How Indie is Indie?

Late last year I was at Page One, one of the few remaining local independent bookstores in Albuquerque. The other is Bookworks. Both are great places and are generally much more pleasant to hang out in than any of the bigger corporate joints. Anyway, when we were at Page One there was a small spot in the back where some local indie authors were doing a little meet and greet. It was quiet, so I went up to say hello and meet some of the other Albuquerque authors.

So, what was the first thing they ask me? “Who are you published with?”

When I told them I self-published my three they got that look. You know, the one that says, “So, you’re not good enough to get published?”

I shook hands, nodded and smiled, and moved on to see what else the store had to offer.

The whole interaction got me wondering, though. These guys had publishers, editors, book designers, book formatters, and so on. Granted, they were published through a small press, but they had actual publishers and people who, ostensibly, were there to help them out. If their publishers were anything like the other publishers I’ve heard about, the authors had to give up rights to their books and get a pittance from each sale, but they had a larger support structure than I did when I started out.

How exactly is that independent again? If we say you’re an indie author because you’re with a small press, then independence is simply a matter of scale. The difference between publishing through Hachette and a local publisher is just that the publisher is larger and you get even less of a pittance from each sale.

And in return, you get to look down on people who decided to publish on their own.

Does that mean that their work was any better or worse than anything self-pubbed? No, not necessarily. Certainly there’s a ton of crap being self-published these days, but there’s also a bunch of crap coming out of traditional publishers both large and small. Where the publishing happens is largely a matter of choice and has no real impact on the quality of the work. As a buddy of mine says, “Crap abounds.”

Publishing is an interesting world these days. It used to be you had to get a rep, send a manuscript around, and tack rejection notices up on your wall while you drank scotch and hammered out the next great American novel. Now, I can pretty much guarantee you there’s someone out there that will happily publish your book, but that acceptance letter will probably come through a small publisher. Don’t expect much in the way of an advance or help with marketing, though. Unless you’re Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, you’re pretty much on your own making sales. Fortunately for King and Rowling, they’re both excellent authors with a long history, so marketing their books can consist of “New Stephen King novel coming in a few months. We’ve already deducted the cost from your checking account and you can expect the book on your Kindle when it comes out.”

Does all this mean I look down on people who went through publishers? Not at all. I respect the gumption to get out there and wade through the Byzantine maze of publishers and find someone they can work with. That takes a lot of patience and more wherewithal than I can usually muster. And traditional publishers offer some intangible benefits that self-publishing does not. A lot of book awards won’t even look at self-published books. Ditto for a bunch of the bigger book review blogs. Another benefit is you can look down your nose at self-published authors.

Self-published people, on the other hand, get the benefit of keeping the rights to their own works and generally get larger royalties. The downside is you don’t have the resources of a publisher to help you out.

Which means you are well and truly on your own with self-published works. You make the call about how it gets edited, designed, and marketed. Fortunately, there’s an entire cottage industry out there doing cover design, ebook formatting, print book formatting, editing, and so on. In fact, if you need covers or formatting, drop me a line. I’m good and I work pretty cheap. If you take a quick look at the bottom of this post, there are some links to people who can help you format your book, design your cover, provide editing and proofreading services and so on.

In both cases, self-published and traditionally published authors are usually on the hook for their own marketing and that’s the thing that’s truly brutal. You may think pouring your life into a book for a year is rough. Wait until you have to get people to read it.

In case this was a tl;dr moment, to sum up:

There are pluses and minuses to self-publishing or going through traditional publishing routes. Traditionally published authors get more resources, better awards, and also get the ability to look down on self-published authors. Self-published authors get to keep the rights to their own works and usually get better royalties. Both are valid ways forward because when you’re writing the only important thing is someone out there is reading.

In the end, it’s your choice to determine just how indie you want to be. I write, format my own books, and design my own covers. Others are quite content to farm out some of that work. It’s up to you and no one else.

So, either way, if you’re just starting out and are looking for some resources, here are some folks I know that might be able to help you on your way.



Kelly Hartigan

Kim Huther

Michelle Dunbar (email)

Cover Design

Sharon Brownlie

Eric Lahti

Melanie Smith (sells photography, can be used for cover art)

eBook Formatting

Eric Lahti

Print Formatting

Eric Lahti


Melanie Smith

You can also try to send me a review request for this blog.

If you know of anyone who should be added to this list, leave a comment with his or her contact information. At some point in the near future, Ian D. Moore of is going to make a more permanent version of this list.

10 thoughts on “How Indie is Indie?

  1. Hi Eric, thanks for a great blog post. Yes, just like you, I like to do everything myself. I believe that is the true meaning of independent. Editing, cover design, formatting, the works, it all gets done by me. (Yes I do have a computer background) Normally the first person who gets to set eyes on my work is the first reader who buys it. That’s the way I like it because I believe art is very personal so I prefer not to have my art diluted by other people’s opinions (i.e. Beta readers). And as for the rights to my books, I spell rights like this: Mine. (Lol) I won’t sign away any percentage of my rights for any perceived advantage.
    As for how this is working out for me, my books are selling well enough that I can write full time. I get out of bed when I want, and write. Or if I don’t feel like writing I have a fun day. I guess I’m living my dream, and I am proudly, passionately indie.

    • Hi Niki. Good to know your sales are to the point where you can work full time – that’s the dream I’m chasing. I do send my books to beta readers and proofreaders, but I do my own covers and formatting. So far, I’m pleased. There’s always that niggling little thing in my head that says I should look for a publisher for something at some point, but so far I haven’t found enough reason to sign away the rights to my books.

    • Any time, Sharon. Over the years, I’ve picked up on these little things that would have been nice to know when I started out. One of these days I should compile it all into a book for beginners. 🙂

  2. The benefits to self-publishing definitely outweigh the benefits to publishing with a small, inept firm. That’s a whole post I’ll refrain from writing while I continue to depend on a small, inept firm.

  3. This is a great post. It is interesting to hear your experience with a subset of indie authors. I think some of it is about what you value too. I would never let someone else do my audio. It’s so important to me (and I think I’m pretty good at it, I hope). But I know some authors just do audio as a mere afterthought, they don’t market or talk about, heck some don’t even listen to it. Eep! I feel a little like that about covers. I like a good cover, but I’m not sure how to make it or where to get to one or any of those other things.

    I think outsourcing the things that you don’t have the skills in or that you don’t enjoy makes sense.

    But I read a lot of blogs that make me feel so very very tiny because I don’t X. I don’t have an agent, I don’t have a Publisher, I don’t pay thousands for an editor, I don’t pay for beta readers, I don’t pay to have original photos taken for cover. But I do shell out for good audio gear to get a good quality sound.

    Not sure what that all means. But it is nice to read this and not feel tiny. So thank you.

    • You’re the one writing, that’s the big part. Everything else is just details, so don’t feel tiny about anything. I only do my covers and formatting because I enjoy doing them.

  4. As always, words of wisdom. The world of the indie writer is a hard one, but so is the world of a traditional author. I think you sum up the points very nicely. Unfortunately the publishing world is as clear as mud and stable as jello right now. And there is little any of us are going to do to change that situation. Still, the best advice I’ve ever gotten is to stick with people who can help you and you can help them as well. The world of the indie author is, thankfully, not a lonely one. And that is what keeps me going … keystroke after keystroke. I am honored to know you and everyone in this big crazy world!

    • That was the thing that kind of blew me away. There are so many groups out there that see other authors not as competition, but as compatriots. And, amazingly, the more experienced authors are usually happy to help.

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