Why You Are Probably Not an Independent Author (or, Another Post for Which I Expect I Will Get Some Flack)

In my last post, I discussed the misleading appropriation by self-publishing conglomerate Author Solutions (parent company of AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris, and Trafford) of the term “independent publisher.”

The flip side of this is the growing tendency among self-published authors to call themselves “independent authors” or “indie authors.” I don’t know where this term came from, or who originated it; but I’m seeing it a lot these days (Google it to see what I mean), and, stickler for precision that I am, it bugs the crap out of me.

If you are a true self-publisher–if you’ve handled every aspect of publication on your own–then yes, you can accurately call yourself an independent author, in at least one of the senses below. If, however, you’ve used a publishing service or platform, here are three reasons why the term won’t fly.

1. It’s inaccurate. You didn’t publish on your own. You used a service to publish for you. Whether you hired an assisted self-publishing company like AuthorHouse or used a free service like Lulu or Amazon’s digital publishing platform, you granted a license to your work, you are limited to a pre-determined package or range of services, and you’re dependent on whatever distribution the company or platform makes available. You may not own your ISBN.

Also, since most self-pub companies or platforms require you to follow their Terms of Service, and reserve the right to discontinue publication if they deem you to have breached them, you don’t fully control your work’s availability. And since most pay either a royalty or a percentage of sales income, you don’t control your income, either.

2. It’s redundant. In the larger sense of being independent contractors rather than employees, all authors are independent, unless they’re doing work-for-hire. This is true whether they’ve scored a contract with a large commercial publisher, have gotten an offer from a non-advance-paying small press, have fallen into the clutches of a dishonest vanity publisher, or have bought a publishing package from a self-publishing service.

3. It’s a euphemism. Giving something a different name doesn’t change what it is. What’s wrong with “self-published,” anyway? If you’re proud of having self-published, why not call it what it is? If you’re ashamed, why do it to begin with? Euphemisms are of help to no one. All they do is make things more confusing.

I do realize that I’m fighting a losing battle in pointing out these contradictions, and I fully expect that, like “traditional publisher” a decade earlier, “indie author” and “indie publisher” will become the terminology of choice among those who don’t know better, who wish to pretend, or who fear to offend. None of which, clearly, are me.


  1. i think self publishing actually involves publishing…where independent (indie) author means free to float as you please as an author not a publisher. in other words to author a piece of writing and distribute it, print it, wrap it and sell it as you yourself see fit, even by mutual agreement with an outsourced company that offers specific dedicated services such as printing, binding, distribution, packagaing, marketing or any such service, not by the decisions of any other entity but by your own choice as you yourself see most convenient…and if in exchange for services rendered you split the revenue consider it as credit with interest paid on sales…so yes if you are an independent author you are allowed to leave the publishing and distribution to people that get paid to publish and distribute and marketing to marketers and sales to salesmen…but you must above all author independently.

  2. So, with all this intelligence dissecting the term "independent authors, what would you call it, assisted authors then? Think that is all too confusing.

    Independent Authors is a term that is used pretty commonly, meaning someone that did not SELL their story, rather use simple format and print services that are available, P.O.D is included.

    A self published author or indie author, does not actually run ink anyway, no matter where you have it printed. This would mean my printer ink would go fast, and not very pretty.

    Think Independent Authors work fine. This is sort of micromanaging a term, as Google does not mean to actually search the web for anything either. It does now, a "slang" term.

    Don't loose your mind over this. Think Victoria is worried about too much stuff? Good day.

  3. I have been fascinated by this discussion. I am – well at this point I am not sure what I am, my books are published by a small POD publishing company, I keep all my rights, get royalties, have a great deal of control, have an illustrationist that is out of this world, and love what I am creating. I write children's books, poetry and short stories. I am having the time of my life and getting noticed. I agree with all those who are saying that we "independent" Indie, POD authors should not be put down for getting our work out there. It does take a lot of work, a lot of belief in what you are doing and a lot of teaching yourself the ropes, but it is all worth it.
    I know Authors who are Indie authors, self-published authors, traditionally published authors and non-published writers, we all love the craft, share our frustrations and celebrate our victories. What's not to like?

  4. In the early 1900s the railroads thought they were in the railroad business, so the transportation industry moved on without them.

    The book publishing industry is going the same route. For those of you drawing distinctions between one type of book publishing and another – please tell the last one out to turn off the lights. You're tilting at windmills and the rest of the world is moving on without you.

    FYI – POD is not what seperates the full-service and limited service publishers – plenty of limited-service publishers don't offer true POD at all. That is a false distinction. But neither the full service or limited service publishers have a true finger on where information sharing is going.

    Both think they are in the book publishing business – big mistake.

    We are in the Participation Age and the hallmark of this new age is "sharing". Very few publishers have figured this out and the rest will continue atrophying while defending their MEANS of sharing information in the same way the railroad stuck to their MEANS of transportation.

    I submitted a biz book to a large full service publisher. Then I found out the average publishing time for a full service publisher is 12-18 months. I decided not to even submit to any other full-service publishers, pulled the submission, and took the project independent.

