Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Who Should Have the 'Indie' Label: Self-Publishers or Small Presses?

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.


Bri Clark said...

I say give it to who has had it the longest.

Problem solved. Bri has spoken. LOL

Dick Margulis said...

Nathan, the key distinction is between vanity publishing (confusingly called self-publishing by the vanity companies to entice customers—that is, authors—to give them money) and independent self-publishing, where the author sets up a publishing imprint, owns ISBNs, and contracts with service providers for editing, design, etc., as needed. The latter are no different in principle from any other micropublisher and may as well be called indies. After all, every publisher starts with one title and goes from there.

As long as you stop calling vanity-published authors "self-publishers" (which they are not), your head will not explode. I promise.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Please, Nathan, hold your head together - but I say both.

Won't some indie self-publishers morph into publishers of other writers? Then they WILL be both versions of indie.

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Nothing is more independent than self publishing. Maybe the previous Indie publishers can be called Alternative Publishers or something equally countercultural.

Gryvon said...

I've always thought of Indie as small press, not self-publishing.

Cameron Chapman said...

I agree with what Dick said above. I think it's also common to see self-pubbed authors refer to themselves as "indie authors" rather than "indie publishers". But I think both deserve the title. And honestly, a lot of the "indie" publishers out there (when used in terms of other-than-the-big-six) aren't very indie in spirit and are just as corporate as the big-six, which further skews what "indie" really means.

Terry Odell said...

I totally hate labels to begin with. I'm independently publishing my back list myself. Call me what you will.

Sierra McConnell said...

I always thought the "indie" publishers were the ones who wore sandals and headbands and who refused to conform to societies norms. O_O

zegota said...

The smaller publishers can rightly be called "Independent" publishers. The authors published by those publishers are not "Independent" authors, as, by definition, they produce their works in cooperation with a publisher.

Authors who publish their works alone (or mostly alone, with a freelance copyeditor and cover artist) should be considered an "Independent" author.

That's my thought on the matter, but I don't really think it matters too much.

Linda said...

I recently asked this same question on my blog. No definitive answer. As long as someone doesn't confuse me with a vanity published author, I don't care what I'm labeled. I'm an AUTHOR.

Lynn said...

I see it similar to indie music. Indie is indie, by definition without the big name or money behind it.

Mira said...

Well, I have to be honest. This isn't an issue that I really care all that much about - sorry.

I also think traditional independent publishing would be wise to ally with the new e-publishing rather than putting alot of energy into fighting with them over terms.

But, regardless, the bottom line is you can't fight popular culture, so if a term is coined for "indie publishing" to mean e-publishing, and it sticks, well, that's sort of that.

Laura Riley said...

I say it stays with the small publishers.

I would equate this argument to what would happen if people who posted on You Tube started calling themselves Indie filmmakers.

I think there is a big difference between uploading your book to a website and going through the publishing process with a small press.

If I were to self-publish down the road, I would say that I have done just that because there is no shame in self-publishing.

As for the argument that self-publishers morph into different entities, I don't disagree. Companies change and grow all of the time. They may grow into a true independent publisher, but let them get that label when they are more than just a self-publishing entity.

MZMackay said...

My original thought is that the independent publishers where traditional publishing houses that stand on their own, not part of the big conglomerates.

But, isn't that what the self-publishing authors have too? They've just outsourced the printing or formatting for ebook distribution?

Mimi Cross said...

Hi Nathan,

Maybe start (being even more annoyed) by looking at the music industry.

You have
1. Indie artists (meaning independent artists who have not signed with a label for a variety of reasons).

2. Indie labels (small independent start ups that if they're lucky, sell to a major label despite their originally rebellious attitude. Think farm teams in baseball).

3. Indie the style of music (which seems to me to be a sort of second round of punk/lo fi).

What this shows us is that labels don't always work for art or artists. Marketing people want to put everyone in a box (bin or bookshelf) and that is a great idea as far as a way to sell stuff, but not always cut and dry.

I see no end in sight for this debate, so sorry Nathan, the answer is both and all.
Keep your head together ;)

Kendra said...

I'm glad you posted on this - I have been following this debate with interest for awhile. I sympathize with the small publisher Indies but I'm afraid their label has been co-opted by the new breed of self-published authors, whether they or we agree or not. The more interesting facet for me is how upset some "old style" Indies get at the thought of being grouped with self-published authors. They may not have gone with the traditional corporate presses, but they have some very traditional attitudes.

christopherhodge said...

There is a stigma in the writing and book industry. In many circles "Self-published" books are not held in such esteem as those that are "traditionally" produced. But look at "indie" music. These artists have been "self" publishing their music since it could be done. They get behind their art and market it themselves. And if a "tradional" label discovers them, perfect.

I say that self-published authors are truly indie. They believe in their art enough to pay to get it out there. Sadly, a lot of them need to pay more for copy-editing services. Traditional is better in that respect.

Anonymous said...

