Confident Reads: Traditional vs. Independant vs. Indie, a Guest Post by Suzanne van Rooyen

Hello everyone! Confident Reads is a feature I have here each week and is a way to open communication between readers and Indie authors.  This  is to help readers feel confident in the books they spend their money on, and for authors to feel confident in the book they publish.

Today we have something a little different.  I have Suzanne van Rooyen on the blog to talk about the term ‘indie’ and the differences in publishing.  We’ve had a similar post in the past but I think each author has a different way of explaining things.  And Suzanne is published with an ‘indie’ press, which she explains for you all.  I think this is all fascinating stuff and as book bloggers we really should learn the difference in it.  Sometimes these terms are used and can mean different things.  ‘Indie’, being one of those such words. 

Before I hand over the blog to Suzanne I want to mention a few things.  Suzanne gives a word of warning regarding vanity presses, and I want to stress that word of warning to you.  I recently had a friend contact me regarding one.  Her daughter (13 years old) had been on the phone for hours and hours with a lady with a publishing house who was telling her that her book could be published and that they would edit it and everything.  She said they are affiliated with Penguin so that the book would sell well and she totally made things up.  Once the mother got on the phone she started throwing out numbers telling her how much it would cost (thousands) and she said no thank you and hung up.  Then she contacted me and I told her that that was  not a good deal and it sounded like a scam.  I recently learned more about the company and know that they do this regularly.  And not only that, they will continue to charge the credit card for all these extra fees without contacting the person again.  They will also hound you constantly if you don’t agree to a deal.  That is just one of many, and perhaps there are some good ones out there, but I encourage everyone to look into it extensively.

Okay, here’s Suzanne with all the interesting stuff!

What’s in a Name?

The term ‘indie’ has long been used by people in the arts industry to describe a certain go-it-alone attitude that cuts out many of more traditional middlemen of the entertainment industry. This term has been applied to authors as well but tends to leave a wake of confusion.

Today, there are many avenues to publication that an aspiring author can take:

1) The Traditional Route

This typically involves querying those elusive creatures known as literary agents. If the planets align and the universe smiles upon the author, their dream agent will make an offer of representation and the author will thus embark upon submissions to the publishing houses previously known as the Big Six: Macmillan, Hatchette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and now Penguin Random House (following the merger of Random House and Penguin making it the big five, soon to be big four). The agent pitches the author’s book to an editor, the editor loves it, the publishing company pays the author a six-figure advance and the book goes on to become a New York Times best seller – in the perfect world. That’s the traditional route: author – agent – editor – publisher.

2) Independent Route

This avenue involves the author ditching the agent and approaching editors and publishers accepting unagented manuscripts by themselves. This can involve approaching the independent (note, not indie) publishers like Sourcebooks, Chicken House, Baen or Angry Robot. These publishers have similar distribution as the Big Six/five but are not affiliated, associated or in any way owned by those kingpins of the industry. These publishers tend to accept both agented and unagented manuscripts and may pay smaller advances but still invest in marketing for their authors. These books you will find on shelves at your local book store.

3) The Indie Route

A – the first option presented to authors going indie involves approaching small presses of which there is a proliferation given the advent of ebooks. These presses do not charge the author any money for their services and should provide editing services, ISBN acquisition, cover art and distribution services (like getting your book on Amazon and Barnes&Noble) at no cost whatsoever to the author. Some of these indie presses may offer an advance but most do not, offering a percentage of royalties based on sales. Many of these indie publishers work exclusively with ebooks but there are quite a few who do print books as well, although these are less likely to end up in your local bookstore. Most of the marketing post publication is up to the author.

B – self-publishing is the new big thing and is easier than ever for authors who want to manage their entire publishing process. Self-publishing leaves everything up to the author. Most self-published titles are available as both print and ebooks thanks to the innovations of Amazon. Self-publishing is extremely hard work, but the author reaps all the rewards, not having to share their profits with a publisher or agent.

C – vanity presses. These are generally frowned upon. These presses dress up as publishing companies, offering authors too-good-to-be-true publishing deals where the author ends up having to pay the company to publish their book. It’s a general rule for all authors that you should never have to pay anyone anything until you’ve made your first sale when you then share the profits according to your contract with the publisher/agent etc.

