A new term has been cropping up in writing circles, posts, and Forums lately. The self-published author is no more, and from its ashes has risen the terms “Indie Author” and “Indie Publishing” (often presented in opposition to “Legacy” publishing, aka traditional publishing).
Using “Indie” to refer to self-publishing is at least a few years old (IndieReader launched in 2009), but here’s the thing that has some people around the Internet confused at least and rankled at worst:
Independent publishers outside of the Big Six, like Soho and Algonquin, have been known as “Indie” publishers for a long time. The authors who are (traditionally) published by them wear their Indie cred with pride.
So does “Indie Publishing” refer to self-publishing or traditionally publishing with a small press? Who gets the Indie banner?
And don’t say both, because that would make my head explode.
It's really just semantics. The publishing industry is already polarized between what Nathan describes as the "big 6" and "everyone else". Ultimately to a bookstore, which is really the only consideration here, even if you've published by a truly "independent" press like Soho or something (meaning NOT vanity, NOT subsidy, and NOT print on demand), they're still likely to have issues getting your book within their ordering pipeline anyway…so to a bookstore I don't think they would really make the distinction – to them it's either "a real publisher" like the big 6 or "everything else".
The problem with self publishing is that there's no industry-evaluation of your work, and it's a bit of a short cut that subverts everyone else's challenge to prove that they've not only written a book but that an "actual" publisher has vouched for the quality of the writing, the integrity of the story, and salability and marketability. Sure, if you use self-publishing as a platform, anyone can call themselves a book author, because those publishers (iuniverse, etc.) don't have any internal mechanism that asks the question of whether a particular book "should" be published or not. It also pulls some of the prestige away from those authors who HAVE lived with thousands of rejection letters and finally got a real legacy publisher to believe in them as a writer, back their story, and put their book into actual print. Does owning a video camera necessarily make someone a "filmmaker"?
Michael Offutt says
Does the label really matter? I used to play Magic: The Gathering and I remember that they called all the old cards Type 1. Then I think they changed that to Legacy decks or something like that and now I think they have a different name. Aren't they all just euphemisms kinda like calling an obese person "plus size" or something akin to that?
This isn't semantics or semiotics. It's more like a lot of people who don't know any better. Like when people refer to blog posts as blogs…which happens all the time lately. "I love your blog today." They just don't know any better and don't care to learn.
Indie publishers have always carried a certain amount of pride (and weight) within the publishing industry.
Self-publishing is nothing like it, at least not for the most part. I do know a few self-published authors who are doing wonderful jobs. But they are in the monority right now.
For the most part, the self-published books lack quality in an obvious way, from entire books written with said bookisms (she sneered, she beamed, etc…) to poor editing. And to lope these books and authors together with Indie publishers, and authors who have been working hard for years to get it right, is just an insult.
D.G. Hudson says
Small presses should have the 'Indie' label, if those presses aren't being used on the side as vanity presses.
Self-pubbed authors are just trying to give themselves more legitimacy. That's understandable considering how far out of the ashes a self pubbed author has to pull him or herself.
But let's not smudge the line here, 'Indie' publishers must form some sort of gatekeeper task to ensure quality. We know from what we've seen that some self publishers DO NOT ensure anything.
Paying for it yourself doesn't mean you can use the term 'Indie' with any credibility.
There's only one REAL Indie (Indiana Jones, of course).
How I would like to define it:
Big Press -they pay the author
Small Press -they pay the author (technically they are still a business model that looks for talent just like Big Press, but they are more artistically focused in most cases whereas the Big Press is more commercially oriented)
Indie Publishers – writers in charge of their own art, be it collectively or singularly, just exactly like in the music business, and these can include more successful works as well as less successful works, but they are voices or collectives of voices who are both creatives AND their own bosses in the market. Some will utilize outside services (i.e. editing/layout/cover art/marketing/etc.) and some will do everything themselves. But when outside service providers are used, they will have to (sooner or later) uphold certain standards of professionalism (i.e. not take on just anyone, adhere to ethical and competitive standards and pricing /and have their own reputations on the line for this work.
Vanity Publishers- distasteful, companies that try to seduce and get monies from writers who are not ready, no matter how much they pay or what editing they get, which on so many levels is such a disservice to the whole industry.
