The six kinds of Indie published books

It seems to me that there are six kinds of Indie Published books. Out of these six, only the last fits the idea that many people have that Indie books are of inferior quality. The number of books in the first five categories are growing, and I believe that the numbers of books in the last category will shrink as it becomes clear that readers won’t pay for poorly written books, especially as more blogsites appear that list ones of quality.

Previously published authors’ backlists – you’ll find no surprises here. These books are exactly the same as what you’ll find in any bookstore. They were on the bookshelves years ago, but not now. The copyright has returned to the authors, so they’re putting them back in the market. They usually have an established reader base and many of their more recently acquired fans haven’t read their older books, so they’re snapping them up. Many of these authors are earning more than they ever did with the traditional system, and as other authors realise the viability of going Indie, the number of books in this category will grow.

Agented authors books – these authors’ work is good enough to get an agent, but the agent didn’t score a publishing deal. Sometimes the author got sick of trying; sometimes they ran out of options and sometimes they just decided that going Indie was a better deal in the long run. A traditional publisher would most likely have published such books 5 or more years ago – agents only take books they think are good enough to sell – but they missed out because of the shrinking traditional publishing industry. Sometimes this is simply because they didn’t find the right publisher at the right time; sometimes it’s because they are a little different from the present fashion in the genre. For example, traditional publishers are favoring dark, brutal, often depressing stories for young adults. If you want something without that flavour, you’re likely to find it in Indie published books.

Mainstream books by skilled authors who have decided against the traditional route – These books are similar to books produced by major publishers. They fit the genre and the fashion of the day and are professionally produced. The author has simply chosen Indie publishing because it suits them to take control of their own work.

Books that are too short for traditional publishers to consider – in this category, we have novellas, novelettes and short story collections. Electronic books give authors the freedom to write stories to their natural length. They don’t have to pad something out to an acceptable length to make it salable in paperback. Shorter works work well on ereaders because they are so easy to carry around. You can read a short story while waiting for the doctor and you can read a novella while the rest of the family watch a b-grade movie on TV. There’s a lot of excellent books in this category, in fact all the short Indie fiction I’ve read has been excellent.

Quality books that are different / alternative /outside the box –Books in this category are of a professional standard but are too different for a traditional publisher to risk taking on. Big publishers have to feel sure that they can sell a book to large enough numbers of readers to pay their huge overheads and make a profit. That means that they are limited to the demands of the present market as they perceive them to be. This is the most exciting category, because this is where you’ll find the real alternative to the mainstream. This is where new trends will emerge, where you’ll find talented new authors and books for niche markets or that break new ground.

Books by unskilled authors without the skills to be published any other way – these books languish in the free or 99c categories of ebook – the good ones are usually only there for a short time, or they’re the first in a series, or a short work as a sample of an author’s work. You can avoid poor quality books by choosing titles from the Awesome Indies listing. As time goes on, these authors will either improve or give up. There are excellent books in the free and 99c bins, (especially the short ones) but don’t expect them all to be good and you won’t be disappointed.

The last category is the one that gives Indie publishing a bad name, but the important thing to understand is that they are only one category of what you’ll find in Indie published books. Don’t let a few poor experiences turn you off the whole scene, it’s called throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Does this sound like a reasonable categorization to you? have I missed anything?

Written by Tahlia Newland. If you enjoyed this blog post and would like to read more, you can subscribe to new content delivered by email or RSS feed (see the buttons on the right side bar). You can also follow me on Facebook and/or on Twitter.

About Tahlia Newland

I'm an award-winning author who writes heart-warming and inspiring magical realism and contemporary fantasy. I also mentor authors. When I'm not reading, writing or reviewing I might be found doing a very casual teaching day at the local high school, making decorative masks or sitting on my veranda and staring at the Australian rain-forest. You can see all my books on my website at http://tahlianewland.com
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33 Responses to The six kinds of Indie published books

  1. Pingback: The six kinds of Indie published books | Tahlia Newland, author

  2. Along with books that are too short to be published are books that are too long to be published – that was the issue I ran into with The Wolf’s Sun (see on this site). An agent asked me to cut the manuscript in half, but when I attempted to follow her guidelines, it took on the appearance of Cliffs Notes with cardboard cut-out characters. The agent didn’t like the result and neither did I.

  3. Good point. How many words is it? Did you consider making two volumes?

  4. George Berger says:

    To be particularly anal-retentive, you’ve also forgotten public-domain and PLR titles, about which the less said the better.