I think it belongs to small publishers, but I can see why someone would want to move away from the title "self-published." So I'd go with indie author for the self pubbed and indie pub for smaller publishers.

Alice said...

Thank you for coming to my rescue.

My first novel is coming out with a trade (traditional, whatever) independent publishing house this year. I find I have to spell this out very carefully lest people get the wrong idea.

By using the term "indie author", self-published authors are effectively trying to suggest that they've been through some sort of objective, independent critique and passed muster...i.e. that someone is invested financially in their work other then themselves.

This trend says to me that self-published authors are lumping themselves with me because they're ashamed of being self-published.

Why should they be ashamed of being self-published, for goodness' sake? People are more and more willing to buy self-published books, and it's a good thing.

On an egocentric note, I'm proud a stranger was willing to invest in something I created. It feels selfish of authors who haven't gone through that procedure to pretend they have.

Anonymous said...

Independent publishing already means something -- that's exactly why it's being co-opted by self-publishers/self-published authors. And the values associated with it don't conform to the self-published (an independent sensibility that is curated, not market-driven). Taking over someone else's established reputation misrepresents what's on offer, and is, frankly, shady.

Ishta Mercurio said...

If I opened up a bookstore but only stocked my own books, you'd laugh at me if I tried to call it an "indie bookstore".

Self-published authors are self-published. And for those who say some of them might set up publishing companies that publish other authors too, I say hooey. Look at all the editors who are also authors, like Jane O'Connor. You don't see their own houses publishing their work, do you? Do they edit their own manuscripts? Of course not. It isn't the same thing.

Authors who have been traditionally published by an independent press can call themselves "indie" authors, but as zegota said, they're not really the ones who are independent, the publishers are.

Why not just shun the label altogether? Then no-one has to worry about it; we'll just stick our fingers in our ears and sing "la, la, la-la-la" every time someone says "indie" until they come up with something more accurate.

Myne Whitman said...

I am a self publisher, but the plan is to publish others with time. What does that make me?

Linda Gray said...

Seems like the key would be more specificity. The term 'indie' is legitimately claimed by both, but why not specify indie publishers and indie authors?

LK Hunsaker said...

I've been using the term indie author to describe myself before I ever heard of it! Since oh, around 2007 or thereabout. I did that because "experts" slammed any author who paid for a service to put their books out as "not self-published" since they don't take their books to a printer and store them in a garage to see themselves. Okay, so I don't say I'm self-published. I'm indie, just like indie bands paying to put out their own music. They of course pay a studio and they pay for their CDs to be distributed and hosted, but they are indie because they don't have a contract with a label. Same thing.

I'm an indie author because I don't have a contract with a publishing company, because I pay my own services, and I now own my ISBNs and my own company name.

You are NOT an indie author if you are published by an indie publisher who is paying your expenses under contract.

Independent means, well independent: doing it yourself, just as small local bookstores that start up their store on their own (as opposed to using a big chain name and promo) are indie bookstores.

Indie author and indie publisher should not be used in the same way.

Small presses are indie publishers. Authors paying their own way are indie authors.

Bill Ruesch said...

Why do we even feel the need to make distinctions? A published book is a published book. Period. Does the publisher write the book? Not unless it is self-published. Does a traditionally published book make it superior? Not in my experience. The difference is in marketing and distribution. Tradional publishing is all about sales.

Books and authors stand on their own to be judged by time and tenacity. Is there anyone who doesn't know "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman? Isn't it the only book he ever published?

K. L. Brady said...

I have always referred to a small press as a small press. I've never referred to them as an indie publisher. The only distinction between an indie publisher/author, in my view, is that small presses operate like big six presses on a smaller scales--they use offset printing, warehouses, have business infrastructure (offices), and a larger staff.

I think if you're an author that publishes your novel independently, including owning your own ISBNs and publishing under your own imprint (as I did) then it's fine to use the Indie author or indie publisher.

With the advent of POD printing, I have the same capacity to publish other authors' manuscript and operate as a small press if I so choose to do so.

I buy my ISBNs from bowkers like any other publisher. I can (and do) use the same printers as small and big six presses (many of Hachette's trade paperbacks are printed by Lightning Source POD--I use them). I can get my books into bookstores (got my book into B&N), use mainstream distribution channels (ingram, baker & taylor), the only difference is that I don't have to worry about selling a warehouse full offset print books because I use POD. Nor do I have to employ an entire staff...I can independently contract cover designers, editors, etc.

So, why should the fact that I'm only one person preclude me from using the indie author or publisher label to describe my business? That's what I am.

And, at the end of the day, who really cares?

A. S. Peterson said...

I consider myself independently published rather than "self-published" because self-publishing implies a whole lot of things that my books are not.

There's very little "self" involved the publishing of my books. I contract artists, editors, proofreaders, copyeditors, distribution, a printer, etc. etc. And not in some sort of self-publishing package, but individually hand-picking each cog in the wheel. There were a lot of people involved in making the books what they are and it shows. It would be disingenuous then to call them "self published," and disregard the work that so many folks put into them.