LOL. Yesterday we were having a lovefest of compassion and support, and now we're calling one another frauds and hacks. E…G…O. Okay, I really am going to go write now.
Bob Mayer says
Guess I'm a fraud. Why the venom and why are people getting upset? If you're not indie/self-published, why do you care what they call themselves? I'm finding more and more 'trads', a new term we can discuss for no reason and to no end, are getting more and more vehement about putting down self/indie publishing. Why are you concerned about it if you're doing so well with your publisher that takes care of everything, pays your advance, does your cover, does that excellent job promoting you, pays your royalties 2 to 4 times a year (the 10% who earn out), etc. etc. Enjoy.
I call myself an indie. I also publish a half-dozen authors at Who Dares Wins, but even if I only did my books, I'd call myself an indie.
But I also have a major mass market paperback coming out from St. Martins in May. I'm a NY Times bestselling author with over 4 million books sold. But as I noted in a recent blog, I'd rather see my Kindle report today, than the NY Times bestseller list on Sunday. One means real sales. The other is the magical mystery tour of traditional publishing.
I'd stack my sales yesterday on Kindle, Kindle UK, PubIt, direct, LSI etc against the majority of traditionally published authors (who have no clue what their sales were yesterday) and I would be willing to bet those sales that I sold more than 95% of you. I've got two indie books in the top 100 in their genres on Kindle, right there amongst the trads. I'll take my fraud all the way to the bank (at the end of this month, not at the end of six months, plus three months for accounting, plus two weeks as agent waits for check to clear).
Ultimately, who cares? Do what you want. Call yourself what you want.
Istvan Szabo, Ifj. says
Bob. Excellent response. 😉
"Why should they be ashamed of being self-published, for goodness' sake?"
Why do you want to distance yourself from them so much that you have to carefully explain your indie publisher?
Elle Strauss says
Why are small presses called independent? Who are they independent of? Traditional publishers? Aren't they all just publishers? Some big and some small?
I have a son who is a singer/songwriter. He writes and records his own music with software called protools. He hires people to mix and master his CD's and to do the cover work. He calls himself an independent artist. He loves "indie" music, other musical artists who are not signed by traditional music publishers.
Writers who create their own books, paper or electronic, are much like indie music artists. They are indie authors. They have published themselves without depending on small or big presses. To me that makes them indie published.
Shawn Lamb says
Both. (Waiting for head to exploded)
No, seriously, I think by the definition of 'indie'(independent) refers to authors who publish on their own and outside the traditional established system.
Small presses are still publishers and work within the system, so I don't believe the term can apply to them.
"Guess I'm a fraud."
No, you're not a fraud. You're the exception to the rule. There's a difference.
No one is calling self-published authors frauds. I think people are just suggesting they don't know any better.
Jacqueline Windh says
If you publish without a publisher, doing it yourself, you are publishing independently. I think that's pretty clear.
Even if it is a very small and non-traditional publisher that you go with, you are still not independent – you are with a publisher.
"For the most part, the self-published books lack quality in an obvious way, from entire books written with said bookisms (she sneered, she beamed, etc…)
You see, that doesn't "lack quality in an obvious way". It goes against a specific, subjective opinion. This stuff, along with the war on adverbs, hasn't improved writing at all. In the case of sloppy writing, it's merely switched the symptoms over to a surplus of unnecessary prepositional phrases. "She beamed" is replaced by "with a beaming smile", or "she sneered" by "she said with a sneer". Good Lord, what a waste of time.
"And to lope these books and authors together with Indie publishers, and authors who have been working hard for years to get it right, is just an insult."
Now, for an example of writing that's objectively poor — any way you slice it, look above. Confusing "lope" with "lump".
Whoever wrote that's in no position to be judging "quality".
Does Anonymous 9:14 not know of the existence of em-dashes or something?
I don't want your head to explode so I will pick one. Indie would have to be someone who publishes everything independently. Bri Clark said give it to the one who has had it the longest. If we did that in the literary world, we would be all writing in King James Version only. Language changes.
Also I cannot believe nobody's linked these terribleminds posts yet:
Eric Christopherson says
Matthew MacNish says
I used to own an Indie Record Label, and it was VERY Indie (read: poor). It was awesome, and very fun, but you really can't compare the two.
It's a lot more expensive for a musician to produce an album on their own (without the financial resources of a label, and assuming they want it done professionally with proper mixing, mastering and so forth) than it is for an author to publish an e-book (assuming they don't pay an editor).