    I also think you’re being a bit generous in saying, of the last category, “…these authors will either improve or give up.” Many talentless hacks like myself will never become readable, even with a lifetime of effort. Alas.

    • I always look on the bright side. It drives my daughter crazy, And if I don’t get off the net and get back to editing my latest darling, I run the risk of looking like a talentless hack myself.

  5. TimGreaton says:

    Very thoughtful and thought-provoking piece, Tahlia. Being the optimest I’m going with your presentation, start to finish. :-)

  6. edwinstark says:

    I’m a bit stuck between categories 5 and 6… books that go WAY out the box… and I lack the skills to improve them… what else can be said of a South American author (originally a native Spanish speaker) who DARES to write in English? (a crime some readers equal with something deserving Capital Punishment, LOL)… but I’m slowly accruing 5-star reviews on Eco Station One, so the tide could change unexpectedly ;)

  7. Hey, this is me! “Quality books that are different / alternative /outside the box”

    I’m also this one under another name. “Previously published authors’ backlists”

    Excellent list. I agree with your last one. Sometimes, authors in the last category just need to have their books professionally edited, but for whatever reason, they just don’t. I know good editors are expensive, but low sales rankings due to poor quality books could be costing the writer substantial revenue as well.

  8. Reblogged this on Kate Policani and commented:
    Here is a post by the talented Tahlia Newland about the different types of independently published books. What category are you in?

    • I’d say 5 and 4 for Give me a Break, and when I get Lethal Inheritance out it will be number 2, still just a bit too different for the present big guns.

      • Mine fall in different categories, but I never aspired for traditional publishing. I went straight to Indie, so mine are really either 3 or 6 depending on how well I write them ;)

  9. I think there should be a category for new authors who write well but haven’t mastered the art of marketing or who are just testing the waters. I have read a few excellent books from authors I discovered because they were looking for feedback or they were test-marketing their books. Only time will tell if they stick it out, but some of them definitely should!

    • So number 7 is a ‘testing the waters’ category. My short stories would be in that category as well as the too short category. I sure havn’t mastered the art of marketing. I seem to be better at marketing others than myself.

  10. Re-posted this on “A Little Light Blogging by Deborah J. Lightfoot” and commented:

    Here’s a sharp analysis by author Tahlia Newland of Awesome Indies. She has her finger on the pulse of independent publishing. I learn a great deal from reading Tahlia’s excellent blog.

  11. ronfritsch says:

    I agree, Tahlia, that your fifth category is “the most exciting.” Good books for which there is no place on those shelves.

  12. jackiebouchard says:

    Great post – especially because I like seeing myself in #2. :) Sometimes I hate identifying myself as an “indie/self-published author”. Feel like folks inwardly groan and go “Oh, geez. Not another one.” I want to say “But I have an agent! We came THIS CLOSE to getting it published.” I really think we missed out because of the shrinking industry. (If only I’d written it a year earlier! Drat!) On the other hand, it’s been kinda fun to self-pub. It’s exciting. Nerve-wracking…. but exciting. And I figure I’d have to be doing all the self-promo stuff either way, so I might as well get a bigger cut! :) Off to follow on Fbk and Twitter. Thanks again.

    • I know exactly how you feel. Having an agent is a kind of a credential, you feel you have to wave around. In the end, of course, we have to earn the industry and the public’s respect and it is happening, slowly.

      • jackiebouchard says:

        Yes, I feel like waving that credential around – but at the same time I rarely do (unless it comes up naturally somehow) because I feel like it’s as annoying as being a name-dropper. :) However, when I ask book blog review sites to consider reviewing my book, I do sometimes mention it. I think you are right – we are getting more respect, and in ways it does feel slow but in others it seems like it’s happening quickly. Even just a couple of years ago I think self-publishing had more of an air of “oh, that person must be desperate” to it. It was too closely linked to vanity publishing, but now I think it’s getting to be a bit more respectable. Hopefully…..

  13. Liz at Libro says:

    This is a good analysis which would be handy to wave in front of people who think all self- / indie-published books are all unedited rubbish and fear to go that way themselves, or to read such books.

    I think the most important element with that last category is, indeed, the editing, but these authors are a hard-to-reach category in themselves, and I really do think it’s a mixture of people not caring about this, and people not realising they can hire an independent editor. I have actually found this improving with e-books, though, which is interesting.

    Note: I am an editor, but I’m not touting for business here, just commenting!

    • Cost would be an issue, for many I think. I’m trying to do it on a shoe string myself, but luckily I have author friends who beta read for me which lowers the editing costs. The worse you write the more you have to pay for editing, so it’s a problem.

