Are Independent Authors the New Publishing Paradigm?

In music and movies, it’s always hipper to be indie. It means you have met success without a corporate blessing. It’s the spirit of individualism made manifest. Being indie allows us the freedom to explore, to push boundaries, to not have to worry about whether or not we are addressing a wide enough, all-encompassing audience.  Being indie means that in order to succeed you have to be original, innovative, cutting edge, and at times, controversial.

And finally, that same reputation is moving into the world of publishing. Sadly, this new reputation is still too new to cause massive sales, but indie books are finally gaining respect. With people like Amanda Hocking, Amy Joy, Blake Northcott, and E.L. James seeing respectable sales figures, the old-school publishing industry is taking notice. The independent and self-publishing worlds are now seen as a proving ground, not competition.  We are the minor leagues of publishing; some of us will be called up to majors, but not all. But the question is: do we want to?

The publishing companies do next to nothing to market your book; it’s still up to you. The books stores only have so much shelf space, so if you aren’t an immediate success, it doesn’t matter how awesome your book is, its shelf-life is about as long as fresh fruit. And let’s not forget how long it takes for them to release your work. You may be waiting years to see your book finally hit the shelves and an even longer time before you see any money from it.

Despite this, do we still need that validation, that corporate blessing? I think that it really depends on your goals. Everyone wants validation or appreciation for what they do. No one wants to be seen as unimportant.  Because of this, I’d imagine most indie authors would jump at the chance to sign a contract with a major publishing company. And yet, you really have to ask yourself: is it really in your best interest? If you are already a best-seller, how much more validation do you need?

What if indie became the new publishing paradigm? After all, it allows us to find our audience, publish when the book is ready, and make it available to anyone with internet access. Along with that, the indie reputation is going to continue to improve. Unfortunately, there will always be, as one author put it: “karaoke of literature,” but time will help filter out those who don’t live up to the indie label. Those that get frustrated will give up, leaving the most dedicated, the most creative, the most passionate left to push the publishing industry into a new golden age.

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Avatar of CN James
CN James’ short story The Dark Room won honorable mention in the 78th Annual writer’s Digest Writing Competition for genre short story. He teaches college writing as well as guitar, and enjoys jazz, alternative rock, 80′s cartoons, and stories with monsters. He holds a Master’s Degree in English Education and a Bachelor’s Degree in Music (Jazz Guitar), and has enjoyed success with his first novel, Bone Machine, a second round finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Learn more at cnjamesfiction.com.
Categories: Ebooks, Self Publishing, and The Writing Life.

Comments

  1. Avatar of Allen C.

    Excellent post CN.

    You are correct about the how things changed. Let my add a thought or two to it.
    Today a blog from a nobody (corporately speaking) can have better rating than a TV production. Today the menu is bigger, hence the downside, the share is smaller.
    Not long ago being “sponsored” for whatever kind of production company meant to be one card in the deck, one item in the menu. The menu was short, and it was the sponsors who dictated who was “part of the business” and who was not.
    Nowadays, you don’t need an sponsor to be part of the menu, for being visible. You can put yourself into the business. It’s not easy, not the paradise either, but it’s doable.
    Of course, in my opinion, Indies have learned too much about business too, so… the indie spirit also kinda lost a bit or two in the way, if you know what i mean. Indies are not hippies anymore, indies today are nearer to publishers work than to the hippie ways, in a figure of speech of course.

    So… It looks to me, that the meaning of indie has changed a little be, it’s not just that almost naive unconditional love to the cause anymore. Indies today think a lot about marketing, promotion, communication, etc. When a decade or two ago it was about to artistic connection only, it was about to give the message to the ones who want to hear it.

    Correct if I am wrong, but… I think it was a nice reflection to share. What do you think about it?

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  2. Avatar of Mary Fonvielle

    Good points, Allen. I think being an indie is starting to mean taking full control of your work from all aspects.

    My thoughts:
    I think it’s an exciting time to be an indie author. As a creative writing major hoping to be published one day I always saw publishing companies as the last grand hurdle. When I asked about strategies and advice for seeking publication, many of my professors answered with vague statements that made submissions seem like a complete shot in the dark. The rise of digital self-publishing programs such as KDP are giving authors what I’ve always thought would be a pipe dream: higher royalties, full content and pricing rights, complete freedom of creativity, and no rejection letters. I was more than eager to jump at that opportunity and managed to self-publish my first short book last year before graduating college.

    The downside of course is the credibility factor. A lot of readers are very jaded about indie publications, and with good reason after the influx in self publishing over the past few years. Several of my reviews contain phrases like “good… for an indie book” and “well edited for an indie book” giving the impression that indie works are less valued by readers than their publishing company counterparts. I think on a whole readers have always seen publishing companies as validation: Yes, this book has been through the trials, jumped all the hoops, it must be worth my time. That mental block seems to slowly be breaking down, however, and I hear more and more people say they’re buying their kindles so they can read indie books.

    Because of this I think publishing companies are going to have to start making major changes to cater more to the author, and the first change that I’m seeing is a trend of picking up indies who have gotten popular and working with them to make deals from which everyone can benefit fairly. I’m interested to see how this trend continues and what else publishers will start trying to get indies to stop avoiding the middle man.

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  3. Avatar of Allen C.

    Sure Mary, that sounds the logical way for this industry to evolve.

    I understand the reader’s defensive posture because they are in the middle of the change too. I imagine readers talking as old men, saying things like: Literature? This is not literature, you couldn’t possible compare Tolstoi or Dostoyevsky with this Indie thing or they don’t make the books as they used to.

    But, fortunately there is many that have that itch for discovery and adventure into indie’s books reading, when they find something they like that is very good news for the indie’s collective and viceversa.

    This is a great topic, should be more opinions on the table ….

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    • Avatar of CN James

      What I hope is that once the current self-publishing craze dies down a bit, (with people realizing how tough it actually is, etc) , that we will see less low-quality indie stuff and more of the good stuff so that the indie reputation will swing even further in a positive direction. I am hoping that the “good for an indie book” idea will seem archaic. Look at the movie industry. An indie movie is a good thing, and I think in not too long, indie books will have the same kind of reputation.

  4. oldsoul3333

    Great article. I am an Indie Author/Publisher, and I have to admit I have been very lucky in the response I have had from people – it has been overwhelmingly positive. When they pick up my books (I do POD as well as eBooks, and sell them at fairs) at first they don’t realise they are Indie books, then upon discovering that they are, they are impressed that I have created them myself, from the writing to much of the editing and proofreading (though I do outsource some of that work) to creating the covers and then getting them printed or made into eBooks.
    I also help others to become Indie Authors, some of whom were set on being published traditionally, but have decided to go Indie because it takes publishers too long to get their work out there.
    I love the creative process of seeing a book all the way through to publication, and have decided that I will be a successful author without the aid of a traditional publisher.
    It is hard work, and it does takes a lot of effort, money and determination, but writing is my passion, not just a hobby or a money-making scheme, so I will keep going :)

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