Semantics can cause problems, and in the ever-changing world of publishing, where it really shouldn’t matter if you call yourself an independent or traditionally published author, using the wrong term can cause a raised eyebrow.
While I remain steadfast in my belief that there’s no room for competition in the authoring world, others disagree and feel the need for distinction. Let’s flesh out this distinction once and for all, and find out just what qualifies one as being an independent, or “indie” author.
The definition of the word independent is clear; “Self-governed. Not controlled by another.” So why all the fuss?
When it comes to publishing, there are a few schools of thought, and they’re all a bit gray. The first being the definition of an indie author as any author publishing work outside of the traditional routes, and exclusive of those who are republishing work that was previously published through traditional publishing houses.
This distinction confuses me. Jackie Collins recently announced the republication of The Bitch http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/feb/29/jackie-collins-self-publishing-the-bitch?newsfeed=true, which was previously published by a traditional publishing house. This has some indie authors in a snit. Jackie is rewriting The Bitch, so will that qualify as a newly written book? Why would this rewritten work not qualify as an indie authored publication? It’s different, newer, fresher, and won’t have the exact same material. According to some, since Jackie’s original work was traditionally published, it doesn’t deserve the indie author title. The manuscript has already undergone rigorous rewrites and edits with publishing house professionals. Traditional publishing houses also have books professionally covered, and they have access to the widest distribution channels—brick and mortar bookstores, which is very difficult for small press and near impossible for indie authors to gain access to. Even if rewritten, is it fair to call work that has previously been privy to the graces of a traditional publishing house indie work? Won’t these republished books already have a following established from being in the bookstores? Some independent authors say such work cannot claim the indie status. To take this further, some indie authors take issue with the fact that previously published works being republished are now taking stock in the Top 100 lists, merely because they already have a following, and their readers are curious.
I don’t understand all the fuss. A good book is a good book, regardless of how it is published. Most readers don’t care (or necessarily know) if a book is independently, small press, or traditionally published. Independent authors have access to editors and cover artists. In fact, with the downturn of traditional publishing, indie authors now have access to many top-notch editors who have been laid off from major publishing houses. The main differences for these rewritten-then-gone-independent works are previous distribution and/or contacts in the industry. Is that enough to negate the indie title? In my opinion, no, it’s not. I say, let them in. Work together—unify—bring the readers what they want, good books, no matter how they’re originally presented.
Another school of thought about claiming the indie author title is that working with a small press is another no-no. Again, why the distinction? Small press utilizes their own editors and cover artists, and they handle the distribution for the author. Distribution for small press is not nearly as widespread as traditional publishing houses, and in many cases, is no different than what is available to an independent author that is not working with a small press.
The last, and perhaps most pure, definition of an indie author is those that work alone. Die-hard independent authors work without the help of small press, or any outside publishing assistance. This distinction is where I take issue, and yes, I’m both an indie and a traditional publishing advocate—I see no need to draw lines in the sand. Indie authors have the option of using professional formatting services, editors, and cover artists. They have the opportunity to make deals with Barnes and Noble for paperback purchases—I know several who have done so successfully. Not using these options is a choice that authors make, and perhaps not a wise one. We’ve all seen the unedited books that some indie authors are publishing.
This begs the questions, is there really such thing as pure indie? What is the difference between an independent author hiring CreateSpace to handle their formatting and Smashwords to handle their distribution, and utilizing the services of a small press? Why should it make a difference who is paying for these services? Isn’t the point that readers receive clean and polished books? The only difference, in my humble opinion, is the potential for limited or expanded distribution. Indie authors of any level (previously traditionally published, small press, or pure indie) don’t have the wide distribution channels that traditional publishing houses have available to them.
Why draw a line in the sand? I get that the indie movement is an important one, but why exclude any author who is working without the confines and benefits of traditional publishing houses—regardless of where they’re coming from or who is holding their hand. Shouldn’t they all be able to claim the title of indie author? If not, then authors who use outside formatting, editing, and cover artists shouldn’t be allowed to claim indie status, either, because they have assistance from others. So, what now?
Another thought…does anyone else see something wrong with the indie authors working so hard to discriminate and label themselves? You don’t see traditionally published authors running around with labels that say “Traditional.” I get that indie authors work harder to market and gain recognition, but why segregate some non-traditionally published authors from others.
Our world is only as peaceful as we make it, and it seems to me, a proponent of all types of publishing—a proponent of the art of writing—that some people spend an awful lot of energy disparaging others and creating angst in a world where creativity should thrive, not be stifled with negativity.
Here’s a unique idea—why don’t we do the politically correct thing and call anyone who writes a book, an author. If Jackie Collins and other previously published authors want to straddle the line of being a hybrid-author, and other authors want to work with small press, more power to them. Publishing is about writing good books for readers, not about the path to get them there. Now that we understand the lingo, maybe we can get back to the important part—the writing.
Melissa Foster is the founder of the World Literary Café (WLC), a literary community that supports both independent and traditionally published authors and author services. WLC bridges the gap between readers and authors. She is also the founder of Fostering Success, teaching authors to learn how to navigate the world of publishing. Melissa founded the Women’s Nest, a social and support site for women, and she is also the author of three bestselling novels.