Monday, April 11, 2011

Indie--what does this even mean?

While standing in the shifting sands of today's publishing milieu, I can't help but notice the word "indie" being buffeted about. Indie press, indie author, indie publisher. What kind of independent are they all talking about?

Webster is silent on the subject. At least my Webster is. The word may be added to more recent versions, but it's not in mine.

Wiki is not silent, but doesn't completely clear this up:

The National Literary Awards defines Independent or "Indie" Literature as "books published outside of mainstream publishing."[1]

Wiki redirects "indie publisher" here:

Small press is a term often used to describe publishers with annual sales below a certain level. Commonly, in the United States, this is set at $50 million, after returns and discounts. Small presses are also defined as those that publish an average of fewer than 10 titles per year,[1] though there are a few who manage to do more.

The terms "small press", "indie publisher", and "independent press" are often used interchangeably, with "independent press" defined as publishers that are not part of large conglomerates or multinational corporations. Defined this way, these presses make up approximately half of the market share of the book publishing industry.[2] Many small presses rely on specialization in genre fiction, poetry, or limited-edition books or magazines, but there are also thousands that focus on niche non-fiction markets.

[end of Wiki]
Nothing on "indie author."
 (Indie films and indie music are way way way outside my scope.)

So let's explore!

First of all, is the term indie author just another way of saying self-published? This phrase does seem to encompass self-pubbing. I knew some self-published authors who like to make a distinction, though. Their preferred usage would be to say "indie" for a self-published author who has hired an independent editor (or two, or more) before putting out an e-book or a POD trade paperback. So, under this method, an indie author is a subset of self-published authors, one who has taken more care and hopes to have put out a better product than someone who writes a novel and puts it up for sale with no help.

Second of all, indie publishers have been around for awhile, another name for small press. The use of the word "indie" for small press is awfully confusing, because writers published by these presses are not self-published, in any sense of the words. And indie author is NOT one published by an indie press or indie publisher.

Just for the record, let's not get even further confused by the term Print On Demand (POD). This is not a pejorative label. It's a production process. Anyone can use it. And both major publishers and small ones do. Also self-publishers.

One more layer of confusion. Authors who have had a physical book published by either a major house or a small one are now, if they have the rights, sometimes opting to put this same book out as a digital e-book. They are, technically, self-publishing the book. But it wasn't a self-published book in paper.

Off to the side are vanity presses. These are publishers who charge a writer for printing their book. Most people agree they shouldn't be labeled indie at all.

(Nathan Bransford recently got 141 comments on his take of the term.)

I'm going to stick with the old definitions of "indie publisher" and "indie press" and go with "indie author" as an enhanced self-published author.

Photo of Roycroft printing press by Dave Pape is public domain


  1. Interesting. I just wrote an article for a client regarding the definitions of self published, POD, and small press. You are absolutely right about the layer of confusion that surrounds this subject. Thanks for helping to clear it up!

  2. I had to throw POD in there because so many people use the term wrongly. You think I cleared something up? That's good!

  3. Great post!

    This subject has always been confusing, and probably will continue to be so. And next, for a more heated debate, you can tackle what makes a book a book?

  4. I'll leave that to you, Diane. :)

  5. Love the post. Nathan Bransford is a wise, wise man.