Sort of following on from my previous post, ‘a Bit about Indies and Readers’, this article delves into the terms ‘Indie authors’, ‘self-publishing’ and ‘Indie publishing’ and is aimed at clarifying them… sort of.
“Five years ago, self-publishing was a scar. Now it’s a tattoo”…. Greg White, Bloomberg News, 2016
Let’s not beat about the bush. I’ll get straight to the point.
This is the generally accepted definition of self-publishing.
Self-publishing is the publication of media by its author without the involvement of an established publisher. In common parlance, the term generally refers to physical written media, such as books and magazines or digital media, such as e-books and websites. It can also apply to albums, pamphlets, brochures, video content, zines, or uploading images to a website.
However, in recent years the use of the term ‘Self-Publishing’ has faded in use, along with its sister idiom, ‘Desktop Publishing’. Both have been superseded by the phrases, ‘indie author’ and ‘indie publisher’.
While both are often used as interchangeable titles, indie authorship and self-publishing are not quite synonymous.
Here is a breakdown of current publishing possibilities:
Authors do not pay any publishing-related expenses.
Well-established publishing firms include those often referred to as the ‘Big Five’: Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan. (Including their dozens of imprints.)
These large publishers historically prefer authors with mainstream appeal, particularly celebrity or ‘brand-name’ authors. Partly, this is to guard against ‘risk’, all of which the publishers bear.
Typically, they offer advance payment and, on occasion, authors receive a slice of the book profits by way of royalty. Frequently, whatever the publishers offer is based on a two to three book ‘deal’, tying the author to the publisher for a period of time.
Publishers own the rights and control most aspects of publication, especially the design of the cover and the choice of a title.
Mainstream publishers can get books into brick-and-mortar bookstores, with whom they have a historic relationship, as they do with prime book distribution organisations, national and independent libraries. The large publisher relationships with other media and the press often ensure reviews in mainstream mass media.
However, many established authors now chose to independently publish. This is one reason;
“My first book went through so many different changes that when it released, I no longer felt like it was the story I originally set out to tell.” Author Sarah Grimm, on why she chose self-publishing.
Many mid-size traditional publishers offer the same or similar arrangements as the ‘big houses’.
It is harder to categorise smaller and independent presses as these vary from well-established boutique presses to ‘mom-and-pop’ start-ups who have little experience.
Many of these smaller publishers accept first-time authors, often they do not require agents to approach them but are open to ‘unsolicited’ submissions.
With the smaller presses, authors may not receive an advance, or they may get a lesser amount than with a ‘mainstream press’, but often they receive a larger share of the profits.
It is harder for smaller presses to get books into bookstores. Which can depend if they specialise in a certain area of publishing.
As Judith Briles said in a 2014 article on the topic,
“Small presses make their profits by selling books to consumers, rather than selling services to authors or selling a small number of copies to the author’s friends.”
There are intermediate arrangements between traditional and self-publishing in which both author and publisher bear some of the costs of development, sometimes called ‘cooperative publishing’.
A hybrid publisher may offer selected services to help an author get a book published, such as story editing, copy editing, proofreading, marketing and public relations, and promotion through social media and search engine optimization strategies.
Many of these firms have their own online bookstores.
It is important for authors considering a hybrid approach to fully understand which services will be included and at what cost.
It is also advisable to seek legal advice regarding understanding the technical and implicit terms of any contract.
Some hybrids offer less-than-ideal contracts, which make it hard for an author to exit the deal later. They can also take a disproportionate share of profits; one adviser suggests it’s ‘buyer beware’ when engaging such firms.
With this model, the author funds the publication of the book, (and absorbs the risks), sometimes spending thousands to get the know-how and editing skills of the publisher.
The quality of the services offered and the terms of contracts vary widely. As a rule, royalties are less than true self-publishing but more than traditional publishing.
Hybrid Books rarely get into bookstores. Authors should try to keep as many rights with as much flexibility as possible. Some firms are nothing more than funky assisted-publishing services which overcharge.
Vanity press… (Some Hybrid publishers fall into this category)
The term ‘vanity press’ is considered pejorative since it suggests a person who hires such a service is unqualified or unable to have their book succeed in the market, and as such the author is printing the book only out of vanity.
Users pay to have their books published.
While a commercial publisher’s market is the book-buying public at large, the vanity publisher’s market is the author.
Some authors buy substantial copies of their own book, which are then used as giveaways or promotional tools.
In this business model, there are often elements of fraud; which is why some vanity presses masquerade as legitimate publishers, pretending to be selective and choosy in their book selections.
They prey upon a would-be author’s desire to be published.
If a vanity press charges a higher amount to print a run of books than a regular printer, it can be an indication of deception and fraud.
These are businesses who charge fees for various publishing-related services such as formatting, cover design and copyediting.
They make their money from these services alone.
Authors retain the royalties and control over editing and cover design and title.
These businesses can be helpful to those starting out in publishing as the author can learn the process from experienced people.
However, a word of caution.
Where the company’s profit comes from can be your first clue into what sort of company you are dealing with.
Companies which offer further services to assist the author with publicity and marketing are generally not a good deal, although there are exceptions.
