Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.


[ Originally posted: July 28th, 2010 ]

Guest Post: The Book Doctor on Self-Publishing vs. Independent Publishing

Q: When you spoke at a conference recently, I heard you refer to self-publishing. Isn’t “independent publishing” the correct term now?

A: Yes and no. An independent publisher is a small publisher that may or may not publish the works of the owner, but it always publishes the works of other authors, as well. When you publish only your own books, you are self-publishing. I know the distinction is vague; in either case you have to set up a company and be a publisher, but an independent publishing house accepts the works of others, as well as the works of the owner.

Also, when you use a firm that helps you publish, so that you don’t have to set up your own company, you are a self-published author, as opposed to a traditionally published author.

In the end, we are simply talking semantics. If you spend any money at all toward the printing of your book, you are self-published. Being self-published used to carry a stigma, and perhaps that’s why some people don’t want to use the term, but the market has changed over the years, and people’s attitudes have changed with it. At a time when selling a book to a traditional publisher is almost impossible, yet printing your own book has become easier than ever, self-publishing has taken on a whole new character and lost much of its prior poor image. Nowadays the only stigma comes from a poorly written or unedited self-published book. If the book looks good, reads well, is thoroughly edited, and sells well, who cares who paid for the printing?

While the words of the Book Doctor remain as true in 2016 as they were in 2010, I’d like to play devil’s advocate for a moment and argue that no, we’re not just “talking semantics” when we talk about the distinction between “independent publishing” and “self-publishing”–and in part I’m inspired by yesterday’s news compendium, or more specifically, Alex Palmer’s “Indie Authors Business Guide” for Publisher’s Weekly.  A self-publishing author who does not run an indie press may or may not choose to pursue becoming a limited liability corporation (LLC), but an independent publisher has no choice in whether or not to run his or her work as a business.  (Besides, passions run hot when it comes to these distinctions, as Judith Briles of AuthorU explains at length.)

And there’s an additional wrench in the works: “independent publishing” is not the same thing as being an “indie author.”  As Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn writes, “The term ‘indie author’ has been increasingly claimed by authors who want a new label, one that does justice to the work involved.”  This isn’t a matter of semantics, but of self-identification and empowerment.

As Penn goes on to point out, the proliferation of publishing platforms and models means that there’s a lot more confusion between the clear-cut definitions that we have relied on in the past, as we did in our 2010 Book Doctor post.  “Indie” could mean someone who publishes online and cuts out the middleman entirely, someone who publishes through an indie press, someone who partners up with other self-publishing authors to create a micro-business, someone who publishes through unpaid digital platforms and relies on sponsorships and donations, and so on and so forth.

One of the things I like best about using the term “indie” is that it takes the heat out of the situation.  There’s a tendency to consider self-publishing the opposing binary or even “enemy” of traditional publishing, but the savvy author knows that it’s less about the inherent components of the model than it is about the people working within that model and how well they serve the author.  Self-publishing may be “friendlier” on the whole to its authors by design, but that does not mean every traditional publishing option is inherently evil or that every hybrid or self-publishing company treats its authors well.  Indie authors take control of their publishing experience by finding the right option and team of professionals for them, without pitching publishing models against each other in some kind of Game of Thrones death match.  Indie authors are entrepreneurs as well as consummate businessfolk, and I respect them so much!

Close up of innovate definition

Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

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