So the term ‘indie’ author really only applies to self- and small press published authors although this definition seems to change according to the whims of the industry and is by no means carved in stone. At the moment, I still consider myself an indie author. I’ve never considered self-publishing because a) it’s a lot of hard work b) I wanted guidance from people in the industry c) self-publishing does still carry a certain stigma although that seems to be changing albeit slowly. I went the indie route instead, submitting my manuscripts to small presses. I wanted to take things one step at a time and gradually work my way up the industry ladder as my writing and knowledge of said industry improved. I’m an indie author twice over, with two books published through small presses. In April 2012, I started querying a third manuscript and signed with my agent in August. My book is currently on submission but it remains to be seen where my story eventually ends up – in the hands of an independent or Big Six/five editor.

There are pros and cons to each of these approaches, with neither been that much better than the other. For authors contemplating their options, I can only say find out as much as you can about these various avenues and decide what’s best for you, what’s best for your book and what’s best in terms of career trajectory as a writer. Some very successful writers like Amanda Hocking started out in self-publishing before signing with a traditional publisher, while others have been successful at forging entirely new pathways to publishing like Cory Doctorow. In the end what matters, isn’t how the book is published. What’s important is that you work hard to make your book the very best it can be before you share that story with the world.

Author bio:

Suzanne is a freelance writer and author from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Suzanne is the author of the cyberpunk novel Dragon’s Teeth (Divertir), YA science fiction novel Obscura Burning (Etopia) and has had several short stories published by Golden Visions Magazine, Space and Time and Niteblade. Her non-fiction articles on travel, music and other topics can be found scattered throughout the Internet. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When not writing you can find her teaching dance to ninth graders or playing in the snow with her shiba inu. Suzanne is represented by Jordy Albert of the Booker Albert Agency.

About Obscura Burning:

 The world’s going to end in fire…and it’s all Kyle’s fault.

Kyle Wolfe’s world is about to crash and burn. Just weeks away from graduation, a fire kills Kyle’s two best friends and leaves him permanently scarred. A fire that Kyle accidentally set the night he cheated on his boyfriend Danny with their female friend, Shira. That same day, a strange new planet, Obscura, appears in the sky. And suddenly Kyle’s friends aren’t all that dead anymore.

Each time Kyle goes to sleep, he awakens to two different realities. In one, his boyfriend Danny is still alive, but Shira is dead. In the other, it’s Shira who’s alive…and now they’re friends with benefits. Shifting between realities is slowly killing him, and he’s not the only one dying. The world is dying with him. He’s pretty sure Obscura has something to do with it, but with his parents’ marriage imploding and realities shifting each time he closes his eyes, Kyle has problems enough without being the one in charge of saving the world…

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  1. This was a really interesting and informative post, I think if I was a writer I would definitely want to self publish. So many more options and control than going another way.

    I know there are downsides to both decisions though.

    Great post!

  2. This is such a great post! I think a lot of bloggers (myself included) hear the word “indie” and automatically associate it with self-published and that is clearly not the case at all. I’m keeping this post bookmarked as a reference:)

    Also, the vanity press situation is kind of scary, and I can see how easy it would be to get sucked into what they’re selling. Who doesn’t want to believe that their dream is about to come true? Thanks for the heads up!

  3. Well you learn something new everyday! I had never heard of vanity press and is sounds terrible. I am sure the books produced are sub par as well. More scams. Thanks as always for another informative and wonderful post!

  4. Ali, I think I would self publish too. I don’t think I would be up for deadlines or answering to anyone else.

    Savannah, I know, it’s only been recently that it’s really taken off and more bloggers are willing to give indie or self published books a try.

    Jenny, I know, it IS confusing! And I agree, that for those who don’t know any better vanity publishing might be really attractive to them! They feed on the less knowledgeable, it’s sad.

  5. So much great information here. I don’t know, as scary as it seems to just put yourself out there, but self-pubbed or maybe small press truly seems the way to go.

    The most important thing to take away from this?? OPTIONS

  6. Working with so many indie and self published authors (one and the same here) I already kind of lumped them together. To me they aren’t any different. One has a press name, the other doesn’t. Some of my favorite books are self published, J L Bryan’s two series, Susan Kaye Quinn, D Robert Pease, I could go on and on.
    I would have missed so many amazing stories if these self published authors hadn’t reached out to me. But I know a lot of bloggers see self published and say no way. If they saw the quality of these books, they might change their minds. I hope your post here will change their minds!!

    Great guest post!


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