If you do decide to go down this route, seek advice and recommendations from established authors.
Note: Organisations which have pushy sales tactics along with companies who masquerade as traditional publishers by having authors go through an elaborate process to make them think, or at least feel, as if they are being accepted, where the author pays to have the book published and/or sacrifices an inordinate percentage of their royalties for the privilege, should be given a wide berth.
The author controls the entire publishing process from start to finish.
They can hire freelancers to help with wherever, and whenever, the author requires. Such as cover designers, copy editors, story editors and with formatting.
It is necessary authors thinks like an entrepreneur and ensures their finished book is a professional, high-quality product.
All profits and rights remain with the author.
Except for a few independent bookstores, authors will find it difficult to have their books displayed within physical bookstores and major ‘bricks & mortar’ retail outlets.
Indie authors are pretty much restricted in offering their books via online platforms, personal and local social networks, visiting book fairs, conferences, organising book signings at selected venues and finding other ‘creative’ methods of distribution.
Why might an established mainstream author choose to indie publish?
Perhaps author James Altucher can give an indication. Here he describes working with an editor in 2013:
“Nils and I went back and forth on more than 15 different rewrites for my book. The difference between the original version and the final version is like the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad.”
“Indie authorship and self-publishing are not quite synonymous but an independent author will have self-published at least one book.”
Indie-Publishing… which is increasingly becoming the first choice for writers.
As self-publishing loses its stigma and its benefits via technology become more apparent, there are more instances in which new authors choose indie publishing as their primary route, as well as established authors leaving traditional publishers.
There are now greater instances of indie-published authors selling their books in major retailers, such as Barnes & Noble, Target, and Walmart, than ever before.
Partly this is because…
“Authors are no longer bound in their storytelling by what the traditional publishers think the market can bear… Instead, because we can go straight to the reader now, we can write exactly the books that we want to write and exactly the books that our fans want to read. We don’t have to worry about whether an agent can sell the book, or if an editor and publisher want to buy the book, or if a retailer wants to stock the book. Personally, I think this new open market can – and does – make for much more interesting storytelling.” Novelist Bella Andre in the Washington Post, 2015
The terms “Independent publishers” and “indie publishers” were until recently associated with small presses, to identify them as separate from larger, traditional book publishers. Over time, authors who wanted to maintain complete creative control over their books began to create their own small presses, which nowadays simply involves starting a business and little else.
Being a small press or an independent book publisher does not mean having a printing press in your basement. The rising popularity and ease of access to print-on-demand (POD) through such outlets as Ingram Spark and Kindle Direct Publishing have served to increase the number of indie publishers.
Of course, when mainstream publishers like Penguin announce their own self-publishing arm, it can be difficult to know what the hell is going on…. Except that we true indies now have them on the run… sort of.
“With self-publishing you don’t waste your time trying to get published, which can take years of query letters and agenting, and all this stuff. You go straight to the real gatekeepers, which are the readers. If they respond favourably and you have sales, you can leverage that into a writing career. If they don’t, you write the next thing. Either way, you’re not spending your time trying to get published, you’re spending your time writing the next work.” Hugh Howey, author of Wool
The real definition lies somewhere in between… sort of… and it’s not just semantics.
To end this rambling, here are few facts for you to mull over.
Historically, while most novels were distributed by established publishers, there are many authors who chose to self-publish, or who chose to start their own presses, such as John Locke, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Martin Luther, Marcel Proust, Derek Walcott, Walt Whitman, Janet Evanovich, Colleen Hoover, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe… along with Mark Twain, who also started his own printing company.
In 2010, according to a different analysis, there were 4.2 million new titles published. Much of the growth in new titles is because of indie-publishing.
In 2011, indie-published books made up 43% of all print titles, helping to increase overall growth of print production, according to Bowker market research.
Neither of the above figures relates to eBooks, whose increase in number were ‘radically higher’ due to independent publishing. (Bowker).
Some people say, “I only want to read books by professional authors because, in my opinion, they are far better quality compared to indie-published works.”
Others say, “People publishing through the big five primarily write useless, commercial drivel that the publishers demand, as it sells well. They are not real authors. It is the indie authors, the ones who are doing it for the love of writing, the ones who create original works that I love. They’re real authors.”
Being indie myself I must agree with the last statement.
As in most creative arts, such as music and film, original works tend to be far more creative, intriguing, thought-provoking and, let’s face it, enjoyable than mass-market efforts designed to create maximum profit by appealing to the lowest common denominator.
I am an ardent Indie Author who has written and Indie Published a large number of titles, in Hardcover, Paperback and eBook formats.
My books include a children’s tale, a glossy, music legends, coffee-table book; non-fiction books; semi-fiction stories; short story collections; poetry, and fictional novels.
Oh, and two special books just for Indie Authors & Publishers, both of which are waiting for you to download right now.
Most, but not all of my books, are available on Amazon and other major online bookstores. Some, the more exclusive editions, are only available through my website.
Please take some time-out to browse my website, where you will also find links to my art and photography. There is a ‘contact me’ page too, so you can ask me anything or simply say hello.
I look forward to seeing you there.
Keep Happy, Paul