  14. Nicola Slade says:

    I think I belong in yet another category, that of an author published by mainstream publishers who are actually Independent, ie family-owned like Robert Hale Ltd and the late Transita Ltd. There are plenty of independent small presses too.

    • This raises the issue of what constitutes Indie. I had this discussion with Andrew Jute and we decided that if you consider yourself Indie then you probably are. Many of us have seet up our own publishing companies, me included, mine is family run too but it only publishes my works. Indie to me means self published or Independant publishing where the author has a vested interest in the company. i feel another blog post coming on. Oh the joys of being unemployed.

  15. Terri Bruce says:

    If I were putting together a handbook for new authors, this article would be in it! So many debut authors are afraid to venture out of the agent/big six mold because they are holding onto some outdated beliefs about the publishing world, especially around indie publications (i.e. they still think all indie is category 6). I hate to see them doing such a disservice to themselves and their work – there are so many avenues open these days. The world is much bigger (and full of hope and opportunity) than they think. Thank you for a great post!

  16. ronfritsch says:

    And thank you, Terri, for a great comment. I especially like your second-to-last sentence.

  17. This is a fantastic article, I’ve been concerned that maybe some stigma of self-publishing still exists (I did it anyway because I’m just a rebel like that, but if I’m being honest I do actually want to SELL some of those books!). It is very important to keep reminding myself that anything goes in today’s market as long as you’re not pulling something over on someone. Basically, be a quality Writer/Author and the good reviews will come in! Thanks for this reminder as I start the foray into the land of marketing. Think I’ll need an extra snack for this journey…

  18. Good round-up, Tahlia. It’s great to remind people how many different positive reasons there are for self-publishing. What a pity there is still so much perception that all self-publishing is the latter category. I’m off to tweet!

    • Thanks Roz. I saw your tweet. I’m amazed at how much interest this post got. It just shows how necessary it is for people to start thinking this way.

  19. booksandpals says:

    Excellent Post, Tahlia, and FWIW, I agree with your six categories. The question in the comments of where a small publisher fits doesn’t, IMO, modify your six cases and was answered in your comment about discussing it with Andrew Jute. If you think you’re Indie, you are. Small publishers as well as self-publishers fit, at least in my definition. The Big 6 (including all of their imprints) and some of the largest houses that aren’t Big 6 (Harlequin, for example), clearly aren’t, and no author signed to any of those would consider themselves to be indie.

    • The author has to have a stake in the business though. There are a lot of smaller publishers around that you can’t call Indie eg Carina Press. The tricky area is when something set up to publish one author’s book starts publishing others and authors have to go through the same sort of submission process. Then we have to ask, how much control does that author have over their final product and what is their relationship to the company. I’ll do a separate post on this, so we can dicuss it further.

      • Terri Bruce says:

        Wait, are you saying that you don’t think an independent, small press that operates like a traditional/large publisher (i.e. the authors have minimal control and no ownership interest) is NOT an “indie” press? Certainly, “indie” presses that are simply an imprint/arm of a large, tradtional publisher (like Carina) fall in a “whole ‘nother’ category. LOL, this definately captures the problem of putting labels on things and of being clear when we define our terms. I just recently completed a ten part interview/guest blog post on the distinctions between tradtiional, indie, and self-publishing and my conclusion is that all these various options are a spectrum not seperate and distinct entities.

        • Definitely a spectrum. See why Andrew said that if you think you’re Indie you’re Indie. That’s how I’m operating this at the moment. Mind you, as the Indie movement builds a positive reputation, we may have people saying they’re Indie just to get on the support wagon, so some sort of guidelines might be helpful for everyone.

          I do think the distinction needs to be made between a small press and an author run press. My concept of Indie is an author publishing independantly of a traditionally run publishing house. Size isn’t what it’s about. There are new models arising where the author retains control of their work and those are the real Indie publishers eg Evolved Publishing. Even though they have a submission process, they are based on the idea of authors helping authors.

          Perhaps in the end, it’s about values, not business models.

          I’m going to make a post about this, so we can continue the discussion in it’s own forum. I’ll put something up tommoorow and will include your comment. In the meantime, I’m going to close the comments here. Please save further discussion until tomorrow.

  20. Amelia says:

    Thank you for writing this. I’m only just starting out so I don’t have to make any big decisions concerning publishing yet, but I’ve really been thinking about what’s right for me and my work. Reading things like this helps a lot though.

  21. Actually, I think I’ll put the post up now. The review I had planned can go up tomorrow.

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