So my rambling point is, I think it's pretty clear cut what passes for Indie in the music industry, but not so much in publishing.
J. T. Shea says
BOTH! BOOM! Nathan's head explodes. Like Belloq's in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, the enemy of another Indy. Mine too, if I give this latest Bransfordian Conundrum much more thought.
Who gets the indie banner? Who wants it? What does it mean? Independent of whom? Certainly not independent of Amazon. It seems most of the 'indie self-publishers' are nothing of the kind, and have just exchanged corporate overlords. Amazon is now Big Publisher Number Seven.
Matthew MacNish says
And speaking of the Jacob covers matching the blog, it works out that way because of the universal awesomeness of the color orange. That is all it takes.
Hannah Stephenson says
I'm going to start two competing businesses–an independent start-up press called Super Indie Press and a vanity/self-publishing company called The Real Indie Press.
Super Indie Press and The Real Indie Press
"Putting the 'indie' back in 'in deep confusion' since 2011"
All silliness aside, this is a great conversation, and has generated interesting responses (except for mine).
I guess I take it back. I don't care about the issue, per se, but I do care about the fact that authors are bickering at each other. Seems like there is alot of bickering on-line right now.
I guess that's normal. I guess whenever there is a huge culture change, people get scared and they want to feel a sense of control, so they argue about how things should be done. But I wish people believed, as I do, that they are not competing with their fellow authors. No author takes anything away from another author.
Any author who sells a book strengthens the industry. Books are disposable items, and if a reader likes one book, they are much more likely to buy the next.
There is room enough for everyone.
Along with that, no one person is going to define e-publishing all by their lonesome. This is a long term process, and things will get worked out over time nataurally.
I find myself wishing that people would just relax alittle.
Austin James says
My vote goes for independent small presses… self publishing is self publishing… nothing wrong with it, but I don't get the desire to call it indie.
Raquel Byrnes says
I assumed if you published independently from the traditional system of publishing house where you are paid for your book, there is a contract, and royalties…then you are an 'indy' author.
Edge of Your Seat Romance
Katie Klein says
(shrugs) Call me what you want. I've yet to see a royalty check from my traditionally published book. My indies are on pace to pay my mortgage this month.
I'm a writer. The End.
The original indie publishers.
This actually frustrates me to no end because it seems dishonest. Now, maybe that's not how it's intended, but indie publishing has meant one thing for a long time. When self-publishers take on the term, it looks (to me) as if they're trying to imply that they're associated with that original meaning–in other words, traditionally published.
Also, considering the fact that indie often means the same sort of thing regarding music labels or films, I think it only right to retain it's original term.
Will Entrekin says
"Self-pubbed authors are just trying to give themselves more legitimacy."
This is a huge part of the problem in the discussion, as well as Alice's contribution to it–which of course included the "HOWEVER, for the vast majority of books, the fact that an objective, independent entity is willing to invest large sums of money in your work speaks to its quality, or at the very least, its readability." line of thought.
Both, I feel, are detrimental (and not just to independent authors), wrongheaded, and too-oft repeated.
There are a lot of ways to achieve legitimacy. Me, I went to one of the most prestigious universities in the world to study fiction and screenwriting with people who've won Oscars. You've read their books and seen their movies and it's changed not only your life but culture in general.
I didn't just learn craft. I learned about business, too, which then meant submissions and queries and pitching. But once you start to learn about business, you start to realize how little sense the traditionally used model for books has always made. Advances? Returns?
Don't get me wrong; I queried. I had some interest. Eventually, though, I started to think further ahead. I didn't like the idea of tying up rights with a corporate entity. And I don't want some corporation investing large amounts of money in me based on some nebulous forecast they probably don't have the marketing research to back up.
So much has changed, and so much is changing. Someone upthread made an analogy to YouTube and heaven forbid we start thinking of people who post stuff on YouTube as indie filmmakers. Which I get, to some degree, but on the other hand, it's a mistaken tangent, and kind of actually negates the discussion.
Publishing means distribution of information–usually but not always with money involved. The activity of making information available to the general public. That's all publishing is. It's not actually a business, though there is business involved in monetizing the process.
The fact is that our entire culture is publishing right now. We're all making information available to the public. In every way possible.
