How do you define Indie published?

On the 17th April, I posted an article about the six kinds of Indie published books. It raised some very interesting comments and ended up being a discussion of what constituted Indie publishing. I thought it better if we continued that discussion in a separate forum, so here it is. I’ve cppied the most pertinent comments here so you can see what’s already been raised. What we want to know is how you would define Indie publishing. Bear in mind that Indie is short for Independent, so we must ask ourselves, independent of what.

The discussion began with this comment by Nicola Slade.

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

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. – Booksandpals

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.

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.  Terri Bruce

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.

What do you think? Take it away folks.

11 comments… add one

  • booksandpals April 28, 2012, 12:45 am

    I’ve got a lot of random thoughts that I think are pertinent, but no real answer:

    For a lot of people, the distinction is meaningless, or at least doesn’t matter. There are books/authors they like and those they don’t. It matters to those who are involved in publishing (authors, publishers of all stripes, agents, etc.) and only a small subset of readers. Those readers are divided into those who actively seek out “indie books” (whatever that means to them), and those who actively avoid them.

    There are a large number of people out there, primarily those associated in some way with traditional publishing, who define an “indie author” as someone whose book is published by an independent publisher. They would (and do) say to many who describe themselves as indie authors, “no, you’re self-published.”

    The meaning of words and terms change. They can mean different things to people of different groups or cultures too, which is how we have the group above defining indie as absolutely encompassing one group (which in our discussion here is the gray area) and clearly not including another group, which for us is the only group we’re sure is included in our definition.

    When I try to guess where publishing might be headed I look to the music business, which is several years further along what is much the same process, precipitated by many of the same factors. My working definition for an indie musician or band was much the same as what I described in the comments above. Not sure if my definition fit what most people’s was, I Googled and came up with this from Wikipedia, which I think is very close to equivalent.

    “In music, independent music, often shortened to indie music or ‘indie’ is a term used to describe independence from major commercial record labels or their subsidiaries, and an autonomous, Do-It-Yourself approach to recording and publishing.”

    However, as previously discussed, there is a wide spectrum of possibility in that gray area. Amount of risk borne by the author, use of an agent, support systems like (marketing, accounting, editing functions), input and influence into things like cover design, and I’m sure many others things vary from one end of the spectrum to the other. On one end, the author is responsible for either doing or hiring someone to do it all. On the other extreme, the author is only responsible to turn in a manuscript and make revisions based on input from an editor. Somewhere in between the line is crossed, but where isn’t clear.

    • Tahlia Newland April 28, 2012, 2:19 am

      The definition of indie in music is a good guideline, thanks for sharing that. The ‘Do-It-Yourself approach’ aspect of it includes the self publishers (which I consider those who haven’t set up a partnership or collective or whatever to help them out) and ‘independence from major commercial publishers or their subsidiaries’, leaves us having define who the major commercial publishers and their subsidiaries are. Obviuosly the big six, but what about Omnific and that kind of small publisher?

  • kristiecook April 28, 2012, 1:00 am

    Interesting discussion. The term “indie press” has been around long before it was cool to be one. Independent Publisher basically meant a small press that is not part of a large corporate conglomerate, including any imprints of one of the Big 6. An imprint is NOT a company. It’s really just a brand. So no, if it’s an imprint of a large publisher, it’s not indie. I’m not even sure university presses can be called indie because they’re not independently owned.

    But smaller publishers, such as many of the ebook-only publishers that publish a couple hundred authors would have been considered an indie press because they’re not owned by a Big 6 or other mainstream company such as Harlequin. The big wave of self-publishing has required an adjustment to what “indie publishing” means.

    When I first started calling myself indie a couple years ago, there were many out there who said self-publishing is not indie publishing, defending the indie presses. If the author is covering 100% of the costs, said the rule, that is not the same thing as indie publishing. (Opposite of what you’re saying, that to be indie, the author must have ownership.) Others said, if there’s only one author and he/she has ownership, it’s also still self-publishing. Since I have a business partner as well as silent investors and we plan to add more authors when we’re ready, their arguments didn’t matter to me.

    Obviously, indie is short for independent, so the question is “Independent of what?” I think independent of a big publisher name with its accompanying marketing arm and budget. But what else could we be independent of? Looking forward to reading others’ thoughts.

    BTW, sorry for the novella length comment. :)

  • Tahlia Newland April 28, 2012, 2:38 am

    I’m glad to hear that it’s cool to be one!
    Obviously things are changing.
    Don’t worry about the novella, mine’s going to be just as long.

    You said that in the past some thought that if the author is covering 100% of the costs or there’s only one author and he/she has ownership, it’s self-publishing, not indie (Opposite of what I said, that to be indie, the author must have ownership.)

