Indie Publishing – To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Meaning


Over on Writers Beware Blog there is a posting and comment discussion about IndieReader and April Hamilton’s launch of Publitariat Vault. These are places for self publishing authors to list their books for sale and expose them to a wider industry audience as well as the buying book public. It got me thinking about the term ‘indie’ which seems to have slowly over the past six months or so crept into the self-publish stratosphere.

If I remember correctly, my senses were needled some time ago when AuthorSolutions Vice President of Marketing, Keith Ogorek, jumped on the ‘indie’ bandwagon and much espoused the term in conjunction with what his company were doing for self-published authors. That particular article is here. I took a quote back then from Ogorek’s PR statement. Let me quote it again;

“Now, through indie book publishing companies like AuthorHouse and iUniverse, authors can let the readers decide if their book is any good or not.”

So AuthorHouse and iUniverse are in the same boat on the publishing river as David R Godine, Faber, Canongate and the University of Nebraska Press. I don’t think so. It has fuelled my thinking again on the term, ‘indie’ and what exactly it means in the context particularly of self-publishing. I use it myself in the name of this site, POD, Self Publishing & Independent Publishing. My own deliberate reference to it is to do with including publishing companies who are considered traditional publishers, but are not tied to the large mainstream global publishing groups, ie, Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette Livre etc. My term used on the site is not a means of exclusion. In many ways, I meant independent more than just to be a company/imprint owned and tied to a large publishing group, that is, independent in business strategy as well as catalogue listing.

The fact is, no author, whatever their humble beginnings and by whatever means or methods they initially gain publication, wishes to remain ‘indie’ by the definition of ASI’s Keith Ogorek or the owners/administrators/profiteers of websites like IndieReader, Jexbo or Publitariat Vault. Most authors using these sites/services are actually charging headlong in the opposite direction. They would give their eye-teeth to land a contract with Random House.

My beef is not necessarily with the ‘badge of honour’ approach which seems to go with being described as an ‘indie’ author who has fought in the wars of the publishing world at the ‘frontline’ of battle, but rather the connotation that what this author writes is somehow different or alternative to the norms of what authors have always written. Does an author sit in the secrecy of the garden shed or loft late at night and say to himself/herself; my next book is going to be an ‘indie’ novel! The ‘indie’ revolution is starting to become about books of ‘perceived content’ over actual content. The attempt of the ‘indie’ movement, driven predominantly by marketers, on line business developers and author solution companies is to metamorphosis the ‘indie music’ template onto publishing. But the fact is that music is and has always been an art of performance and reading and writing will always be a practice of self indulgence and solitude – certainly to be shared, but only when we have tasted the cream.

From Wikipedia
indie is a shortform of “independent”; it may refer to:
 Independent circuit, professional wrestling independent promotions
 Indie design for niche and often handmade products
 Indie role-playing game, published outside mainstream means
 Independent music, subculture music that is independent of major producers; music of any genre can be labeled “indie”, but especially indie pop or indie rock
 Indie pop a genre of alternative pop music
 Indie rock, a genre of alternative rock music
 Independent film, a low budget film by a small studio
 Indie Literature, a book published outside of mainstream publishing.
 Independent video game development, video games created without financial backing from large companies
 Indie Publisher, a small press
 Independent record label, operates without major corporate funding
 Independent soda, made by small privately run companies

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  1. Henry said:

    I think you’re wrong about this. Writing is about self-indulgence? And music isn’t? There’s no reason to make these delineations. I’m a musician who been in a lot of “indie rock” bands so I very much identify with the indie label being about the style of content as much as the means of production. When I set out to write a novel I very much want to write something that is independent of something that’s existed in the past. And given that I mainly put books out on small presses or self-publish, I identify with the term indie for publishing.

    This is one of these mysteries that I think is going to fade with time – the fact that self-released music can be called indie but self-released writing cannot. There’s no reason for this and I think you’re ascribing motives to writers (they don’t want to be independent) that just might not be the case.

  2. Zoe Winters said:

    I don’t know of any indie musician who says: “I’m gonna write an indie song” It’s just a song, but it’s indie-produced.

    And you’re wrong about every author would give their eyetooth to be published by Random House. I don’t want a NY publishing contract at this time. I may not EVER want one. I don’t know. There are too many variables involved but it would have to be a damn big contract for me to want it.

    Not everybody does everything for the same reasons with the same end goals.

    I know April Hamilton has no intention of ever selling to a NY publisher, and she’s indie.

    I know several other self publishing authors who wouldn’t accept a contract either.

    And I know of one, Pamela Aidan who turned down 3 offers from Simon and Schuster before finally accepting a contract from them. I don’t think she was just “bluffing” to get them to raise the price.

    Really, not every author wants a NY contract, shocking as it may be. I don’t want that kind of pressure and lack of control over my work for one thing. In 5-10 years my goals/wants/needs may change, but I can honestly tell you if Random House called me up tomorrow (and there is no reason why they would) I would politely decline the offer.

  3. Cheryl Anne Gardner said:

    I did a lengthy post on the term “Indie” over on the Pod People Site a while back.

