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What Is An Independent “Indie” Author?

Self-Publishing & Independent Authors FAQ

What is an independent author?

At ALLi, “independent” is an inclusive description. Some of our members are fiercely indie-spirited, as DIY as it’s possible to be. Some work with paid self-publishing services.Others are happy to collaborate with a trade publisher where that seems advantageous, especially for translation and other subsidiary rights.

So what marks out an “indie author”, as we are increasingly known, from other authors? ALLi  defines an independent author in the following way:

  • You have self-published at least one book.
  • You see yourself as the creative director of your books and of your author business.
  • You expect that status as creative director to be acknowledged in any partnership you  negotiate, whether a paid author-service, or any deal with trade-publisher or agent e.g. if you have an established author platform, you should receive a higher royalty rate and advance than a tyro author who does not.
  • You recognise that you are central to a revolutionary shift in publishing which must move  from seeing authors as a resource of raw material (‘content provider’) to respecting the author as a business partner, with much to offer through each step of the publishing process.
  • You are proud of your indie status and carry that empowered attitude into all your ventures, negotiations and collaborations, for your own benefit and to benefit all writers.

What is the difference between a self-publisher and an indie author?

As self-publishing evolves, its terms of reference are rapidly changing.

Many authors who publish their own work feel uncomfortable with the term “self-published”, which gives the impression that they have done everything required to produce the book themselves. In fact, almost nobody who produces a good book does so alone. Most hire designers, all need editors, to name just two specialist services.

New, more accurate, terms are becoming more commonplace, but have not yet taken precedence over the catch-all term “self-publishing”. At ALLi, we use the following (sometimes overlapping) terms of reference:

  • Self-publishing author: 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 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 — paid or trade – most appropriate to each book project.
  • Author-publishers: writers who make their living from publishing their own work. ALLi has a professional 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:

  1. It gives us a global readership, instead of confining us to specific territories.
  2. Our books are continually available — there is no such thing as ‘out-of-print’ anymore.
  3. 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:
  4. 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.