LK Hunsaker said...

That should have been "sell themselves" not "see themselves"!

And I just checked: I put up my indie publishing group to support the efforts of indie authors (and help spread the idea of being an indie author, likening it to indie musicians) back in 2005. I've been publishing on my own since 2003.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, did you have a say in your covers, such that they match your blog so supremely? It all looks so good on the page load.

Lucinda Bilya said...

Indie is a short form of “independent” and may refer to a number of concepts from music, video game development, or publishing. (just Google it and see how many things this term applies)

An Indie Publisher is a book or magazine publisher whose publication appeal to small, niche audiences, and are typically not distributed widely.

Listed under Independent video game development – Wiki says games created without financial backing from large companies are Indie.

Indie refers to anything that is one: Independent, and two: not backed financially by any of the big boys in town.

So sorry, Nathan to make you head explode, but it can refer to both.

Pioneers are independent. Independent people think outside the box, create their own options, and often create their own paths, even when a couple feet away lies a smooth interstate.

Declaration of Indies – let the fireworks begin.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Anything and anyone who is Independent of the traditional publishing model/system should be able to call themselves Indie. that's what the word independent means, right? Many self-published authors actually start their own imprints too, which are technically micro-presses; they are about as Independent as you can get.

Nathan Bransford said...


Thanks! We didn't actually try to match the blog, but it did turn out that way!

Mr. D said...

I agree with Alice. Because she nailed it.

Amy said...

I think the "indie" term makes more sense for people who are self-published, not for those are published with a small press. The term "self-published" has a stigma attached to it that "indie" authors rightfully want to distance themselves from, now that self- or indie-publishing is a much more viable business model than it was in the past.

Istvan Szabo, Ifj. said...

Self published - no second or third party is involved (Solo, usually third time author).

Indie - a second and / or a third party is involved (Small group, co-writer, other professionals, but that doesn't mean small publishers) OR an already published or credited professional who is taking a different, independent path, but already worked in the industry before one way or another.

Both can be self-published and both can be independent, but some self-published is not indie and some indie is not self-published.

Margo said...

Everyone using labels to look down their noses and accuse other writers of not being as valid and vetted as they themselves are. So useful. Hey, how about we go write instead? Nah...

Jared X said...

At the risk of making your head explode, there are additional classes of publishers who could rightly bear the label "Indie":

The publisher of 4-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser's memoirs.

The publisher of the Indiana Jones series of books.

V.S. Naipaul's publisher (he's from Trinidad, West Indies, and perhaps has the best claim of all).

Silly, I know, but so is getting upset over self-published authors calling themselves "indie."

Istvan Szabo, Ifj. said...

Sorry. Second line edit;
(Solo, usually FIRST time author).

kentsageek said...

I'd say small press for the independent houses and indie authors for the self publishers. That may ruffle a few feathers, but I can remember when gay meant cheerful. Meanings often change with the times and clearly, times are changing in the publishing world.

Mercy Loomis said...

The whole label thing seems kinda silly to me, but since people seem to like them, I'd agree with Mimi. The word Indie can be used many ways.

What I think would make more sense is to discuss a particular work. I have some short stories that are self-published, and some that are traditionally published, and some that are published by small press. I'm planning to do both self-published novels and traditionally published novels (if I can).

For example, Scott Sigler has several bestselling traditionally published novels, but he also has very successful self-published-only novels. Is it fair to call Scott one or the other, self-published versus traditionally published?

I think more authors will be moving in that direction: selling the more marketable stuff to traditional and small presses, and self-publishing the stories that are, for whatever reason, not in vogue with the print publishers.

Munk said...

I have to admit, I checked into the comments just to see if Nathan's head would explode. But I will offer this, conventions and definitions have always been a thorn in my side, I like physical laws, anything humans come up with can change.

Richard Gibson said...

I'd say that in the self-publishing world there are evolving "majors" like Lulu, Smashwords, and CreateSpace. And there are little guys who in comparison could be called "indie", in a way similar to the use of the term among print publishers (as well as oil companies - where you have majors and independents - or actually these days supermajors, majors, and independents).

Natalie said...

Definitely small presses. As Writer Beware has often pointed out, vanity presses often call themselves "indie" to make themselves look more legitimate. Besides, small presses did indeed have the label first. :D

Will Entrekin said...

The problem with the "self-publishing" label is that, for many years and until very recently, there was a continual stigma against any author who chose to publish without the backing/support of some sort of press, small or corporate. This has diminished over the years, but has not yet disappeared; consider the article concerning Jacqueline Howett (sp?) last week, run by the web division of a major newspaper in which the author took the opportunity to swipe at all so-called "self-published" authors, who are not "vetted" by publishers . . . you can imagine where her argument went.

I think it's unsurprising those associated with corporate publishers are so concerned about such labels, and so quick to call independent authors "self-published." It's like the "death tax" versus the "estate" or "inheritance tax." Regardless of stigma, there is always some perception/connotation that goes along with words or phrases.