I'd seen those articles by Chuck Wendig, Alice. Here are a few you might find interesting:
Steph Sinkhorn says
I guess I'm sort of looking at it through the lens of indie music. Whether a musician produces an album through an independent "legitimate" record label or produces it on their own, they're still referred to as "indie." Perhaps the traditional "indie" publishers are now morphing into something different, as they're still considered "traditional" publishing?
I don't know. It's a tough call. I also see legitimacy behind the argument of those terms (indie and traditional publishing) being thrown around by vanity presses who want to put a less stigmatized spin on their services for authors, or just straight up mislead. It IS confusing. You tell an author you're an "indie" publisher, and they may think you have more legitimacy or sway than you really do, a la the "real" indie publishers. So that's crappy.
However, I still feel that anyone who publishes independently of the "big" or "traditional" publishing route is free to use the term "indie." And just like with music, there's some really great stuff and some really terrible stuff out there, but it's all still indie.
… I used a "LOT" of quotation "marks" in this "post."
I find it extremely chauvinistic to claim self-published authors have no right to call themselves independent or indie authors. And to call the "frauds?" That's just shameful. Look up the term "independent" in the dictionary, m'kay? You don't have some kind of trademark on the term, sorry.
Either way, the fact of the matter is, no self-published author using the term to refer to themselves is going to stop using it because some small press authors are whining and complaining about it. If anything, I think it makes them more intent on using the term.
Just Another Day in Paradise says
" What is in a name? Would a rose………." Apparently a lot. Apparently "indi" is the new title, everyone wants to be. Apparently, no one is really concerned about really being or acting INDEPENDENT, they just want to be titled as such.
Timothy Nies says
Indie or self-published? The term that could apply here is:
An Ergo-published book.
As in, this book was independently published by the author, ergo it's either self-published or an indie book.
Ergo-Published; a term for the middle ground.
You are welcome 🙂
It won't matter eventually with ebooks. People won't know who published it. I don't know the names of indie publishers. I wouldn't recognize them. It could be a self-pubbing enterprise for all I know once we are out of the big six. I sure wouldn't search by the publisher. ("I'm looking for a good book by Random House…")
It matters now because you might be in a bookstore and the self-pubber might have a stack in his garage. But when we're downloading on the ipad/kindle/whatever, it just won't matter that much.
Maybe a bit for literary fiction, where outside approval is so important people not only write for free but pay 20 dollar reading fees to submit short fiction.
But for everything else, even probably upmarket, it just won't matter. It's not going to be enough to say "this small press validates me". Book reviews will be more important. E-Word of mouth. Etc. The proof will be in the pudding.
I had this very discussion here last week.
The Pen and Ink Blog says
Yeah. We all want to better our situations and words are a great way to do it. Well according to the signs in my area I live in Valley Glen, but everyone really knows it's still Van Nuys.
Nathan, I have a full out and your past two days of posts have been FANTASTIC for the ensuing adhd. Thanks!
Marilyn Peake says
I promise not to say both. 🙂
I used to separate "indie" from "self-published". I’ve been published both ways, and I used to view these methods of publication as different from each other. I don’t see it that way anymore. There are some flawed books and certainly a lot of meaningless books coming out of the "Big Six" publishing houses these days. Many "indie" publishers have turned out to be fraudulent, literally closing shop on the Internet and disappearing in the middle of the night, leaving authors with unpaid royalties and book contracts still legally held by the publisher. And some "self-published" books are extremely well-edited with awesome book covers. Some "self-published" books have gone on to receive major awards, such as the self-published book, THE SILENCE OF MEDAIR by Andrea K. Host, that was recently chosen as a Finalist in the 2010 Aurealis Awards. It’s obvious to me that there are now great books available from the "Big Six" publishing houses, the "indie" publishing houses and "self-published" authors, and there are worthless books published in all three categories as well.
Amazon is the latest corporation to change the playing field. They’ve sold self-published books for years, but recently they’ve started offering writers the opportunity to self-publish directly through Kindle. Many very talented, award-winning authors have jumped onto the bandwagon, offering their self-published books for under $3. Even authors published by the "Big Six" have now self-published some of their non-mainstream books on Kindle. Barry Eisler walked away from a $500,000 advance in order to self-publish…I don’t expect his self-published book to be any less polished than his "Big Six" books or most "indie" books.
