Which Authors Get to Be ‘Indie’?

2016-02-25-1456437746-6812480-shutterstock_113484865-thumbWhen you hear the term “indie author,” who comes to mind? Do you think of an author published by a small but traditional independent publishing house, or do you think of a self-published author? Or maybe either/or?

As the world of publishing shifts beneath our feet, so does the language of publishing. The term “indie” was at one point reserved for independent small presses. It was a label that distinguished them from their bigger corporate counterparts. It’s been years, however, since the term was co-opted by self-published authors, and more and more it’s the norm to think of “indie” and “self-published” as going hand-in-hand.

Meanwhile, I know a lot of publishing insiders who bristle at this, feeling that the term has been appropriated. They’re possessive of the term, as if it means anything other than “independent.” As if there’s not room at the table for all of us.

Plus, the term itself was never really publishing’s to begin with. It originated with music and film, two industries that do a much better job of celebrating and embracing their independent artists than the book industry does.

To be indie speaks to a certain spirit, the spirit of independence. This belongs to any author who’s either driving their own publishing process, or being invited by their publishing house to collaborate and/or partner in the creative process. I know independent small presses who will put up a fight over the label, but who do not exhibit the indie spirit in their dealings with authors.

Wikipedia defines “indie” in many ways, but under the small press subhead, it says:

a book or magazine publisher whose publications appeal to small, niche audiences, and are typically not distributed widely.

Interestingly, those very indie presses who want to fend off appropriators of their term are in fact widely distributed, and would be quick to align themselves more closely to their corporate counterparts when it comes to discussions about their capacity to get books to marketplace.

As a culture, our indie spirit is wrapped up in our very fiber. America is the land of Independence, and “indie” is a feel-good label that artists of any modality wear with pride.

In my forthcoming book, Green-Light Your Book, I celebrate the spirit of independence by championing indie authors of all stripes, but also the spirit of generosity. Because of the rise of self-publishing, book publishing has adopted an us versus them position that’s not good for any author. It’s traditional versus self. Paid-to-publish versus paying-to-publish. Offset print runs versus print-on-demand. Everywhere I look I see people trying to distinguish between “good” and “bad” books using arbitrary measures, and the favorite, of course, is author subsidization.

And yet all authors who care about their books put their own money behind it, and all of us have read terrible traditionally published books alongside our best-loved books. And plenty of self-published authors are writing and publishing well-designed, gorgeously written, and award-winning books.

Publishing is treated as a zero-sum game, but it doesn’t have to be. There is room at the table for all of us, so let’s all revel in our own indie-ness, and not shut other authors out because we deem them not indie enough.

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