I'm an independent author (go Team Indie!).

Other Lisa said...

I'm published by a genuine independent press (Soho), so I'd give "indie publisher" to, you know, an independent publisher—a separate entity from the author that has made the decision to publish said author.

A single author working on her own and publishing her own books to me does not equal a "press," or a "publisher," indie or no. "Indie author" I can see for someone in that position.

siebendach said...

If it's not the traditional Big Six --- and it's not vanity --- it's indie.

C'mon, people, "indie" is short for "independent". Whoever used the word first doesn't matter. Words mean things --- and the self-published author, for better or worse, is inherently more "independent" than someone who goes with a publisher (large or small). So if it has to be one or the other, I'm afraid the small publishers are out of luck.

But in the end, that doesn't matter either, because it doesn't have to be that way. Clear explanation will still suffice to split whatever hairs need to be split. That's often the case with adjectives, their meaning becomes clearer when they're used along with whatever noun they're supposed to be modifying.

A "clean floor", a "clean bill of health", a "clean death" and a "clean slate" don't all mean precisely the same thing, either. No one's fighting over the word "clean". Fighthing over the word "indie" is just as silly.

Liz Fichera said...

Now people are arguing over "Indie" label?! Amazing. I say give it to Indiana Jones. Problem solved.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Indie publishers are legitimate, commercial small-to-micropresses.

Self-publishers are just that - SELF-PUBLISHERS. People shouldn't get themselves out of joint and throw a tantrum because they want to use a title that belongs, rightly, to someone else.

Blame vanity presses for muddying the waters. They convinced their marks years ago that vanity = self-publishing (which it doesn't) and that self-publishing = blacklist (which it doesn't)

They trotted out "traditional" and "indie" to create a false atmosphere of competition that would create an emotional response in people who hadn't been able to snag a commercial contract (or were so new to the game they didn't know any better).

Commercial publishing = potential profit for all involved

Self publishing = potential profit for the writer/publisher, if they know how to get around the obstacles.

Vanity publishing = near guaranteed profit for the press at the expense of the writer now saddled with the press' reputation.

Indie publishing = Independent press; not one of the author's creation.

Traditional publishing = bait for the hook

Wanton Redhead Writing said...

This is one of my pet peeves. If you are self-pubbed you are NOT indie-pubbed!
But, the vernacular has changed and it's one of the main reasons I don't want a small press publisher.
I will take one though, hey I'm not stupid.
The authors who are boasting that they are indie pubbed when they are only self-pubbed are frauds and they know it.

Alice said...

@Will E.

Here's the thing: nobody's saying that self-published books are necessarily bad or that being a traditionally published author makes your work necessarily good.

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.

An illustrative example: if you look at the AAR listings of agents, you'll find a huge mix of what particular agents will cover. Some will only cover specific genres, but the vast, VAST majority are practically begging for good literary fiction. They list it in all caps, or draw attention to it with asterisks, or something.

What does this tell you? That most literary agents are book nerds, that good literary fiction sells like CRAZY, AND that most (999,999 in a million) people cannot write good literary fiction -- which are all facts the self-publishing community doesn't like to talk about.

Let me say again: I love that people are willing to buy self-published books again. I don't have an ebook reader yet, but when I find a good self-pubbed book in a format I can read, I buy it immediately. I want to support the self-pubbing industry. I subscribe to self-pubbed book review websites.

Be realistic and honest with yourselves: denial won't get you anywhere pleasant.

And then be all like, "Yeah, I'm self-published, what's your problem with that? Read my book and tell me I suck *then*." Then when they read it and think it's amazing, be really smug.

Anonymous said...

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 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 said...

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?

Anonymous said...

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 said...

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).

Anonymous said...

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.

Margo said...

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 said...

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. said...

Bob. Excellent response. ;)

Anonymous said...

"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?


That's why.

Elle Strauss said...

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 said...

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.

Lyndie Strawbridge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"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 said...

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.

Anonymous said...

"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".

Alice said...

Does Anonymous 9:14 not know of the existence of em-dashes or something?

Caleb said...

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.

Alice said...

Also I cannot believe nobody's linked these terribleminds posts yet:

You're welcome.

Eric Christopherson said...

Horse, barn.

Matthew MacNish said...

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 said...

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 said...

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 said...

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.

Hannah Stephenson
Indie Publisher
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).

Mira said...

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 said...

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 said...

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 said...

(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.

Kaitlyne said...

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 said...

"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 said...

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."

Anonymous said...

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 said...

" 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 said...

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 :)

Anonymous said...

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. said...

I had this very discussion here last week.

The Pen and Ink Blog said...

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.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I have a full out and your past two days of posts have been FANTASTIC for the ensuing adhd. Thanks!

Marilyn Peake said...

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 said...

I motion the aforementioned title be moved to the self-published author, and hence forth all negative stigma be removed.

Beth said...

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.

Daniel said...

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."

MJR said...

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 said...

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 said...

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.

Sean said...