In today’s complicated publishing world, there really could be a limitless number of book categories for "indie" and "self-published": "well-known indie company", "less well-known indie company", "self-published book with many flaws", "self-published book with excellent editing and many awards". I’m just going with "indie" and "self-published", and if a "self-published" book is called "indie", that’s fine with me. To me, any book that’s published by someone "independent" from the Big Six publishing houses is "indie".
Tana Adams says
I motion the aforementioned title be moved to the self-published author, and hence forth all negative stigma be removed.
I see it as similar to the movie business in the 90s. Technology got cheaper and suddenly filmmakers could make movies without the studios. Two famous examples are Robert Rodriguez making "El Mariachi" and Kevin Smith making "Clerks". Of course, they're famous examples because they started out indie and then got picked up by the studios. But I think the situation is similar in that the democratization of technology created new opportunities for people outside the established system.
refers to a small, highly selective publisher that acquires authors in the traditional way.
Interchanging indie and self published seems similar to trying to avoid another type of stigma by calling oneself "single" when in fact you are "divorced."
I think if I ever self-published, I'd call myself an "indie author"–it just sounds cooler…"self-published author" doesn't have quite the same ring….indie publishers are going to have to find a new name for themselves I guess…
Joanne Sheppard says
Personally, I don't think there's anything remotely 'indie' about having enough money to publish something regardless of its quality.
A musician signed to an independent label is an indie musician. A musician whose mummy and daddy paid a studio to record and release their song even though their little darling can barely play guitar is not.
For me, the same rules apply to authors.
Rebecca Stroud says
As I've done the writing, editing, formatting, cover work, uploading, etc., I consider myself a self-published, independent author.
However, you can call me 'late for dinner' as long as your head doesn't explode.
I don't care what you call me. Just don't call me Johnson…
C.R. Hindmarsh says
This has been an interesting debate that I've seen get quite heated at times. Like others have said, trying to use labels like this often doesn't work, but if you had to restrict it to one group, I'd say the self-publishers deserve to be called indie authors. They control their own rights, therefore they are independent.
Emily White says
Personally, I don't think it matters what you call someone who chooses to publish their own book.
However, I can understand why so many self-published authors are desperate to get away from the stigma. Just take a look at some of these comments. Every single person who spoke against self-published authors calling themselves indie supported their arguments with the assumption that all self-pubbed works are poorly written.
I believe one comment just a bit above mine likened self-publishing to a spoiled child getting his/her parents to pay to get his music recorded despite the fact he couldn't play an instrument.
It's this presupposition that I think self-published authors are desperate to rid themselves of. The fact of the matter is more and more authors are self-publishing, and they are taking it seriously. They aren't just uploading a file into Amazon seconds after they completed their first draft.
I am self-publishing and I can tell you I am taking it very seriously. My book is edited. Thoroughly. It's gone through review panels where I've received feedback from my target audience. I've sought professionals to design my cover. And I'm in the process of an extensive marketing campaign.
Do I care if I'm called indie or self-published? Not even a little bit. If I cared so much about validation from others besides my readers, I would have gone the traditional route.
Taryn Tyler says
Which ones are more likely to be read at hole in the wall coffee shops by baret wearing chain smokers who no one understands? Those ones should be called indie. (I personally have always thought of zines as indie publishing so . . . small time publishers? Way too corporate. Not ever close.)
Ender Chadwick says
I liken it to the music industry. There are of course the larger record labels, there are indie labels and there are bands/musicians who by choosing to go it alone are also indie. Since it's just short for independent I don't see why anyone who operates outside the support structure of the Big 6 can't use the term.
Anne R. Allen says
I used to call the small press who published my first two novels "indie," but recently I've discovered I need to say "small press," because, like it or not, the term has changed meaning.
Maybe the self-publishers have usurped the title unfairly, but that's the way it's being used, and I'm not going to pretend it hasn't. Clarity is more important to me than political correctness
I'd say small press publishing. I've always associated the term 'indie' with those not-so-big-and-famous companies, the same with movies being produced by small companies eg. indie movies.
Self-publishing should just stick to the term self-published. It sounds less impressive but it's something to be bloody proud of accomplishing either way, seeing as self-published authors put in more blood, sweat, tears and coffee than the authors who go through publishing houses.