    I have hired my own independent editor w/ 25 years experience at one of the largest publishers, an independent designer, an independent marketing firm, an independent book shepherd who has published 25 books (full & limited publishers) to help me through the process,and an independent printer who can do both digital and offset for me at my request. All for less than most limited-service publishers would charge.

    The book will be out in hard back three months after I started, and I have hired an independent book distributor to get my book into the same national chains and online outlets as the full-service publisher.

    The car industry can design a new car, completely retool a factory and have cars rolling off the line in six months. And yet it takes 12-18 months for the publishing industry to get a book out? No wonder it is dying and has given rise to faster means.

    The limited-service publishers are no better or worse than the full-service publishers. A side by side comparison of the two would show that both have strengths and weaknesses, and both include scoundrels and saints.

    But the person who is stuck thinking myopically about "book publishing" instead of information sharing will be shuttling their empty rail cars around long after the interstate highway of information sharing is letting others deliver their books directly to the door of their audience without the middleman.

    Pitting limited service book publishers against a full service book publishers is missing the whole conversation.

    When I sell the first 25,000 of my book, I will have made $500,000. I would have to sell 200,000 books to net the same profit with a full-service publisher, and somewhere between 75,000-125,000 with a limited service publisher. And in both cases I give up rights and ownership to varying degrees.

    Print, ebook, online, kindle, my own book site, speaking engagements, workshops, twitter, facebook, my blog, book signings, business associations, and a half dozen other means of information sharing will sell this book. The independent resources to get you into both local and national bookstores are more and more accessible outside the stodgy, slow and myopic book publishing industry.

    POD is not the pejorative. I would suggest that "the book publishing industry" will become the quaint terminology people will be using soon to describe that part of the information sharing industry that never got it.

    Anybody remember the music publishing industry? Learn from history. Let's refocus on figuring out how to help authors share their information and make money doing so, instead of defending the windmills of the past.

  5. I am republishing two of my late mother's books on western history and a volume of vignettes written by one of my aunts. I am doing this because I think they preserve interesting information and because there are folks who know the books exist and want to sell them, mostly to tourists.
    These books have a very limited audience base, consisting of parts of western Colorado and the Rio Grande valley. They will never sell in large quantity, but they will sell forever.
    Too small to interest a major publisher, they will be done POD.
    Although they will my own ISBNs and my corporate imprint, they may be the only books I publish in the next few years. I suppose that makes me even smaller than a small press – maybe micropress? Indie Press?

  6. Victoria –

    Perhaps I’m the one you’re looking for as the originator of the “indie author” term, and as one who’s working hard to popularize it. I’ve launched an entire website for indie authors and small imprints called Publetariat, and “indie author” is the preferred term there.

    RE: your reason #1, you are incorrect. I am an indie author and I use Createspace, a POD printer, for my books. All they do is print: they do not offer “packages” of any sort, and they do not retain any rights to the material they print. Your Createspace book remains in print for as long as you, the author, chooses to leave it listed. Createspace will never pull your POD book out of circulation.

    Lulu is another POD service, and they offer two POD options: Published By You, in which case they behave pretty much the same as Createspace, and Published By Lulu, in which case there are some rights exchanged.

    As to the notion that *all* authors are independent, that’s ludicrous. Mainstream-published authors do their own writing, just as indie authors do, but that’s where the similarities end. Indie authors must hire out—with their own money—for any and all services they need for their book, from editing to cover design, from formatting to web presence. Indies must manage the entire process from start to finish, there’s no publishing house editor, agent or anyone else to bring all the pieces together for them. Indie authors are entrepreneurs, they are producers of their own work in the same way that indie musicians and filmmakers are.

    RE: “What’s wrong with “self-published,” anyway?

    As I recently posted in response to the same question elsewhere –

    The reason why we indie authors reject the “self-published” label is the same as the reason why African-Americans reject the “N word” label. When a word has been used for so long as a term of insult and stigma, literally as a definition of “inferior” in many circles, when the paradigm shifts, terminology has to change.

    “Self-published” has too much history and baggage to be a “perfectly fine” description of what it is I do. And as numerous others have already pointed out, nobody calls indie musicians or filmmakers “self-produced”; it just so happens that indies in those fields have never faced the same stigma and bias as self-published authors have.

    The fact that people in the mainstream like yourself want to force us to continue using that stigmatized label is proof enough that the stigma still survives.

  7. I won’t argue with you over who can and can’t call themselves an independent author, though I will say that according to the Victoria Strauss definition, I’m allowed to call myself an indie author. 😛

    In response to Kaz, there is nothing a small press or e-pub could do for me that I can’t do for myself. Given that, why on earth would I give up a large part of the proceeds just so “someone else” can publish me?

    In response to ALC and us being indignant about being “lumped into this group.” Actually I was lumped into this group, it’s not just perception.

    Over on Smart Bitches they were talking about self publishing, I used the phrase indie author, someone flipped out on me like a ninja about how I’m “dishonest” for using that label and then pointed me to this blogpost to back herself up.

