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  • Writer's pictureT.R. Slauf

Indie authors & the stigma surrounding them

What is an indie author?

'Indie' is short for 'Independant' (although I can't help but think of a certain archeologist played by Harrison Ford whenever I hear it).

An Independant Author is an author who has chosen not to go the traditional rout of publishing where you query agents, an agent accepts your novel, then they in turn query the major publishing houses to find one that will accept the novel. Indie authors instead are a sort of free agent, or as I think of myself, a small business owner. We are solely responsible for finding and hiring editors, book cover designers etc. then we publish our novels through book presses such as Barnes & Noble Press, Amazon KDP, Draft 2 Digital, or Ingram Spark.

The next question you may have is: why would someone choose this route over the traditional publishing route?

This is a multifaceted answer and it's different for each author. For many of the authors I know it was decided after learning more about the traditional publishing industry and some of their practices, how they treat agents, how they change the core of the novel to be more popular, how they own you and your work. Or the desire to be well, independent. Personally, I choose this route after learning more about the treatment of literary agents and deciding I wanted to be my own small business.

Now all of this might make it seem like indie publishing is roses and candy canes. That's not true, as with everything in life it has its good side and it's draw-backs.

  • Building and maintaining a platform from nothing is time consuming and daunting while you're trying to spend your energy writing books.

  • Finding a genre appropriate cover artist. I can't tell you how many cover artists I queried who never responded to me. Then I found one I loved, and their covers were over $1,500 USD!

  • Figuring out how to format eBooks and paperbacks. Should you do it yourself or hire it done?

  • You need to teach yourself how to market the book. Many authors don't have any experience in this and are starting from the ground up.

  • And last, finding a reliable editor you can afford. One editor priced my first novel at over $4k ... that happened to be way out of my budget. I paid another editor for developmental and copy edits, to which they only corrected minor grammar errors. (I could go on but that's not the point of this blog!)

Indie publishing hit a boom in the mid-2000's now we are seeing an unprecedented number of novels that are indie published. Per Berrett-Koehler Publishers "According to the latest Bowker data (Publishers Weekly, February 20, 2023), 2.3 million books were self-published in the US in 2021, which was the third year in a row that more than 2 million books were self-published."

That's a LOT of indie books!

So, the question is, if there are so many authors choosing this route, what, and why is there a stigma surrounding indie authors?

The stigma is they are bad.

More specifically, they are not professionally edited is the main complaint and knee-jerk reaction readers have to indie books.

I don't like it, but I get it, I do.

The steps I listed above as hardships for indie publishing are not requirements. The barriers to indie publish at the bare minimum are almost negligible. There's even a whole group of coaches and influencers that have popped up saying you can write and publish a book in a day for easy money. Unfortunately, some indie authors fall into this trap.

Not the trap of writing a publishing a book in a day, but the trap of getting caught up in the excitement of publishing. In their excitement, they skip some steps. VITAL steps. At least, that's the narrative. But how true is it?

This is a very hard percentage to track, and we have to rely on voluntary surveys to get an idea. Per the source and author service platform Written Word Media "In our 2020 author survey, we found that just over 56% percent of indies used professional editors. In 2023, that number is up to 60%.

Indies understand the value of investing in an editing process that is effective."

If we take these numbers at face value, just over half indie authors are professionally edited. (Authors, not number of indie books on the market) To be honest, I wish this number was higher. HOWEVER, the amount of noise surrounding indie books you'd think only 10% of authors were edited.

I say this because almost every indie gets this comment on at least one of their books. If someone doesn't like the novel, they immediately claim it wasn't edited. There are readers, bloggers, and reviewers who are very vocal about refusing to read indie books claiming they are unedited and not good. (If you don't want to read indie, that's fine, but you don't have to be rude about it lol)

"Shout-out to the typos that make it through three rounds of content edits, copyedits, and two rounds of proofreading. I am inspired by your dedication and tenacity." Quote by Tahra Seplowin

Furthermore, a majority of ads targeted to indie authors, whether it be marketing, formatting, social media assistance etc. they all berate indie authors claiming our books aren't edited. After a while it just gets annoying. Afterall I've read traditionally published books with terrible typos. One of them had dollar signs in the middle of a word! Mistakes happen to everyone, even internationally bestselling authors.

Pulling myself out of my author shoes and looking at it from a reader perspective, I get it. I myself have read indie books that were, I hate to say it, objectively bad. If I were not an indie author with access to other authors, that I know are good, I can understand how and why readers would be leery of indie books. Which is unfortunate and sad.

This is a big part of why I've started adding to the bottom of every social media post and book resume I send out that the novel has been professionally edited. Even though I have the editor listed in the beginning of my novels, I still get comments and assumptions about my not being edited because I'm an indie author. I don't mind doing this, but it saddens me that this stigma is so strong and that there are authors still feeding into it.

The community of indie authors blend genres, push boundaries, and discuss taboos because they have the freedom to do so. But there are also authors out there not trying to do those things, who just want to tell their stories while maintaining their business anonymity.

My hopes are this.

First, the stigma surrounding indie books will be slowly diminished over time. The time, effort, and professionalism of the majority of the indie community will pay-off and we will start to be taken more seriously.

Two, the indie authors who are out there not taking the time and care needed to craft a novel for publication will learn from their past and learn from the other examples in the indie community.

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