I don't care what you call me. Just don't call me Johnson...

C.R. Hindmarsh said...

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 said...

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 said...

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 said...

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 said...

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

C.Smith said...

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.

Laura Martone said...

Sorry to make your head explode, Nathan, but why not both? In the film world, you're considered an indie filmmaker whether you go with a small production company/distributor (comparable to a small press) or distribute your film on your own.

Lydia Netzer said...

Indie needs to stay indie -- like FC2, Soft Skull, Red Hen, Coffee House, Graywolf...

Self published is what you do when you bring your own book to market.

Indie means there is an editorial presence, a selection process, an aesthetic at work.

Self published means the author is in control.

Authors are not indies. If they want a better word they should think of one that isn't already taken.

leigha said...

Having just spoken to the major independent book reviewing companies, I think this issue is very important. In general, the reviewers now have services for both both traditionally and self-published books. And the self-published books are reviewed under their service that inevitably seems to contain the work "Indie." The factors that seemed most relevant in their decision to consider a particular publisher traditional were 1) they printed a galley and figured pre-pub reviews into the publishing timeline; 2) they had specific standards for selecting clients, and clients signed a publishing contract only by the company's invitation; and 3) the company had a separate self-publishing division. The term "Indie" seems to be associated with the self-published books and authors for the purposes of securing pre-pub reviews, though I would think of the publisher I work for as an Indie publisher with a self-publishing division for clients who do not meet standards required for invitation of a publishing contract.

Kevin Lynn Helmick said...

I've self published my stuff, I prefer the term Indie, it suggest Independant, alone, and that's self publishing, that's for sure.
And it sounds cooler. I suppose it sounds cooler than "small press" as well, so they want it too.
As far as vanity presses
with all the new self publishing stuff around and their sevices getting, cheaper better, easier and more respected, I don't see "vanity" presses surviving that, maybe I'm wrong.
off subject,
I've always been a little confused at small press authors claiming tadtional published. Can you be Indie and tradtional?
I alway felt tradtional was big 6, or an imprint of big six.
Sorry Nathian, put a helmet on, but I think "Indie" is both if writer wants it. And by the way, I prefer writer over author. But that's just me.

JDuncan said...

Hey Nathan, I tweeted you earlier about what exactly you meant by "indie" but after skimming through the comments here, I have to agree with some of the commenters here that "indie" as it relates to self-publishing is really just an attempt to co-opt into a more acceptable terminology that creates more credibility.

Self-publishing historically has had a pretty bad connotation. That's been changing over the past few years. I don't think the "indie" label as it's perceived in relation to indie publishers is a correct application to self-publishing anyway. They are different things. Because I believe the term "indie" means more than just not being a part of the big six.

Self-published authors just need to keep working at improving the image of that term. Good stories need to keep getting made and getting attention. Publishing by yourself does not necessarily make you an "indie" publisher. It makes you self-published, plain and simple.

Kristin Laughtin said...

To me, it seems like applying the "indie" label to self-publishers is trying to cover up that designation, which is a bit silly. I know there's still some stigma against self-publishing, but I think you should own that label if that's the route you choose to go! The stigma can't change otherwise.

February Grace said...

I say, give it to the people who are willing to stick their necks (and hearts) out entirely on their own and stand or fall on the power of their words.

To me, small press is still 'traditionally published' in this day and age.

Give it to the people going it alone, as others have said, it doesn't get any more 'indie' than that.

That's what I think, anyway.


M.A.Leslie said...

I say give it to the formally known as Indie. Self published authors need their own term. I have lovingly been calling myself a s-pub author.
I think calling us Indie, confuses too much of what we really are.

Anonymous said...

Why does the word "indie" have to belong to just one group of people? We use "white" to describe Americans, Europeans, the Brits, Kiwis, Aussies etc. No one is confused by that.

Agree with Zegota's logical explanation: you have independent publishers and you have independent authors (those who choose to publish independent of a publishing house).

I don't understand why there's any confusion.

virtualDavis said...

Late to the party, so much I agree with in the comments. To follow up on Lydia Netzer's suggestion, I suggest two alternatives for self published authors: guerrillas or buskers. Both distinct enough from the Soft Skull indies, but similar enough to work. And what a grand way to describe yourself. "What do you do for a living?" "I'm a guerrilla author!"

Great question, Nathan. And a fun debate. That is still far from being resolved, I suspect.

bluerabbit said...

Presses of whatever size have earned reputations. Publishers make their money when people buy books, not when people who write pay for book creation. Terms don't matter. If book buyers do not already know who the reputable publishers are, they will find out.

The Team at Shelfstealers said...

Shelfstealers is a new, independent publisher with 15 books, and looking for 35 more before we launch in 2012, but we don't call ourselves an "indie" publisher.

One reason is that self-published authors have usurped the "indie" label in their efforts to escape the "self-published" stigma. We believe they would usurp whatever new label the independent publishers might choose.

A second reason is that the quality of books published by independent publishers varies almost as widely as the quality of self-published books.

