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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 and always relative (everyone needs support to write and publish well). Some of our members are fiercely indie-spirited, as DIY as it’s possible to be. Others are happy to collaborate with a publisher where that seems advantageous, some working with paid publishing services, others with trade publishers.

So what marks out an indie from other authors? The Alliance allows that 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 publishing and beyond.
  • You expect that status as creative director to be acknowledged in any partnership your negotiate, whether a paid author-service, or in a 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 an author who does not.
  • You recognise that you are central to a revolutionary shift in publishing which needs to move from seeing the author purely as a resource (in the new parlance ‘content provider’) to respecting the author as a creative director, with much to offer — and be rewarded for — in each step of the publishing process.
  • 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 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, from cover design to editing. In fact, almost nobody who produces a good book does so alone.

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: Self-publishing writers who publish to sell books and reach as many readers as possible. “Indie” is primarily an attitude. Indie authors see themselves as the creative directors of their own work, embracing creative freedom and control, and accepting responsibility for their own publishing choices. An indie author will 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.
  • 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 partnership publishing services that handle everything for a fee to trade publishers that license rights. Indie authors consider trade publishers to be a service, like any other, to be considered on its merits.

    Payment to a publishing service can take three forms:

    1. A fee

    2. A royalty split or percentage payment

    3. Rights licensing in return for a small 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 handled by one of what are known as “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 author-publishing option is attracting more and more writers.