    However, all this blog post does is show why “according to Victoria Strauss” I’m allowed to call myself an indie author. (not that I was going to stop anyway. Opinions are like noses.) Because I’m not working with a self publishing POD company. I started my own imprint, own my own ISBN numbers, and handle all aspects of production.

    So, um… yeah. I am an independent author.

    Also, those who are looking for this whole “indie author” thing to fade, you might be waiting awhile. This isn’t going away anymore than indie bands or filmmakers have.

    And now more and more of these indie authors are standing up and saying we’re done taking everybody’s abuse. We will stand up for ourselves, we will make our arguments… and in ten years this whole argument will look completely stupid because people will say: “of course there are indie authors. Haven’t there always been?”

    And on the quality issue, it’s just a TINY bit unfair to go on and on about how bad most self published books are when just as many authors on the trad train suck just as much. They just get rejected. Crappy books tend to fail, so don’t worry yourself so much about it.

    Worry about the indie books that succeed.

  8. Well, I produce a catalog and other items for independent authors and I’ve been using the term for many years. Maybe I coined it, ;). However, I’m using it to combine the two groups: the self-publishers and those using vanity companies to create a combined and distinct group from what has become known as “traditional” publishing.

    They are independent in the fact, they’re not under the control (we hope) of any publishing house. They get to call the shots on editing, layout, design, print quantity, advertising and so on. They are independent of the “traditional” publishing industry.

    I realize that when using a vanity service (POD, self-publishing company, whatever you want to call it), some of the control might be out of the author’s hands, but generally it’s not. Plus, most companies would allow the author to pull the book at any time. Try doing that with Random House.

    Another point is that in independent publishing, the author is usually the one legally responsible for the book and its contents.

  9. Unless you’re lumping people in with yourself, most of the paying customers are bright enough to figure that out.

  10. “Just to get you up to date, the indie music scene has always been around, not just during the so called “file sharing” boom.”

    Sure, but did your average, paying customer know of this? Before file sharing took off, we were all stuck with getting our music from music stores. And if were weren’t lucky enough to have a hip, trendy music store near by we were stuck with nothing but the record companies who filled the franchise music stores.

    “who aren’t tied to the big three”
    Which is not the majority of bands who are getting air play and selling c.d’s.

    “And you can’t forget the typical singer/songwriter who self-releases their own stuff as well.”

    I’m guessing like most authors, these singer/songwriters also wish they could sell more than 100-500 copies.

    It’s important to take objective looks at things you love. Just because you love the indie music scene, doesn’t mean it’s hugely relevant to most people. It isn’t.

    The comparison does make sense. Just like how there has always been indie bands, there have always been indie authors. And they both needed the internet to find a relevant audience. And like the music industry, the book industry is undergoing the same type of bubble.

  11. This is directed to ORC:

    Nice to see that you have such a narrow outlook on the indie music scene.

    Just to get you up to date, the indie music scene has always been around, not just during the so called “file sharing” boom.

    Most bands nowadays, who aren’t tied to the big three, are mostly self-producing and self releasing their stuff.

    And you can’t forget the typical singer/songwriter who self-releases their own stuff as well.

    So please, if you’re going to make a comparison point, at least do it without making yourself look like a sactimonious fool.

  12. Arriving in this comments thread rather tardily (I’ve been super-busy the past few days) to add linkage to Mick Rooney’s blog post in response to Author Solutions’ “white paper” (which I blogged about in my previous post). It’s a good read (Mick’s post, that is, not the white paper), debunking Author Solutions’ “indie” claims much more thoroughly than I did, and with a good discussion of exactly why indie musicians and filmmakers do not resemble pseudo-“indie” authors who use POD self-publishing services.

    This post actually generated less indignation than I thought it might. Thanks to everyone who has contributed so far, for an interesting discussion.

    Grammar, syntax, spelling, and the like are a basic component of the writer’s craft. Being proficient at that level should be a given for any writer. I am constantly amazed at how many people seem to feel this is optional, or that it comes second to a “good story.”

  13. Speaking of “Indie Authors”, I ran across this site today. All I can think of is “Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em,: And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum”:


  14. Have no fear Victoria.
    This plagued the music industry when the peer to peer file sharing first exploded. Every band that wasn’t with one of the 5 or 6 biggest record labels was calling themselves “Indie” regardless of how true it was. It flamed out after a year or two. Thankfully, it’s back to being a small niche.. I can’t see this trend lasting long either.

  15. Writers don’t work for publishing houses, except when they’re doing work-for-hire. They’re self-employed. Editors work for publishing houses; they’re salaried.

  16. I'm just drawing my own conclusions here, but it seems to me that the only self-published writers who seem to get their feathers ruffled by these posts are most likely the ones who automatically assume that "they" are being lumped into the whole lot.

    I'm guessing that anyone out there who has written a nicely polished, well constructed novel AND has chosen to publish via POD is sufficiently literate to be able to discern the difference between quality writing & drek.

