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What is indie publishing? And should you care?

These are two excellent questions, but if youíre a reader, the second question is the one that really matters the most. Do you need to know if a book is independently published before you buy it, or borrow it from your local library?

The short answer is ďno.ĒĚ It really doesnít matter. If the book seems interesting to you, if youíve heard good things about it, if you like the cover, the story blurb, any of those things Ē¶ then who cares who published it? And I agree. So, have at it, but if you want to know how indie publishing differs from traditional publishing, then read on.

Indie stands for independent

There are a few ways that people in the industry define what an independent publisher is, and I donít totally disagree with them. The most common definition of ďindieĒĚ is a publisher that isnít owned by one of the ďbig fiveĒĚ publishers and their hundreds of imprints. So, that would include traditional publishers that produce smaller numbers of books. Indie publishers also tend to publish in genre niches, but not always. Strictly speaking, my first two novels were published by small, indie publishing houses. I had a great experience with both.

Is self-publishing the same as indie publishing?

Some say it isnít, some say it is. I say it is, though I prefer the term indie, because self-publishing has some stink on it from when there wasnít an indie publishing industry. (This was back in the days of something called ďvanity publishing,ĒĚ when any lunatic could pay exorbitant fees to have their ramblings published by a shady company.)

I also see a slight distinction between the do-it-yourself mode and the indie publishing model. In the do-it-yourself model, the author does everything, including cover design and editing. Frankly, I think that is a dangerous route to go, because as an author you’d lose the value of the process and the professional skills of editors, proofreaders and cover designers. There are very few people out there that have all the skill sets needed to produce a professionally produced book. And I haven’t even mentioned page layout, ebook production, etc.

But for me, the vital distinction is between traditional publishing models and indie publishing models.

Traditional publishing vs indie publishing

In traditional publishing, the author sells the rights to their book to a publisher, and their main job is to write the book and work with the editors on editing it. The publishing company takes care of the rest of it. The editing, design, distribution, marketing, and so on, is all out of the authorís hands. (Though there are some marketing duties authors will need to do, such as readings, interviews, etc.) These authors get somewhere between 10-15% of the proceeds and the publisher keeps the rest.

In indie publishing, authors have a lot more work to do, have more control over the process, and because they retain the rights, they get to keep all the profits. (Usually this is anywhere from 45-70% of sales, depending upon the distribution channel.)

So, why isnít everyone indie publishing?

Well, as I’ve already mentioned, thereís way more work. Thereís more risk, financially and reputationally, too. An indie author still needs to have their book professionally edited and proofread. They have to figure out how to design, distribute and market the book. Anything the author canít do themselves, they have to then hire someone to do — in fact, I’d suggest that there are somethings authors absolutely shouldn’t be doing themselves. The final product needs to be able to compete with a book published by a massive conglomerate that has the resources to make a great product.

Plus, the ďbig fiveĒĚ publishers have a virtual stranglehold on the traditional mode of getting books into book stores. Whenever you go into a big chain store, more than likely, almost all of the books you see on those shelves will be published by the main five players in the industry.

Thatís a daunting fact if you want to go indie. And if it sounds like a lot of work and effort, it is!

The book is the thing

What really matters, at least to readers (yes, Iím one too), is the quality of the book. Is it good? What I care about is the story and how it makes me feel and think.

But Ė you knew one was coming Ė when I like the book, and I know itís an indie, well, then I feel even more attached to the book, because I know how difficult it is for indies to get recognition. A great indie book is the perfect flower, virtually hidden amongst the deep dark woods of the forest of traditional publishing. I cherish it a bit more, for its rarity, and because I know the effort that was required.

Iím not saying itís easy to publish traditionally. Iím just saying that in many ways, itís harder to publish independently.

That said, Iím really happy with my experience of publishing The Fatness and Alpha Max independently. Iíve found a fabulously insightful editor and a meticulous proofreader, and Iíve figured out how to find the best cover designers I can to represent the work. It is more work, but I really like having control over the process, and getting to call the shots. And if something goes wrong with my baby, then thereís nobody to blame but me. 

Going full indie

So, I guess this is my public announcement that Iím going full indie. Up until Alpha Max, I was always willing to consider going the traditional route, but Iím feeling some comfort with the process, now, and Iíve heard enough horror stories from other authors that I wonít be looking at traditional publishing, at least not for the next few projects.

Iím also encouraged because of the support of you, my readers. Thanks for all the positive comments, replies and reviews youíve sent me Ė it helps me keep going!


cover art of The Fridgularity and Marvellous Hairy, both by Mark A. Rayner

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