So what's an independent publisher to do?

We believe we must develop a brand that is identified with good books, i.e., we must earn the respect of the reading public by inextricably linking the Shelfstealers' name with the names of our authors and their good books.

Each of our books, even books previously published by the majors (one of which was short-listed for the Canadian Governor General's Award for English Fiction) goes through a rigorous editing process. Does this mean that readers will like all our books? Of course not, because readers' tastes are varied.

In the past, readers rarely sought the publisher's name in their search for books to buy. Word-of-mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool in a publisher's tool kit, and will likely become even more powerful with the decline of bricks and mortar chains. Some things don't change.

What might change, however--and we can't predict the future any better than anyone else--is that readers may seek more ways to sift the chaff from the wheat, and one of those ways might well be a publisher's reputation for good books.

In other words, the only label we hope to control is our own name.

Sheryl J. Dunn
Chief Thief (a.k.a. CEO)

Laurie Boris said...

Give it to the small presses. They've work damned hard for it.

Victoria said...

I see three types of press.

Commerical publishers.

Indie publishers. Small publishing firms known for publishing left of centre.

Self-published, vanity publishers. Sure, they'd liked to call themselves Indie for a little extra street cred, but the fact is, they're just self published.

Gilbert J. Avila said...

To me, independent publisher has always meant "small press," like "Night Shade Books" or "Subterranean Press." To me indie press means a physical book, not "kindling."

mesmered said...

Is it important? A book is a book, a good story is a good story. Seems to me there are as many good books as bad books in all parts of the trade: traditional, indie, self-published... call it what you will. All I know is that I want to read good stories and write a good yarn. Who publishes it is immaterial.

A. S. Peterson said...

"Self-published, vanity publishers. Sure, they'd liked to call themselves Indie for a little extra street cred, but the fact is, they're just self published."

This line of thinking is exactly the problem. The reason I use the term "independently published" doesn't have anything to do with street cred. It's simply because the term "self-published" is inaccurate. There are scads of self-publishers who put out poorly written, unedited, badly designed books, but there are also those of us whose work goes through just as much production as any book at a commercial house and who are just as dedicated to the quality and craftsmanship of the final product as any big six house.

For those of us in that small percentage of the publishing world the term self-publishing is plainly erroneous because it implies that the work is the product of one person, or that it has not been through any sort of literary filter or refinement. Nothing could be further from the truth. The term "independently published," on the other hand, describes what I do very precisely.

Kjersten said...

It doesn't matter what the abbreviated word "indie" should or should not mean or that it had a more exclusive meaning in the past. It matters how the word is being used now. If enough people use the word to mean something, then it takes on a new meaning. That's the way the evolution of language works.

The word "indie" is not the first word to have evolved in meaning. Words evolve, they are elastic. And it seems that this particular evolution of a word will probably stick, seeing as it's close to the original meaning, and there are parallels in meaning that jump to other industries.

So Nathan, as another commenter said, you're going to have to figure out a way to keep your head together. The industry is in flux, and this is one of those fluxes.

Perry said...

Prepare to explode your head. I think we can all carry the indie name. To me it means that someone is doing something outside the normal channels. That would make me and indie indie - small e-publisher and self publisher.

traceybaptiste said...

I'm not sure why anyone is opposed to labels. We're writers. We like to label things accurately because it's our job to have the right word.

That said, I'm a traditionally published author, but I have no problem with independent authors using the term "indie." Like some others, I would distinguish between small presses and self-published authors by defining them as "indie publisher" and "indie author." Though sticking with "small press" and "self-published" seems equally fine, and less confusing, I get that the reason for the change is due to the fact that these labels have a negative connotation. However, I don't think this will always be the case.

traceybaptiste said...

I'm not sure why anyone is opposed to labels. We're writers. We like to label things accurately because it's our job to have the right word.

That said, I'm a traditionally published author, but I have no problem with independent authors using the term "indie." Like some others, I would distinguish between small presses and self-published authors by defining them as "indie publisher" and "indie author." Though sticking with "small press" and "self-published" seems equally fine, and less confusing, I get that the reason for the change is due to the fact that these labels have a negative connotation. However, I don't think this will always be the case.

Danielle Ruschena said...

I'd like to suggest that the problem here actually lies with the definition of 'publisher'. There can be little doubt that a self-published author is more independent than a small press author, so I see no issue with self-pubbed authors calling themselves 'indie authors' but I don't think they can call themselves 'indie publishers.' A publisher solicits the work of various authors, stays with it, works with the author and takes a chance on those works - I don't consider someone who publishes only their own work fitting that bill. Unless they publish other writer's work, with all that that entails, they are not 'indie publishers.'

Mat said...

Temper temper... I sence so much hostility coming from the small press folks. Are you guys angry at all the attention self pubbers are getting? It's all good man, you can have the label if you'll just stop crying.

Mat said...

I'm sensing a spelling critique coming on...

Sheila Cull said...