    Surely, a literate, competent, self-published author has been around the block enough to recognize the enormous quantity of poorly written, ill-conceived works of fiction being churned out via the self-publishing route. And, surely, a literate, competent, self-published author will not get bent out of shape over these posts because he/she will realize that they are a different animal altogether.

    If you're literate enough to write a truly readable novel, then, surely, you're literate enough to recognize how much crap is being churned out by illiterate hacks.

  17. Umm, Shawn. I may be barking up the wrong lamp-post here but it seems to me it’s you who reckons the grapes are sour. I have no problem with any writer choosing to publish as he or she feels is right for them and as long as they know what they’re doing and take the trouble to learn the facts and not make sweeping generalisation.

    Your post contains quite a few errors of fact and evidence of skewed thinking. Have you been in a book shop lately and counted the percentage of books written by celebrities as against people you’ve never heard of, hmm? Plenty of unknowns get their books published by mainstream publishers every day. Admittedly, fewer people are being published at the moment in the same way as fewer houses or automobiles are being sold but that doesn’t mean that the days of agents and publishers’ editors are numbered.

    For instance, you write:

    As an author who publishes his own books I’d love to get some advice and support from the industry pros on stuff like grammar to improve my writing. Instead I’m stonewalled and ignored by aloof “professionals” who’d rather stay in their ivory towers intellectualizing and complaining about the state of the publishing world things instead of making them better for everyone. I believe with a little help I could produce a well-written book that’s FINALL Typo free.

    This is a load of–um–rubbish. Such people do not live in “ivory towers.” They’re business professionals. There are plenty of other people around to help with grammar although I suggest that a writer seeking publication should be pretty hot about grammar and syntax anyway. Janny is absolutely right. And as for whingeing about being stonewalled, well words fail me.

  18. Wow – you did open up a can of worms 🙂

    I think this discussion is great – the tide is changing from traditional publishing, and pretty fast if you think about it.

  19. Re:

    “What’s more vain than an author refusing to publish their book unless its published by a big name NY publisher?”

    That’s not vanity. That’s trying to have a decent chance at distribution, professional editing, and perceived quality in the marketplace. And yes, perceived quality may be “only” in the mind, but it’s the mind we use to decide to buy the dang things in the bookstore in the first place.

    I, like many of you, have yet to see more than a few self-published books–even by very nice, very well-spooken authors–that can BEGIN to hold a candle to a major house production. Yes, “everybody knows” there are good self-pubbed books out there (and that there are drecky “big house” books out there). That point’s been made…and made…and made. But the problem is, where’s the hard evidence of same?

    As one person so eloquently put it, it’s wading through the dreck trying to find that self-published “gem” that gets to most of us–even those of us who have published with small presses or the like and would LOVE to give all authors the benefit of the doubt. The problem is, most of the time, there IS no doubt. The books don’t measure up, for whatever reason–be it the cover that looks like a bad cartoon, the editing that isn’t there, or the writing itself that just doesn’t hold a reader. Saying these things out loud doesn’t “stigmatize” anybody, but refusing to admit them out loud doesn’t help anyone, either.

    As so many people put it, it is what it is. Overwhelming numbers of badly written and badly done self-published books are the “stigma” that the self-published author has to overcome–not the remarks of anyone saying so. That’s not “sniping” at each other. That’s merely acknowledging a truth that some people still can’t swallow. Many people, supposedly, do overcome the stigma, do produce a quality book, and are a credit to the self-published end of the business. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see more than a few works that do. And I look for them. A lot. 🙂

    “As an author who publishes his own books I’d love to get some advice and support from the industry pros on stuff like grammar to improve my writing. Instead I’m stonewalled and ignored by aloof “professionals” who’d rather stay in their ivory towers intellectualizing and complaining about the state of the publishing world things instead of making them better for everyone.”

    Uhhh…I don’t know who you’ve asked about help with your work, but there are dozens and dozens of us “industry pros” who’ll be more than happy to help you with said work. I offer editorial services to people every day of the week, and there are a LOT of us online doing the same thing. Who’d you ask? And why haven’t you found me yet? 🙂

    Sorry for the long-windedness…take it for what it’s worth.


  20. What’s with all the sour grapes? Can’t we writers all just get along? All this whining and moaning makes me ashamed to call myself a writer sometimes.

    Indie author, self-published, Corporate published It doesn’t really matter. It should be about the quality of the writing. Maybe if we all supported each other instead of bickering maybe our industry could grow instead of losing money every year.

    Let’s face it the market for books is changing. The days of the Literary agents and Corporate publishers being the guards of the entire book market are ending. The author is getting more and more control over the publishing process; and more control over their content. Most of what’s being produced at the publishing houses currently either celebrity books, franchises or established authors with sales records. The succesful independent/self published author is doing the publishing houses several services:
    1) Taking a risk on material by attempting to show publishers that an established audience exists for a book they thought was “unsellable”. This is thousands of dollars the publisher saves in paying advances and eating losses on a project The author is the one paying for their investment and the loss is squarely on their shoulders.
    2) networking with new clients/retailers in untapped markets. Writers are the new sales force. They go out and SELL their books to bookstores, vendors and distributors. They set up the book signings, they set up the tables at the fairs and trade shows. The publisher doesn’t have to lift a finger towards promotion; not that those ads in the NYT book review or Kirkus sell anyting anyway.