    You are an Indie if you make all the decisions. That’s the bottom line. Some of us just want to make all the decisions, and that includes whether or not to pay for listing or marketing services. This is not cynicism; it’s Indie pragmatism.

    Every Indie is different — different reasons and different business models. Every Indie should be an independent thinker. Jumping on bandwagons or wanting what everyone else wants seems contradictory to the Indie philosophy. Don’t ya think.

  4. Victoria Strauss said:

    The ‘indie’ revolution is starting to become about books of ‘perceived content’ over actual content.

    A really interesting point, and one I hadn’t considered. So it’s starting to be about “indie” content–braver, better, bolder than the stuffy old crap churned out by commercial publishers. It changes the ground of the argument by changing the definition of quality.

    Food for thought–thanks.

  5. Shannon Yarbrough said:

    The fact is, no author, whatever their humble beginnings and by whatever means or methods they initially gain publication, wishes to remain ‘indie’

    Such a true statement!

    I don’t really agree with it though; I do think there are some out there who write and publish solely for the creative aspect of it and for the art, but given a more relaxed industry that turns its eyes toward more writers, I’m sure the majority would snub their nose at the Lulus, the iU’s, the Wordclays, and the CreateSpaces where they got their humble beginnings and take that six figure Random House contract. Would we be fools if we didn’t? But in reality, all of us know those chances are slim.

    But it still goes to prove that publishing is political, something I recently pointed out in this article, Why Do We Publish?

  6. April L. Hamilton said:

    Mick –
    Actually, even though I’m not interested in getting a mainstream publishing contract for my own books, I realize that many (if not most) authors who self-publish do so in an effort to prove themselves and their work worthy of mainstream attention. That’s why I built the Vault, but people don’t understand at first glance what the Vault is and as a result, judge it by the same barometer they’d apply to a showcase site (Red Room, Authors Den), a peer review site (Authonomy), a community site (NothingBound) or a curated bookstore site (Indiereader). The Vault is none of those things, it’s a completely new paradigm in trade publishing acquisitions that cuts gatekeepers out of the equation. I’ll just repeat what I posted over at POD People:

    Self-publishing is exploding, partly as a result of authors’ frustration with the gatekeeper system. Occasionally a self-published book becomes so successful that it becomes newsworthy, at which point the rights are easily sold to a mainstream publisher because the book is a proven quantity, the closest thing to a sure thing they will ever see. Publishers would rather acquire the rights before such a book breaks through, when it’s trending positively but not yet on competitors’ radar, but there’s never been a way for them to identify such books.

    Many self-published authors have self-published specifically in order to prove themselves and their work worthy of mainstream attention—but their books are lost in the sea of the internet. There are plenty of positive-trending self-published books out there, but publishers can’t easily find them.

    So – I’ve designed, built and launched the Publetariat Vault to bridge this gap. The Vault is a searchable database of self-published books for which the author still owns all rights free and clear, and is interested in selling those rights. Instead of passively waiting around for a manuscript that suits their needs to come in from gatekeepers, and then risking huge quantities of time and money developing and releasing a product they can only hope will succeed, acquisitions pros who use the Vault can approach their task proactively and locate books that are already succeeding because the Vault provides all the usual catalog information, plus actual sales figures, author platform, publicity and reader review data. There is no other site or service that provides the same level of searchability, nor as complete a market picture of both the book and author, because there is no other site or service built for this specific purpose.

    To quote Laura Hazard Owen’s reaction, “pretty cool–like eBay for rights?” Yes, exactly like.

    I know it’s a viable idea, because a similar service already exists for spec screenplays, The Inktip Executive Index, and it’s been very successful for screenwriters and producers alike for years even though it exists right alongside a traditional gatekeeper acquisitions system in that industry. (cont’d in a 2nd post, to address the fee issue)

  7. April L. Hamilton said:

    I’ve taken a sound thrashing from Mike Cane and JM Reep because regular Vault listings will cost $10 per 30 days (following an initial, free 30-day trial period), as they seem to think I’m a scam artist trying to get rich quick off the naivete of authors. This, despite the fact that the first 300 Vault listings will be free for 90 days after the Vault opens for searches, all renewals are month-to-month (no minimum subscription period, no big fee upfront), and any listing can be cancelled at any time. If this is a get-rich-quick scheme, I’m clearly going about it all wrong.

    What they don’t seem to be taking into account is the fact that self-published authors who’ve published in an effort to prove themselves and their books worthy of mainstream publisher attention already spend hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars a throw pursuing that attention. Whether with a splashy website, attendance at publisher conferences and pitch-fests, mailing out quantities of their books for reviews, or investing in outside publicity and advertising services, those authors are already investing heavily in activities that—unfortunately—aren’t very likely to raise their visibility where mainstream publishers are concerned until or unless they’ve got a breakout hit. This is because there are thousands of indie authors doing these same things, and tens of thousands of indie books on the net, and nobody in mainstream publishing is actively scouting for those authors or books—it’s too big and inefficient a job.

    The Vault creates a single, centralized repository where acquisitions people can easily search for indie books that meet their specific content criteria, then click through to view the full listing and see how the book is performing in terms of sales and reader reactions.