Independent publishing doesn't mean what it used to. When I started in publishing in 2000, indie publishers were simply non-corporate, or independently owned. The label was reserved for small traditional presses that wore the indie label with pride because of what “indie” signifies, then and now—a spirit of independence, of course, but also of not needing approval or to operate within the parameters of the existing paradigm.
But we’ve entered a new era of publishing since 2000, and today when people talk about “indie” authors, they’re talking not about authors published on small presses but about a thriving movement of self-published authors who are green-lighting their own work and riding the wave of a movement that’s far from peaking.
That traditional small presses are unhappy about the appropriation of their term is beside the point—this new understanding of indie authorship is already the new normal. And the indie movement is gaining strength as already established authors self-publish their projects, whether because they’re being shut out of an industry that once welcomed them, or because a given book they want to publish can’t find a home, or because they want more creative control.
Self-published authors have been working for years to improve their own standards, and the results are impressive. Self-financed authors are making good money, winning awards, and cutting traditional deals, sometimes opting to become “hybrid” authors, meaning they publish traditionally and non-traditionally by choice.
Self-publishing still carries some stigma, largely for two reasons: (1) because anyone can publish a book, and people who don’t care about standards do—and often; and (2) because the industry itself—steeped in tradition and invested in retaining the status quo—actively resists implementing changes that might truly level the playing field for indie authors.
The spirit of indie prides itself of not needing to be validated by a higher authority. But most indie authors do understand how critical traditional standards are, and as legacy publishers continue to consolidate—and to make acquisitions decisions based on author brand and platform rather than a book’s merit—we are going to witness more indie authors choosing to publish independently, and expecting to be equally and fairly judged for their work.
We have a ways to go, but the new indie is here to stay, and only getting stronger, both in terms of numbers and authority. If the past 16 years are any indicator of what’s to come, we better hold on. We’re in the middle of a sea change, and indie authors and publishers are not only forging new territory, they’re leading the way.
is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book (June 2016) and What's Your Book?. This is the first installment to a new monthly column she is writing.