    3) showing that a book/product can be viable stream of income for publishing houses. Most authors find sales the house never could.
    4)Getting reviews and sales for said book Yes, POD/SP/indie books get reviews. Not in the big papers, but the blogs, college papers and local papers which have strong readership with large niche audiences. Sometimes these readerships can sell more books than the big papers ever could.
    5)Doing the job of a “virtual midlist” helping viable authors find a place, while others fall by the wayside. No money spent by the publisher and they get to cherrypick the best titles for their list. Millions saved.

    With publishers cutting back on staff and cutting back on titles this is a lot of legwork the author has done on the business side. Thousands saved by publishers. Another plus are the thousands of hours saved by publishers and literary agents who would have to spend this invaluable time reading through slush queries, submissions and manuscripts.

    On another note:
    As an author who publishes his own books I’d love to get some advice and support from the industry pros on stuff like grammar to improve my writing. Instead I’m stonewalled and ignored by aloof “professionals” who’d rather stay in their ivory towers intellectualizing and complaining about the state of the publishing world things instead of making them better for everyone. I believe with a little help I could produce a well-written book that’s FINALL Typo free. But all I hear is whining and moaning from all the writers in the publishing world. As Bill Cosby would say: Come on people!

  21. Correction: Should be: “self-published” IS a euphemism. And: No writer should BE stigmatized. That’s all. Nothing further to see. Move along. Move along.

  22. Face it, fellas, “self-published” ia a euphemism for vanity published. If you are truly self-published, that is printing your own books without hiring any publishers to do ’em for you, then you are definitely self-published. Otherwise, you used the term “self-published author” to hide the fact that you went to vanity publishers for their services. So, yeah, “self-published” got stigmatized. Same will happen with “independent author” and/or “indie author.” Euphemism to me is another form of self-deception and nothing more. And I agree, no writer should stigmatized, but this is the reality of the publishing biz. It is what it is. No use pretending to be otherwise.

  23. The way I see it is, from an author’s point of view, use of the term ‘indie author’ would tell me that this author is someone who is ‘self employed’ as opposed to working for a publishing company. After all, if we are discussing writing as a profession, it involves a job of work and money.

    I have discussed this at length with other writers, ‘indie’ and ‘traditionally published’, and at the end of the day it comes down to validation – the kudos of having an agent and being published is integrity rich to some people, the value of controlling your own work and running your own publicity is important to others. The dangers of fee charging scams are another facet of the validation process, curable by a rule of not to pay to have your work published, unless of course you are your own publisher.

    So, if I decide tomorrow to set myself up as a publisher (I certainly have enough contacts) then align myself with a publishing conglom in time (I certainly have the business knowledge) the only difference between now and then would be the perception of me as ‘successful in the publishing industry’. I could then go ahead and publish my own work and the same novel that exists today unpublished would be published by myself as a mainstream publisher. This proves that it really is all about snobbery.

    I understand the point about peer review and professionalism, but most writers are not writing full time and earning a complete income from writing and save their professional concerns for their much more tangibly paid day jobs.

    The ‘traditional route’ is great if you want to make writing your main career and recieve the accolades of your peers in addition to the perceived validation of being agented and published, but it just isn’t that important to those writers who are exploring their art and wanting to put their work out there. They are still authors, whatever the additional terminology.

    An example from the world of science of a very successful ‘indie scientist’ is James Lovelock. The impact of his work on the world of science shows that someone from the ‘outside’ of the money churning funding system can, with effort and determination, be as successful as those who huddle together under the self imposed banner of professionalism – which in other industries means a set of standards which in the literary world, because of the nature of subjective opinion, is impossible to enforce.

    Huddling together may generate money and perceived validation, but innovation comes from the courage to be different.

  24. The way I explain it to my friends is that self publishing or POD or using a vanity press is akin to a scientist who does years of study/research, but then wants to circumvent the peer review process.

    That’s the way I see it. Agree or disagree, traditional publication is a form of peer review. By virtue of going through it, there is an additional level of professionalism present – whether you personally think the book is crap or not.

  25. Why not submit to the e-publishers?,Even today being e-pubbed isn’t considered published. Given there is a huge difference between traditional, e-pubbed, and self-pubbed. But the similiarity is that authors are trying to get their books to their readers. The true argument is the work getting a fair shake for the venue it’s presented in. More often than not self-published books don’t.

    That should be the stigma. Not the author couldn’t get it published elsewhere. ‘Cause many would be surprised that some self-published authors never approached the traditional route.

  26. I’d like to make two points.

    Firstly. The reason there’s a stigma attached to ‘self-publishing’ (most of which, as Victoria says, isn’t) is because the quality as a whole is poor. And I’m mainly talking about fiction here, by the way.) And yes, I know there are some great self-published novels but you have to look hard to find them amongst the heap of dross. And I’ve never read one.