I wasn't going to self publish but may re consider because, "I'm an Indie Author," sounds cool.

Anonymous said...

The small presses are in danger of being marginalized by the self publishing movement. They have far less to offer an author than the big presses. They should focus on keeping relevant and stop worrying about authors who choose to go it independently.

Darlene Underdahl said...

I'll wear whatever title you want to give me as long as "author" is involved!

Anonymous said...

I was thinking of applying to small press, but reconsidering. So hostile. Maybe better to self-publish.

Tammy said...

Indie = Independent Small Publishing Houses

Vanity = Self Publishing

If you have to pay for it, it's Vanity.

Anonymous said...

Nobody gets to make a rule. Lots of people want to, but nobody cares what they want. Langauge will move with popular usage.

Sheila Deeth said...

I'd like indie to be self-pub and small press to be small press. But maybe we just need more words (or less--could just drop indie entirely). We should get rid of vanity too--it either means nothing to the reader, or threatens to meant he wrong thing.

Tiger said...

Maybe this is unpopular of me, but I still have a lot of suspicion for self published work. the simple fact is, most of us aren't evolved enough to really take an axe to our work without being prodded. That's why I still think indie and the growing cred that belongs to it belongs to presses. Presses often make a better product, if only because more than one set of eyes HAS to look over that manuscript. And let's be honest. Most of us author types are not ALSO brilliant cover designers and marketers. Hopefully, your indie publisher employs people who are. Remember that people like Amanda Hocking are an exception, and even she admits that is because she spent every single day doing everything she could to market herself. And even she took the traditional publishing deal at the end of the day.

I believe in indie publishing. It gives us, the author, more freedom because it often breaks genre restrictions (which are quite confining these days, imo) and people are in a position to take a chance on something experimental.

But I've still never picked up a self published book without being specifically asked. A book needs a midwife, so in my opinion the publishing houses get the label.

redstickwriter said...

I'm self-published. It's an e-book in the Kindle Store. I paid nothing to get there. Consequently, it seems there is a flaw in the "paid for = vanity = self-published," equation.

Since Amazon has provided a place where I can sell my story for free and make as much or more in royalties per sale than the vast majority of traditional authors make per book through publishers of either the indie or the big six ilk, color me hesitant to call them my corporate overlord. No, the corporate overlords are folks with whom I have no contact as a consequence of at least two degrees of gatekeeper, none of whom are named Kevin Bacon. I tried. They let me see through the keyhole, but in the end it made more sense for me to drive right through that double garage door at Amazon.

The traditional worlds of authoring and publishing are trying to enforce rules and terminology that make their universe feel like home. I don’t think they should hold their breath until they get their way. Popular culture will have its own way, industry pillars be damned.

Once upon a time large numbers of people got lumped together because they had happiness in common. Those happy people had to learn to share the word “gay” with people who are attracted to other people of the same gender but may or may not be happy. Sometimes that works. Sometimes the female people who are attracted to other females like to instead use the “L word.” This all sounds like the same old stuff that has made political correctness so tedious at every turn. To use a famous quote from a guy to whom people rarely look for a good quote, “Can’t we all just get along?” I don’t know for sure, but I think Rodney is neither happy nor attracted to others of his gender.

The new publishing world, the one that includes people me and people like the meteoric Amanda Hocking and people like J.A. Konrath, seems to be something akin to the Wild West. Given that, I think I’ll call myself an indie author. The name seems to go with the territory, and as an extra benefit, it rankles all the right people.

To sum up, Nathan has had it right all along. There’s room for everybody at the table. Agents and publishers will continue to determine who gets in the gate of the pasture known as traditional writing and publishing. The public will decide who succeeds in the rough and tumble open range of indie or self-published or vanity or whatever writing and publishing. The name calling and the fighting over names should stop. Just give the people what they want… whether it be entertainment or enlightenment or inspiration or space monkeys or space kapows of the cosmic kind. Why is Nathan’s batting average so good?

Jesse said...

Okay, I won't say "both" but I can think it.

Small presses are still traditional publishers; size doesn't matter (yes, women really do say that and believe it. About quite a

I say, give it to the self/subsidy published authors. We've more than earned it and it takes the stigma away. A stigma ("geez, they'll let ANYONE put out a book and it probably sucks, too") that hasn't always been earned.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

~Jesse V Coffey, Indie Author since 2001~

Other Lisa said...

I wasn't saying this in any hostile way, but in terms of what words mean and do not mean.

"Independent Press" -- small press. I don't see how it makes sense for a self-published author to refer to herself/himself as an "Independent Press" when there is only one of you.

"Independent Author" strikes me as a perfectly legitimate term for a self-published author, that is, one going it alone, without a third-party publisher.

Devon Matthews said...

According to Amazon's own definition, anyone who self-publishes with them is an Indie.

davidgaughran said...

Let's be honest, everyone wants to be called Indie because it sounds cool. Small-press and self-published just doesn't sound as good.

Can we not just do Indie Author/Indie Publisher?

