right.  We are not just self-published.

For that matter, we are not just romance writers or just science fiction authors. Short story writers, do you tell people you just write short stories? What about those of you who write children’s books — do you say that you just write kids’ books?

Stop that.

I have a challenge for all of you. For the next twenty-four hours, wipe the word just from your vocabulary. Don’t be just anything.  Not just an indie author, not just an aspiring writer, not just a beginner.

You might be surprised to discover how many times each day you dismiss your own importance, your own accomplishments, with that one little word: just

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24 thoughts on “Just

  1. Great post! In 2005 I took a job titled a secretary. I’ve since moved on in the same company, but that job is still called secretary and senior secretary. I would feel weird about it sometimes, especially since I had a college degree and here I was taking a job as “just a secretary.” But I came out of a toxic job and this “Just Secretary” job valued me and treated me with respect. I will gladly own that title in a workplace that values its employees.

    Applied to writing works too. My debut is a digital only release, and I’m tempted to add that “just.” This is a great reminder not to. Thanks.

    Here is my IWSG post. Thanks for stopping by!

    Like

    • Love your post about Pitch Wars — and congratulations! I haven’t been brave enough yet to try it, but it’s the next thing on my writing to-do list.

      And you really hit the nail on the head: it doesn’t matter what job we do or where we work, as long as we are valued and treated with respect. Thanks for the insight and the link!

      Like

    • I remember learning that at a seminar! I tried substituting “however” for “but” . . . the instructor told me that “however is nothing but a high-class but.” Now I can’t help but chuckle every time I see the word “however.” 🙂

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  2. The word “just” diminishes us. We are writers and don’t you dare add “but I’m not published.” If you write, you’re a writer. Period. We need to think positive. Great post, A.J.

    Best wishes,
    Diane IWSG #95

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t heard that, but it makes sense. As women, we sometimes have a tendency to minimize ourselves by saying that we are “just” this or “just” that. Even though the fifties were a long, long time ago, I think society still teaches a lot of us to try to shrink into the background, and referring to ourselves as “just” is a big part of that.

      Thanks for giving me something to think about!

      Like

  3. I could have written this…probably should have, long ago. I, too, worked for years as a secretary/administrative assistant/insert the latest name here. I noticed my use of the word “just” and put a halt to it. I’ve had to do the same as a self-published author. I’ve found that when I don’t use “just” or sound as though I’m apologizing for it, people seem genuinely interested in what I’m doing. Recently a couple of people, looking at my latest manuscript, have said, “Have you thought about finding an agent? Someone might want this.” I politely say no thank you, I’m happy and proud to be a self-published author…and I want to be a good one.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. One of the very few things that I remember from Fiction 1 in college (I was a writing major) was not to use the word “just” in my writing. I think the professor meant it in a “that’s a filler word” kind of way, but your post put a whole new spin on it. Thanks!

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    • I tend to use “just” and “really” too much as a filler, too! I’m always a bit embarrassed when I do a search for either word during the proofreading process.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Like

  5. It’s funny–someone just commented on my blog, complaining that people ask her why she doesn’t “just self-publish.” Exact thing you’re talking about! Self-publishing is HARD work. You have to get it edited, get a cover, put it out there…market it! Although I’m trad. published and I have to do most of my own marketing, too. It’s all hard work…anyone who works hard to create a book isn’t “just” doing anything!

    Stephanie
    http://stephie5741.blogspot.com

    Like

    • It IS hard work! The flip-side of that, though, is the self-published authors who think traditionally published authors have it so easy and don’t realize that you still have to do so much of the work yourselves, like marketing. The truth of that matter is that it’s ALL hard work, not matter how it gets published, and we ALL need to be proud of what we accomplish.

      Like

  6. Amy, What a great post – and what you say here is so true. You really put your finger on the distinction. Will have to remember this one and I have a feeling it will stick with me. Just don’t say just. Blessings! Anne

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  7. Wonderful lesson, applied to everything we do. I had a man I dated tell me the very same thing once. I had left him a message, ‘Hey, it’s just me ring back when you can’.

    When he called back the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘it is not just you. You are very important to me. It is You. It is Val. It is my heart calling. It is never JUST you. Remember that.’

    I have always remembered that, ever since.

    Like

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