Somewhere in cyberspace, Perplexed Reader writes:

“A question on terminology: Is an “Indie” author a self-published author, or an author published through an indie (that is, non-legacy/”Big Six”) publisher?”

Answer: Some people resent the idea that self-published writers have taken the term “indie” which until recently was understood to designate authors published by “independent” (of the Big Six) publishing houses — an historically very well-known (though sometimes notorious) group of folks that included literary lions like DH Lawrence, William Burroughs and the Marquis de Sade.

As the publishing industry became more corporatized and controlled by fewer and fewer people, some independent smaller publishers like Farrar, Strauss and Giroux were sold to bigger publishers, but never completely lost their independent identity. Yet, authors publishing through them, however innovative, would not be considered “independents.”

The term “legacy publisher” used in Perplexed Reader’s query, is a poorly understood neo-logism which according to “indie” author Joe Konrath (whose name must be mentioned by law in any blog related to  indies) was coined by author Barry Eisler. It  means any publisher which uses “outdated” methods and technologies. We should probably take this term out of the equation altogether because its meaning highly debatable, and many established small presses would reject it as being offensive.

I challenge anyone to find the exact origin of using “indie” to describe individuals who publish themselves independently of any publisher.  (And I don’t mean “challenge’ in a bad way. I’d genuinely like to know.)

But it is used, and it’s accepted throughout the digiverse at least, to mean self-published. More importantly, it’s accepted by Amazon. (See Amazon’s Indie Bookstore, etc.). One  could argue that Amazon’s use of the term is pandering to the multitudes who publish on its Kindle Digital Platform and through its print-on-demand company, Create Space.  In any case, “the facts on the ground” for better or worse have been established.

I’m not sure where this leaves people who’ve been published by established small press houses. Today, in addition to big and small publishers being lumped together as “traditional publishing,” the waters are muddied even more by micro-presses set up to publish a very limited number of authors (beginning with the number one), e-book publishers who may use POD for print (and bear few of the risks or expenses of traditional small publishers), and other start up concerns that aren’t traditional “vanity” houses, in that they don’t ask for money up front from authors, but offer neither the services of traditional publishing or the respectability that comes with it. So there’s also the question of who is a publisher? Does it have to do with the size of the list? The services offered? Whether or not there are full time editors? Whether or not they can actually do print runs and/or get copies of books onto store shelves?

Often the only thing these tiny newcomers and retooled vanities offer writers is a chance to say “I’ve been published,” even though they might have done better self-publishing, and are unlikely to impress anyone, especially literary agents.

Vantage Publishers, probably the most infamous old-time vanity house, known for their tombstone newspaper ads offering titles ripe for parody, has more recently retooled itself as a “self-publishing” concern, although it still charges tons for its publishing packages. Historically, the vanities never called themselves vanities, at least not in public.  They used the euphemism “subsidy.”

Meantime, because of the taint of self-publishing, firms like PublishAmerica have been able to con the vulnerable and desperate by insisting that they are a “traditional publisher” because they don’t charge writers upfront fees, and allegedly don’t charge to publish. They accept anything, don’t edit or proofread (unless you pay them), do incompetent formatting (and then charge for corrections), and they don’t actually get their books into stores or reviewed. They do print books and publish e-books for which they charge higher than standard prices. They get writers to contract to buy their overpriced books at a “discount”prior to print runs with the understanding that the writers will act as their own marketers and sell them to stores.  Of course stores don’t overpriced, badly formatted, unedited books written by unknowns.   PublishAmerica also holds on to the book rights,  so authors are stuck even after they realize they’ve been conned.

Nowadays, most of the respectable and established independent publishers are swamped by manuscripts, and extremely unlikely to look at unsolicited work. If I was an author who through hard work and development of craft had had work accepted by one of those august houses, I’d probably be outraged that the good name of “indie” has been taken by anyone who can load a “book” onto the KDP.  On the other hand, some of these houses have become risk-averse in these tough and uncertain times and are both dropping their mid-listers and rarely taking on newcomers, making self-publishing an attractive option for many.

On the Kindle forums, the folks who are most vehemently against what they term “vanity-writers,” “self-uploaders” or “scribblers” lump everyone in one boat. Those discerning readers aren’t buying into the “indie” designation even if Amazon and a zillion blogs are. They don’t really believe that anyone is self-publishing by choice, or that anything good can come from allowing anyone to publish. “Indie” is certainly a much nicer term than “driveler.”

Meantime, the writers themselves are often the first to shout, “I’m different! It’s a reprint of a previously published work!” or “I was this close to getting a deal.” or  “Look at my sales numbers.” or they just babble something about Amanda Hocking. But whether you are an octogenarian self-publishing your memoirs of WWII, or a romance fan loading up years of secret attempts onto the Kindle Digital Platform, or a previously published legit author, or anything in-between,  calling yourself an “indie” beats the alternatives.

So, my dear Perplexed Reader, the short answer to your question would be, independent authors published by established small presses may need to clarify their status. to the understandably perplexed,  but they are still independent. However, the term “indie author” will be understood by many to be a synonym of “self-published.”

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1 Comment on More Fun and Games at the Kindle Store: Indie vs Self-Published – What’s in a name?

  1. Evie says:

    I’ve been thinking about this same subject for a while now. I think the “indie” tag was actually originally borrowed from the music industry – though I don’t think the level of commitment required necessarily justifies appropriating the term.

    I also think this may be one of those lovely irregular verbs.

    – I am an independent author

    – You couldn’t get a publisher

    – She is just one more self-published hack ruining indie publishing for Good Writers Like Me by cluttering up the interweb with illiterate drivel

    If I ever do launch my own “indie” press, I think I’m going to call it a Punk Rock Press.

    (This comment was also posted on Open Salon)

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