What is an independent/indie author?
At ALLi, we use the terms “author-publisher” and “indie author” to distinguish those writers who earn, or aim to earn, their living from writing from those who are publishing a single book for family, friends, or personal community, or to improve their business profile. In both cases, “self” publishing is a misnomer–it implies that we do it all alone. “Independent,” too is a relative term. Self-publishers are relatively independent because we retain our publishing rights and control over our book production and distribution, but publishing is always a team effort.
Some of our members are fiercely autonomous, as DIY as it’s possible to be, actively advocating the self-publishing route for all and envisaging the imminent end of trade-publishing as we know it. While these members of the community tend to be more vocal, many members are actually happy to collaborate with a publishing service where that seems advantageous, working with paid services or trade-publishers as desired.
Some use the term “hybrid author” to describe a writer who publishes books through both trade and self-publishing platforms. At ALLi, we believe the term “indie author” adequately—and best—describes such a writer.
What, then, marks out an “indie” from other authors? For ALLi, you are an independent author if:
- You have self-published at least one book.
- You see yourself as the creative director of your books, from conception to completion through marketing, promotion, and beyond.
- You also see yourself as the creative director of your author-business. In any partnership you negotiate, whether with a paid service, a trade-publisher or a literary agent, you expect your status as rights holder and creative director to be acknowledged in payment, terms and conditions.
- You are proud of your indie status and carry that self-respect into all your ventures, negotiations, and collaborations, for your own benefit and to benefit all writers.
What is the difference between a self-publisher, an author-publisher, an indie author, and an authorpreneur?
At ALLi, we use the following (sometimes overlapping) terms of reference:
Self-publishing author (also called author-publishers): any author who has published a book at personal expense. Self-publishers range the full gamut, from those publishing a one-off book for family and friends to the most entrepreneurial and productive authorpreneur. The term is used interchangeably with author-publisher.
Indie Authors: Authors who self-publish to sell and want to reach as many readers as possible. “Indie” is primarily an attitude. Indie authors embrace the creative freedom and control of self-publishing, and choose the publishing services most appropriate to each book project.
Authorpreneurs: writers who make their living from self-publishing books and associated products or services. ALLi has a specific membership category for such author-publishers. (See also our Self-publishing 3.0 campaign)
- Publishing Service / Author Service: Services that handle some or all of the processes of publishing, at the author’s expense. Services run the gamut from freelance one-person operations, like designers or editors, to self-publishing services that handle everything for a fee (e.g. BookBaby), to trade publishers that license rights. Payment to a publishing service can take three forms: 1. A fee 2. A royalty split or percentage payment 3. Rights licensing and investment in design, editing and marketing in return for a much smaller royalty and (sometimes) an advance on royalties. When payment for services takes this third form, we call it trade publishing (also known as “legacy” or “traditional” publishing).
Trade (traditional) publishers: Businesses that license publishing rights from authors and handle the publication of their books in return for a large percentage. Most trade-published books are brought out by one of “The Big Five” corporate publishers: Penguin-Random House; Hachette Book Group (HBG); Harper Collins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster.
Independent or “indie” publishers: Small publishing companies which, like the big conglomerates, commission books from authors and publish at the company’s expense, not the author’s. If very small, they are sometimes called micro-publishers.
Why are more writers choosing self-publishing?
Author-publication served only a tiny number of writers before digital technology enabled print-on-demand and the direct distribution of ebooks. This technology has revolutionized writing and publishing. It simultaneously does four things that are very good for authors:
- It gives us a global readership, instead of confining us to specific territories.
- Our books are continually available — there is no such thing as ‘out-of-print’ anymore.
- It takes away the necessity for ‘middlemen’ like agents, publishers, and distributors (though we still may choose to work with such partners — see above). And:
- It gives our readers a point-of-purchase just at the moment they discover they want our book.
As the creative possibilities of this revolution make themselves felt, the self-publishing pathway is attracting more and more writers.