    Quality is not opinion. It comes from high production values–cover, paper, editing, both line and copy, BUT mainly in the writing ability of the author (and even then most novels need the input of a sensitive and knowledgeable editor that is not available as standard to the self or subsidy pubbed writer.)

    I see no-one who’s commented here mentions good writing, especially those who maintain that if you have a story to tell you shouldn’t be stigmatised for going ahead with it even if quality gatekeepers turn their noses up at it. Incidentally, knowing what people want to read is as much a part of quality writing as knowing where to put an apostrophe or creating original imagery. Writing is a two-way process. No-one has a right to be published if no-one other than friends or family would ever want to read it.

    Secondly, my first full-length novel is shortly to be published by a company I would class as independent. It’s small, is not connected to one of the big conglomerates, but goes about its business in the same way with an industry standard contract, advance on royalties which again are standard, book shop sales and valid distribution, albeit with smaller profits and margins.

    But I am not in any way shape or form an ‘indie’ author.

  27. I usually agree with you, Victoria, but I’m not so sure on this. If an independent band burns a master CD, and then sends it to a CD duplication shop for 1000 copies, does that make them non-independent? I don’t think so.

  28. I definitely agree with much of what has been said here. I echo respect for you Victoria and your concern for authors. But I also support those who say there are different paths for different book projects and they’re all viable depending on one’s goals among other factors. If something is an outright scam, it doesn’t fall into the viable category.

    As has been noted, people need to first and foremost educate themselves as to their options and then see which one fits best. This may include using a self-publishing company (I actually like the term fee-based, helps to clarify things a little) or an e-publisher or a combination of a couple of options.

    Again, as someone else said, authors have just as much right to put their work out there and let the market judge it worthy or not just like any other artist. I think that’s all most people want, a chance.

  29. Good point, but who really cares? It’s just slang that POD authors have adopted these days. If Ozzy Osbourne can call himself the Prince of Darkness and Janice Dickinson can call herself the World’s First Super Model, then let self-published authors call themselves indie authors!

  30. “Independent” publisher is a term many successful self-publishers began using to distinguish themselves and their work from dreck issued by subsidy publishers (who co-opted the term “Self Publishing: (aka Self Publishing Companies – even dumber:”POD Self Publishing Companies.”
    No surprise those opportunists are now trying to heist the term
    “independent,” as they make the bulk of their income of “newbies.”

    I suspect they’ll continue to glom onto whatever vernacular seems to work at any given moment.

  31. If I’m not mistaken, the term “indie” came about as a way to differentiate between the large conglomerate publishers, who have many layers to their companies and answer to large committees, and the smaller “independent” publishers who weren’t a part of a corporation.

    It’s the equivalent of saying, “We’re just like Random House, except the decimal points of our bottom line are a few digits to the right.” That means that we edit, promote, distribute, and market our products in the same manner but on a smaller scale.

    Vanity and POD companies saw that the term “indie” had a respectable conotation and began defining themselves as indie publishers as well. This created a lot of confusion and shock to new authors who realized too late that these vanity/POD presses weren’t “indie” presses at all because their business plans are completely different from that of commercial publishing.

    So the term “indie” has lost its real meaning, thus making it far more difficult for authors to distinguish a POD or vanity press from the real McCoy until it’s too late.

  32. “What’s wrong with “self-published,” anyway? (Whoops, don’t answer that–you might have to admit that self-publishing actually does still carry a stigma.)”

    Obviously it has a stigma, or you wouldn’t have written this post. I think someone putting out a book on Lulu and calling themselves a “published author” is problematic, but given the new environment where self-publishing’s gaining clout, the language has to change a little.

    I’ve been published by a small press (Soft Skull) and large presses overseas. I’ve also self-published. Can I be called an independent author now? Drawing these lines in the sand seems really like a way to keep people out from entering your turf. It just shows a basic contempt that self-publishing can achieve legitimacy. Really, it seems like something written by someone that wants self-publishing to keep its stigma, and no sense of the positive implications of writers releasing their own work.

  33. I think the terms “indie,” “independent” and “self-published” are all equally good and respectable. Most authors I know use them interchangeably. I use them interchangeably.

    We can argue forever about the nuance around ISBNs, etc, and I’d rather not. At the end of the day these indie authors are just authors who decided to take publishing matters into their own hands, and yes, of course, they may use the services, tools and platforms some of us provide, but they are still “self-published” IMHO.

    Part of the problem here is that many traditionalists (uh oh, did I just create a new label?) have spent years maligning the term “self-published” to connote “loser author,” “failure,” “not good enough to get published in a respectable manner,” and worst of all, “vanity.”

    As MeiLin smartly pointed out, publishers turn down great works all the time if it doesn’t meet their needs, or if they don’t see a large enough commercial market. Commercial marketability isn’t synonymous with quality.

    The “vanity” term bugs me more than any other term. It’s one of the most poisonous terms out there. It’s generally used to imply that an author’s work is worthless.