I'm down with that. said...

Just consider what "Indie" means. It means "independent", right? "Independent" carries the following definition: able to operate alone because not dependent on somebody or something else. So, by that account, I'd say the true "Indie" author is the one who gets no assistance at all to publish their work.

Ulysses said...

Self publishers using the term "Indie Publishing," are attempting to avoid using the "Self published" label because of all its derogatory associations.

The only people who should be using the "Indie Publishing" label are those truly independent presses. Pay-for-play publishers don't count.

shoebrera said...

I'd love it if 'indie publishing' meant small, independent publishing houses, period.

Self published is just that; it's not indie, not in my mind. Would but could I get the majority to think that way. But... it's a free country.

Gabrielle said...

@Alice ~ what self-published book review websites? I didn't realise there were any...

I seem to have come late to the table on this one, and there are already so many very good responses that say ‘both’, I wonder that your head may be perilously vibrating, Nathan.

My 2 pence worth (in London) is the small Indie presses were those that were willing to take a risk on something other than what the mainstream Big 6 did. Indie Publishers are still Indie Publishers.

Let me offer you a parallel example from the music industry. I don't care how many CD's you sell off your website; you're not legit unless you have a label. If you start your own label, your one of those small 'independent' labels that no one's ever heard of unless you manage to grow your business successfully and either become a bonafide ‘Indie’ record label or a serious heavyweight (or one of the said heavyweights buys you out).

'Indie' and 'independent' in the music business have different meanings. ‘Indie’ is akin to ‘cutting edge’. It’s new, it’s daring and different. It’s the next music craze that we’re going to have to create a category for, a la Grunge or else they cater to a very specific sound. ‘Independent’ is a musician or band frustrated at not being able to achieve success in the traditional way and is trying to do things on their own (independently).

Musicians that record and print their own CD, sell it off their website and have their own Facebook, Blog and Myspace page are usually hoping that if they make enough noise and generate enough press, they’ll get picked up by a label. They are neither Indie nor Independent ~ just determined (quality does not come into it). This group is made up of those that don’t have a prayer of success and those that do (quality comes into to it marginally here).

I suggest that publishing is very similar. Big 6 are your heavyweight record labels. Indie Publishers are your Indie Labels. All our intrepid authors that have started their own presses because they know ‘self-published’ is like a death warrant, they are our small independent labels that I actually refer to as micro presses. I define a micro press as a publishing concern owned by an author that may or may not publish a small number of other authors in addition to publishing his/her own work. Not just one book, but several.

We still have the group that print their own stuff and sell it independently marketing themselves, very often in hopes of getting ‘picked up’ by the big guys but there are 2 important differences between publishing and the music business: self-recorded musicians do not get sneered at just for doing it themselves. If they’re bad, well so are a lot of them. If they’re good ~ great! There’s no question of them being substandard or somehow ‘less’ than musicians that were discovered via the normal route. Second, the music business does not really have an Amazon/Kindle distribution route. They have YouTube, but unless you know what to search for… Amazon will suggest books to you depending on your purchasing history ! BUT, when all is said and done, you still have those with a prayer of success and those that don’t.

How’s your head, Nathan?

Bekki Lynn said...

My take:

If I were to register a publishing company and put out only my own books either under one name or multiple pen names, then I would be an Indie Publisher. Hence, an Indie author.

If I would register a publishing company, hire a staff to handle certain areas of the company, accept submissions, then I'd be a Small Press publisher.

Small Press is a NY Publisher on a smaller scale.

Bekki Lynn said...

An Indie author is someone who is free of someone else controlling the reins.

I love being in control.

And for the record, my Indie Book sales are much higher than my Small Press book sales.

For those concerned about the quality of self-published books. Yes, there is work to be done there, but I've been seeing the same issues coming from NY and Small Press - so that's not a very good excuse.

jackdoeslibraryschool said...

Great post. I think they are two different things. Saying someone is "self-published" doesn't mean they are less-than. It means they just went through a different process. Distros and stores do the screening process of accepting or rejecting their work rather than publishers, and they retain sole creative control of their work. Why wouldn't someone want to embrace that, it's awesome!

Whereas independent publishers get a community (or group) working on one piece of work, so it's not just the author's vision, but that of the publisher and everyone who worked on it. If it's a rad, truly independent press, that's a really cool process too--just a different one than self-publishing.

Honestly, if someone has insecurities or other fears surrounding being self-published and feels better about calling themselves independently published, I don't really care that much (i am starting an independent press right now, so the lines between self-publishing and independent publishing are, in some ways, blurred for me right now, but in some ways very defined). I'm not offended or anything. I see how authors who worked to get their stuff published might feel like someone was taking their thunder, but if the work is good, it will speak for itself.

I just don't know why someone wouldn't own their process and call it what it is--maybe even inspire others to be empowered by your process

C. JoyBell C. said...

Traditional is to Avant-Garde. If you are traditionally published, you are traditional. If you publish yourself, you are avant-garde.

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