Indie Publishing vs Self-Publishing

By morganabevan|December 4, 2021|For Writers, Indie Author|0 comments

Some might argue that Indie Publishing and Self-Publishing are one and the same. As you might guess from the fact I’m even writing this post, I’m not in that camp. 

Before we get into it, let me set the scene. Then we’ll get into why I think these two terms are very different. 

The bursting of the Trad bubble

In 2010, Morgana knew she wanted to be an author one day, but she’d been suckered into the belief that anything artistic wouldn’t make for a viable career. So, for a brief time, she filed writing away in a box labeled ‘Someday’ and pretended to be a good language student while devouring all the books instead.  

Okay, enough with the third person. It’s weird. 

When I first became aware of KDP, it was sometime during my first year of University in 2010. I have this vague recollection of being one of the readers that got burned by a string of badly edited, badly formatted free books and as a result allowed myself to be lulled into the trad-centric belief that self-publishing and e-books were bad.

That perspective stuck to me until the dust finally settled around the Penguin Random House merger in 2017 and several prolific genre authors who had been staples of my life found themselves publisher-less, some in the middle of a series. 

To name one, Keri Arthur.

Keri is an Australian Urban Fantasy author. She was putting out four books a year consistently (still is cause she adapted, hence this entire post), had books in major supermarkets across the UK, sold well in the US and was a New York Times bestselling author.

She had flipping letters!

Imagine my shock when she announced that she wouldn’t be finishing her current series or publishing any more novels with her imprint. In my head, as a candidate for being dropped by a publisher, Kez Arthur did not fit the bill, but then she has been a pillar of my writing life since I was fourteen, offering advice whenever I’d reach out to her through email and Facebook.

Maybe I was biased. Or maybe not…

When news hit that she’d been dropped, I reached out again in Jan 2018 and she directed me to a series of articles by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, musing on the state of the publishing industry. Back then, I didn’t know who Kristine was. Now, it’s a different story (my jaw might have dropped when I went back to unearth the linked blog post). Today, I’m not even remotely surprised that her words affected me, especially when compiled with Keri’s experiences. 

In one message, Keri planted the seed that maybe the publishing landscape wasn’t as straightforward as I’d been led to believe.

It was the first time I was given concrete evidence that Trad publishers didn’t have a clue what they were doing (they tried to merge Urban Fantasy with Paranormal Romance and then promoted the titles badly and wondered why sales dropped. Idiots). By that point, I’d already read some non-trad titles that had surprised me with how good they were too, so I was definitely softening and my reading shifted accordingly. 

Then COVID-19 hit and the world stopped. 

I hear you. That’s a weird thing to fixate on as a turning point in my perspective, but it really was important. It personally gave me room to think. It also helped that Keri did a podcast with the SPA Girls (Self-Publishing Advice) in June 2020 about her experiences going indie. 

And that is the moment my entire outlook shifted. 

I’m being serious. My favourite, most trusted author introduced me to a wealth of knowledge in the SPA Girls back catalogue that enabled me to finally look at publishing with an open mind. 

Suddenly, there were no gatekeepers. 

The only person standing between me and getting a book into the world was me. 

The only person standing between me and releasing a badly edited, badly formatted book into the world was me. 

Are you still with me? Is this all making sense? 

Good, let’s get to the point then, shall we?

Taking control of the narrative with Indie Publishing

I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to predict why I view the term self-publishing badly by this point. 

In my mind, everything non-trad published was bad, and all those books were self-published. Even after reading Kristine’s article, the term Indie Publishing hadn’t stuck in my brain. If you read the article, it’s littered throughout and so many of the issues with trad are laid bare in that one post. Still, it took me another two and a half years and Keri’s interview with the SPA Girls for the pieces of what it meant to stick. 

The industry has moved on from the early days of KDP. Reader expectations are higher and author quality has skyrocketed. But despite those facts and my changed perspective, ‘self-publishing’ still has negative connotations. To some people, it means you weren’t good enough for “real” publishing. They don’t care that indies make a heck of a lot more money than the average trad author or that traditional publishers aren’t all that great at pivoting with the shifting market. It’s usually accompanied by a sneer or a pitying look. You know the type. 

Indie Publishing is untarnished in my mind. It conveys a seriousness that ‘self-publishing’ was robbed of before it could really get a foothold. 

To me, the terms Indie Publishing and Indie Author signify the level of work that goes into producing a book and running a business, because make no mistake, this is a business and authors are entrepreneurs. It encompasses the mindset of the authorpreneur working their ass off to intermingle the creative with business planning, marketing and advertising… and on and on our skills go. 

Maybe the stigma I associate with ‘Self-Publishing’ is entirely based on how I used to view it, but one thing’s for sure, I take myself a hell of a lot more seriously when I talk about my writing as an author business or a book business. Because that’s what it is. I front load capital, do market research, have a business plan and forward plan just as you would with any startup. On top of that, I set my release schedules, manage multiple distribution streams and freelancers, optimise ads, craft the product and deliver it. Usually all at the same time. 

That tiny distinction of a word choice holds me accountable. It puts me in the driving seat and allows me to feel some semblance of control over my career. 

So if you need a kick to find your motivation, try referring to your writing as a business for a little while and see if it gives you a lift. 

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