    Yet the word also implies conceited and excessive pride in one’s appearance. What’s more vain than an author refusing to publish their book unless its published by a big name NY publisher? Vanity cuts both ways, folks. And let’s face it, publishing is an act of vanity. It’s the author saying, “I have something I think is worth sharing with the world.” Blogging, twittering, public speaking and social networking are all forms of vanity as well.

    Victoria, I have a lot of respect for what you do, and I’ve recommended this blog on my own blog. However, I think it’s time to recognize there are many sensible routes to publication for authors, and no author should feel maligned for choosing one route over another. Our mutual responsibility is to help authors make educated choices. If there are bad seeds out there who are ripping off people or taking advantage, then by all means give them the dressing down they deserve. But let’s not make “self-published” or “indie” authors feel any less of an author because they opted, by choice or necessity, to publish via alternative means.

    Mark Coker

  34. In this case, I think your irritation is…


    As writers, we are supposed to be experts at using language. We are supposed to choose our words with precision and purpose. We are not supposed to choose words that cause others to go, “what do you mean?”

    When words are used to hide meaning instead of reveal it, we should all be up in arms.

  35. I’ve been a small publisher for about 15 years. I’ve sold about 3500 copies of a booklet I’ve written on Combat PTSD. I’ve also had novels published by other publishers, and within the past year I’ve published my own fiction and did everything except the actual printing. I own my own block of ISBN numbers. Until I learned through trial and error, my wife did the typesetting and formats and I do the cover work using Photoshop and Adobe CS4.
    If I ever get another chance with a major, and I’ve made it to final marketing meetings at majors a few times with my manuscripts, I’ll welcome the shot.
    The truth is that I’m too experienced and too old to wait for some intern first reader to decide whether they like a manuscript or to hope to find an agent who didn’t have a bad night or a family fight or even actually knows the business and what they are doing.
    There are so many factors involved in getting in the major door that I have to think a lot of the good writing in the world gets brushed aside for the John Edwards and Paris Hilton type lame adventures. That’s just the way things are today.

  36. Worry not, for there are those (myself among them) that cheer you on in your desperate attack on linguistic subterfuge by people who doubt their own credibility and wish to hide behind the type of double-speak that characterizes dystopic novels such as 1984.

    Indie Author indeed… unless you’re writing about a famous auto race, or declaring both your career and political alignments at the same time, then quit mucking around with language, it’s designed for communication, not confusion!

  37. I can understand having a story you want to tell. I can understand feeling that it’s a niche that’s difficult to exploit. What I don’t understand, in these particular times, is the dichotomy that’s constantly pointed out by the self-published authors between NY publishers and self-publishing. As if there’s nothing in between.

    If you feel you really are a good enough writer — and calling yourself an “indie author” must surely point to that — then why self-publish? Why not submit to the e-publishers? (I don’t write non-fiction, so I don’t know that part of the market well, but there are TONS of fiction-accepting epubs out there.) You don’t need to be agented, you actually get royalties (rather than paying someone else, MeiLin) and, if the book is long enough (often only 55K or bigger), many epubs also have a print sideline for customers who’d rather have the dead-tree version. All you have to do to be part of this is put your work up for independent scrutiny by the publishing house.

    Let’s see. The turnaround on submissions is quicker, the time to publish is often quicker, the royalty rate is better than print. Plus, with epubs, the whole “niche” argument goes down the tubes. It was e-publishing that helped catapult erotic romance into prominence and e-publishing that kick-started the whole m/m romance sub-genre. If there’s any place that will accept something that pushes the envelope, it’s electronic publishing.

    So, what I’d like to know is, what is the reasoning of people who insist that the doors are closed to them, and yet deliberately don’t knock on those that are available and more accessible?

  38. burger-eater, you owe me a keyboard. 😉

    I agree that there’s a stigma to “self-published,” but I don’t think “indie author” is the right choice of words. But what to use? Frankly, I’m not sure.

    I tend to agree with Victoria’s definition of “indie.” An independent takes all of the financial risk and reaps all of the reward – be it a book, a CD or a film.

    If I pay someone to produce and distribute my work in return for a royalty, I suspect that entity isn’t taking much of a risk on me. Especially when they set the selling price and royalty level. I’ve essentially given up control over that aspect of my work.

    If I’m going to self publish, I want to do it ALL, or at least have the ability to farm certain aspects of the job out to people that I choose. Call me a control freak, but if I’m going to put out the money, I want it done right.

  39. It sounds very like “self-laid casanova.” I should have added “fairly or not” to the end of that sentence. I know writers who have self-published successfully, but I know I need to say so explicitly or infuriate a lot of people.

  40. No flack from this quarter. I actually have no qualms in using the term “self-published”.

    It is what it is. I’m happy with what I’m doing. If someday I have luck the traditional way, that’s fine. But I’m not going to stress out over it.

    We all move at our own speed, to do what we want as we want.

    Just because you personally don’t like self publishing (and I don’t see you taking someone like Dog’s Ear Publishing to task. Are they exempt from the scorn that you give others?) doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad thing.

    After all, some of us can’t spend the years it would take to become published the normal way, if at all.

