The ‘Indie’ Publishing Debate

This debate certainly seems to have struck a chord with many of you, and indeed the debate rages on over on Writers Beware blog, becoming quite heated at times, particularly regarding the benefit of Publitariat Vault and IndieReader. It should be borne in mind that these sites are new and only time and the testimony of self publishing authors will tell the true story of their use and success.

I would like to flesh out further this notion of ‘indie’ and specifically what it really means. Thank you all for your invaluable comments and views on the topic.

“I’m a musician who been in a lot of “indie rock” bands so I very much identify with the indie label being about the style of content as much as the means of production. When I set out to write a novel I very much want to write something that is independent of something that’s existed in the past. And given that I mainly put books out on small presses or self-publish, I identify with the term indie for publishing.”


I have worked in the music industry for more than five years during the 1990’s and I entirely agree that there is much similarity between what is happening now in publishing and what happened during the recessionary 1980’s with the emergence of ‘indie music’. So much so, that I wrote three articles over the last year about this very subject.

But while I agree with Henry’s sentiment, in that a writer wants ‘to write something that is independent of something that’s existed in the past’, it is rather more about a writer striving for originality than trying to do something ‘independent’ or ‘indie’. The implication now is that the term moves toward ‘content’ rather than the approach or circumstance the author takes to publishing their book. But then, to strive for originality and to present an original voice in a book is nothing new in literature, popular, experimental or academic. While small presses and self publishing may provided a more suitable platform, as well as easier access for niche and esoteric work, it is by no means the native homeland of such material, and does not need the self-appointed ‘badge of honour’ label of ‘indie book’ or by such and such ‘indie author’.

I do agree with Henry in his thinking that as time passes we will adopt whatever phrase or description people most easily recognise. Much as we seem to have adopted ‘Traditional publishing’ and ‘Self-Publishing Companies’. The latter is a particular dislike of mine, simply because the phrase is an oxymoron in itself!

“And you’re wrong about every author would give their eyetooth to be published by Random House. I don’t want a NY publishing contract at this time. I may not EVER want one. I don’t know. There are too many variables involved but it would have to be a damn big contract for me to want it.”


Ok, so let’s not split hairs. Most authors, if not all authors, seek/dream about a publishing contract with a large publisher. Certainly that is the starting point for authors. Their view may change having gone through the experience. It would be absurd to say, ‘I don’t like fish’ without ever having tasted fish. No more than saying, ‘I’m not going to submit my work to a major publisher because I won’t get the kind of deal I want’. Pamela Aidan, as Zoe Winter’s relates, turned down 3 offers from Simon and Schuster; yet, eventually signed a contract. If the terms and price are right, an author will sign for whatever publisher best preserves their idea of a good publisher, independent or traditional.

“Really, not every author wants a NY contract, shocking as it may be. I don’t want that kind of pressure and lack of control over my work for one thing. In 5-10 years my goals/wants/needs may change, but I can honestly tell you if Random House called me up tomorrow (and there is no reason why they would) I would politely decline the offer.”

No, it’s not shocking at all. What is more shocking is the repeated NY, NY, NY, mantra and the belief by many authors that NY (New York) is at the centre of the publishing universe! Is ‘NY Publishing’ and ‘NY Contract’, yet more terms we will have to deal with. New York is not, never has been, and doubtless ever will be at the centre of the publishing world. It is a part of a nation and a single publishing territory. Historically and in regard to literature, London and Paris have perhaps far more stake in being considered publishing capitals. To be fair, I suspect Zoe’s reasoning is based on New York being a central business hub of the world and publishing and media play very vital roles in business. However, the underlining implication is a belief that book publishing’s first native language is English.

“You are an Indie if you make all the decisions. That’s the bottom line. Some of us just want to make all the decisions, and that includes whether or not to pay for listing or marketing services. This is not cynicism; it’s Indie pragmatism.

“Every Indie is different — different reasons and different business models. Every Indie should be an independent thinker. Jumping on bandwagons or wanting what everyone else wants seems contradictory to the Indie philosophy. Don’t ya think.”


Here is the money shot when the camera is pointed close-up to the term ‘indie’. I agree with Cheryl. If we are going to use the term, then we can surely only apply it for functionality and control reasons. It can of course be an author’s self-publishing business model or a small press to medium size publisher’s business model. The key will always be about who owns, controls and decides. And that goes for ISBN, copyrights, design etc. The fact is, there is a growing undercurrent of ‘indie’ as being some kind of whimsical post-punk – ‘authors doin’ it for themselves’ movement which seems entirely directed at established authors and publishers, who until recently, turned their snobbish noses up at self-publishing and small presses as if it were some unsavoury and unfortunate ailment you picked up if you had to mix with the riff-raff of the publishing slums.

I thought it interesting that it was Victoria Strauss who actually went straight to the very heart of my posting yesterday and spotted the real issue about the term ‘indie’. I will leave the last world to her comment.

The ‘indie’ revolution is starting to become about books of ‘perceived content’ over actual content. [from original POD, Self Publishing & Independent Publishing article]

“A really interesting point, and one I hadn’t considered. So it’s starting to be about “indie” content–braver, better, bolder than the stuffy old crap churned out by commercial publishers. It changes the ground of the argument by changing the definition of quality.”

Victoria Strauss, Writers Beware

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