Monday, 23 April 2012

So You Want To Be An Indie Author: Terminology

In the past I've been hesitant to post too often about the technicalities of writing and publishing. I've viewed this blog as a place to get in touch with readers and I didn't think they'd be too interested in these subjects. I also didn't believe myself qualified to be posting about such matters. Well, I've changed my mind. I've seen too many new writers dive into self-publishing without any thought to what it actually entails. They make stupid choices and ends up costing themselves lot of money and making all of us look bad. In this new web series I'll be going through every aspect of self-publishing so that aspiring authors can make an informed decision. Please note, as always these blogs are written from my point of view, others may have differing opinions.

Today's post is a simple one, but it is necessary for you to understand the terminology because if you don't you're going to look like an idiot.

Commercial or trade publishers are the ones you will have heard of; Hachette, HarperCollins, MacMillan, Penguin, Random House and Simon & Schuster. These are also known as the Big 6 publishers. In trade publishing money flows towards the author in the form of advances and royalties. Please note, although sometimes referred to as legacy or traditional (trad) publishers, these are not the correct terms.

An independent publisher is a privately owned business that operates much like a trade publisher, just on a much smaller scale. As with the Big 6, money flows towards the authors and it does not cost the writer anything to publish a book.

Self-publishing is when the author undertakes the costs associated with the publication of a book and does everything a trade publisher would usually do such as organising cover art, paying for editing and finding/creating distribution channels.

Looking at those definitions, you can see that an indie publisher is NOT actually self-published. Indie is not synonymous with 'not mainstream.' In the case of publishing, the term indie has been used by independent publishers for long before self-publishers began to misappropriate it. Victoria Strauss has written a good article called Why You are Probably Not An Indie Author which addresses why the term 'indie author' is both redundant and inaccurate.

Personally, I tend to shy away from the word indie when I describe myself. I find that self-published is a perfectly acceptable term and offers very few opportunities for misinterpretation. I've also found there are a number of people who raggedly defend the use of the word and have no problem ripping into others for even the slightest slip-up. I've seen many a newbie wander into an internet forum and learn (the embarrassing way) that indie and self are not the same, or e-publishing and self-publishing, or trade and legacy...

You're probably now wondering why I decided to include indie in the title of this series of blogs, if it's not what I'll be writing about. There are two reasons, they are both very simple. One: many new writers looking for information aren't aware that indie doesn't mean what they think, after hearing the term associated with films and music over the years. Two: I'm using the term as an euphemism, it just sounds better. It also takes up less space in the heading of my blog. Call it creative liberty.

I understand that language is not set in stone, but this is a term which has meant something entirely different for a long time. To refer to yourself as indie published when you are self-published could be construed as misleading, whether you mean it to be or not. It also leads to the question of what to call actual independent publishers if self-publishers completely take over the term.

We do need to remember that there is a distinction between self-publishing and vanity/subsidy publishing. A vanity publisher is a company which offers publishing services at a cost to the author. These companies generally hold the copyright to the book, but don't market or promote the finished product. Their business model often depends on authors purchasing copies of the book to make money.

To read up on other publishing terms you can visit


  1. Hi Kate, good topic. I look forward to reading your future blogs on self-publishing.

    I would add to this that "vanity publishing" is a value-laden name and these publishers have their place. If the author knows what she is getting into, then it can be a legitimate avenue. This is especially so for people with a niche topic in non fiction for example, or a very small readership (some highly specialised novels, possibly poetry) when the author can't/is unwilling to put the time into cover design and technical preparation of the book - which is a big part of self-pubbing.

    They key is that the author knows what she is getting into, and really that's where the problem lies: certain "vanity publishers" (you know who I'm talking about,Kate, and probably others do too) mislead authors into having high expectationa which the publisher has no intention of fulfilling.

    Anyway, sorry to highjack your post - just thought I would add that! I myself am going down the commercial/trade path, but see value in most forms of publishing, when they're done right.

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