  41. I respectfully disagree that euphemisms are of help to no one. If “self-published” stinks, maybe the only way for a professional-level self-published book to receive objective treatment is a euphemism. My new book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells, is professional and has been endorsed by the likes of Tess Gerritsen and Donald Maass, but I cannot get a review from the Seattle Times because it is “self-published.”

    And consider this: the word “liberal” became so poisoned to much of the electorate by conservative rhetoric that a new label, “progressive,” had to be invented so there could be a handle for people with those sensibilities that did not evoke knee-jerk condemnation.

  42. You're probably right and you make some excellent points. But really, it's about marketing yourself isn't it? The book & publishing industry constantly hammers and yammers at us that we have to be marketing geniuses as well as writers in order to succeed at this. "Indie Author" sounds so much cooler, edgier, anti-authoritarian, plays a bit on the cache of the Indie Bookseller. There's also an often-unfortunate and pre-conceived notion that comes with the appellation "Self-Published Author" that has been earned by the ten thousand people who walked through the door ahead of you.

    Re-defining yourself is part of marketing, owning your brand. I think the 'Indie Authors' are making a logical and even predictable decision. And eventually they'll have to transmogrify and reinvent themselves yet again. Always trying to turn their status as outsiders from a handicap to a benefit.

    Can you really blame them?

  43. I would never put down someone who goes “traditional,” though I’m rarely afforded the same consideration.

    Many of us have good books/stories that might find themselves a market. It’s just too small of a market for a publishing house to be interested in, and justifiably; once you involve all those layers, and the booksellers’ cut, it adds up. Publishers need to shoot for the greatest common denominator markets, and that’s understood. Editors turn down work all the time that they recognize is good; it just doesn’t fit with their particular needs. No one can blame them for that. I certainly don’t.

    But does that make the book “bad,” or just niche? Why leave your niche book languishing in the dark recesses of the hard drive (assuming it’s actually worth reading) because its market will be smaller than a publisher can take a risk on?

    It’s the stigma of the term “self-published” that makes terms like “indie” more appealing. But why should people be stigmatized for trying to find their own audience? What amazes me is that literature is the last medium where the gatekeepers are still so firmly worshipped and those outside the gates so deeply despised.

    Musical groups without record deals put out CDs and have their own followings; no one says, “They put out their work on CD Baby, so they must automatically suck–an A/R guy didn’t vet them first, and they didn’t pay their dues by being rejected several thousand times.” (As if artists aren’t rejected constantly just making art.) To the contrary; unsigned bands have an entire lifestyle named after them.

    Comic artists who put out their own art rather than scramble for work via the Marvel/DC/Dark Horse route are admired for their pluck and dedication. Filmmakers who put together enough money to make a film will not hear “It’s not from Dreamworks, so it must by definition be awful.”

    Those of us who go self-pub–and it’s a term I shied away from for a while but have decided to embrace–we have the right to be considered in the same light as independent filmmakers, comic artists, theater companies and musicians. I am risking time and money on my work just like they are.

    There are horrendously bad self-published books. There are also unwatchable independent films, awful indie bands, and wretched independent comics. There are theater troupes who, if there were gatekeepers other than the marketplace, would never be let near a stage. And yet, they’re out there, plugging away by the thousands, and the only thing stopping them is whether they find an audience. They may be critically panned, these bad artists of various media, but they are not panned solely for being independent. They are panned because they are bad. I should be afforded that same opportunity.

    That is the gist of it. Let people find their audience, even if it’s one too small for a traditional publisher to pursue. Why does it matter what I call myself? If I put the same amount of care and work into my books as I would if they were traditionally published, why should it matter? And I do. I am incredibly lucky to have a readership that believes in me enough to fund a freelance editor and a cover artist for the upcoming print/ebook editions of my work (which, I’ve been repeatedly told, will never find a publisher because I put the drafts on the web). These are not my friends, or my family; I personally know a scant handful of the thousand or so people who currently follow my work.

    Let me succeed or fail like any other artist, not because I choose a path that diverges from the traditional gatekeeping system. And don’t tell me that the gatekeeping system is for my own good. That’s as condescending as telling a band that signing to a label is for their own good.

  44. The term “indie” or “independent” has a lot of positive connotation in the publishing industry and elsewhere: independent bookstores, movies, music, etc.

    The desire to support the small (local) business owner vs the big box chain store is potent marketing these days and it sounds like some authors are trying to capitalize on that hip, trendy image.

  45. I think it’s more of a forced paradigm shift. People that are anxious to be published and recognized as authors are attempting to “legitimize” their way of getting themselves published. Ant “indie Author” has a certain ring to it, as opposed to “self-published”.

    As someone who has had work published and has self-published other work, I can see it form both sides. What disturbs me is some authors are trying to push their “indie” agenda, and putting down “traditional authors”.

  46. Good points, and in the quest to be published haven’t we all bowed down to what might actually sell as opposed to what what we would like to write at one point or another. Who doesn’t have a story or book laying in the dark recesses of their hard drive or filing cabinet that no one would touch, not even oneself?

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