    I could have it completely wrong, but that definiton would mean that all these little companies or partnerships (like mine) set up to publish one author are self publishers not indie publishers, at least until they publish someone else. Trouble with that idea is that when you have a partnership or a company, you aren’t doing it all by yourself. You’re employing other people, so you can’t really be said to be self-publishling. Mind you, no author can really do it all by themself, at least not well. It would mean that you haven’t empolyed an editor.

    Self publishing has such a bad name that those of us in the 100% ownership category have to take up the Indie term or be forever stigmatised by the past. If we take the music definition Al shared, then Indie includes both the small presses independant of the big 6 (and anyone else deemed big enough to take the term ‘major’) and those ‘doing it themselves’.

  • Wendy Bertsch April 28, 2012, 3:01 am

    I think we have a problem here. The term Independent publisher is taken. It’s been around a long time, and it has meant a publishing firm which is independent of the large traditional firms…in the same way that the independent book stores are independent of the large bookstore chains.
    An independent author, though, is an author who retains control of his own work…who is not locked to a publishing firm of any description by a long-term contract or royalty system, and who has creative independence. Whether he chooses to handle all aspects of his work himself, or hire outside talent to provide editing, formatting or cover design skills does not matter. And the money generated by his books flows directly to him. That’s what independent means. Since payment of any advance obviously does not enter into this scenario, the author has to be prepared to work without payment until the work is complete and the returns start flowing in.
    We need to be pragmatic and stop reacting to those who consider self-published to be a pejorative term. Self-published is simply a business term indicating that the author has chosen to retain control of his own work and the business responsibilities that involves. And it’s a business model that has a long and respected history.

    • Tahlia Newland April 28, 2012, 10:45 pm

      The term independant author works well and to differentiate them from independant publishers certainly helps to clarify the situation. I think we do need an alternative to the term self-publishing for the author run busnesses because in many cases they’re a different kind of author to those that gave self publishing its bad name.

  • Terri Bruce April 28, 2012, 3:56 am

    Part 3 of the novel triology below? LOL!

    Interesting dicussion to be sure – I have always heard the term “indie publisher” or “indie published author” applied to those who publish with a small press as defined by Kristie and Wendy. Those who created a publishing “house” in order to publish their own work (and don’t publish anyone else’s) are self-published. I don’t see any other term that could be used.

    It seems that it’s only very recently that people have been extending the “indie” label to self-published authors – I have no idea (and don’t much care) if that’s because the industry has extended the label/mantel as self-publishing has become more accepted/less stigmitized, or if self-published folks has pulled the label onto themselves as a way to legitimize self-publishing. As with beer, music, and wine – I don’t really care about the size of the production company, I care about the product. In fact, I’m annoyed by so much focus and discussion on production company size/method versus the amount of focus and discussion on content. Rather than talking about who is indie or indie vs. big six or indie pub vs. self pub, let’s talk about, for (randomly chosen) example – the glut of werewolf and vampire fiction in the (young adult and adult) urban fantasy market and how to make it stop. Or how publishers of all sizes can better ensure editing/proofreading quality control (there’s just too many errors making their way into the market these days IMHO). Etc.

    • Tahlia Newland April 28, 2012, 10:49 pm

      I agree there are more important issues. I just love a good discussion. You’re welcome to send me a post on one of those other issues you mentioned.

  • booksandpals April 28, 2012, 5:53 am

    “Indie press” has a meaning and has had for a long time, but “indie author,” is relatively new (I think). I assume someone first used it as a means of shedding the self-published or (even worse) vanity published label, and to pick up some of the better connotations of indie press or hipness of an indie musician. I think it has become ingrained as a term in some groups enough that it probably isn’t going away.

    The posts saying, “does it really matter,” make a good point. Also, insofar as it does matter, even if the definition was clear-cut and everyone agreed, it would often apply only on a book by book basis. A mixed or hybrid approach is very common. There are authors like Barry Eisler who has traditionally published books, self-published, and published by Amazon (which I think is much different than the other two). Many authors have books that fall into two or all three of these. Not to mention those who are re-publishing formerly traditionally published books, which are books that could be considered to be in two categories.

  • Tahlia Newland April 28, 2012, 10:55 pm

    True about the book by book basis. Author’s aren’t necessarily one or the other. I still have my novel with my agent and I’m still reticent to take it off her, at least until I see how my novella goes.

  • Tahlia Newland April 30, 2012, 2:15 am

    If it still matters to anyone, how about this? There are publishers (in Australia I’m pretty sure we just call them small publishers) that are independant of the big publishing houses, and then there’s the publishers that are independant of the traditional model. These include self publishers and all the new models for publishing companies that are arising in the digital age.


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