Indie Authors – Who IS An Indie Author?

indie author handbookAs my followers know, I have a series on this blog called the Indie Author Handbook.  My goal is to share as much as I can about how to write great books, and how to market those great books.  I believe that the indie author has many unique challenges that those who are or were mainstream published don’t face.  But this brings up an interesting point.  Who is an indie author?  What is the definition of indie author?  Here are my thoughts on what makes a writer an indie author – feel free to disagree with me :).

Indie Authors and The Publishing World

In my opinion, anyone who has been traditionally published (by mainstream publishers of any sort where you have an agent, editor and so on) is not an indie author.  This would include Raymond Benson, Barry Eisler, and others.  And yes, JA Konrath.  I would consider these authors as independently publishing books, but they are not true indie authors (a fine distinction maybe, but one I feel is there).  I have nothing against these individuals but here’s my reasoning for this distinction.

Indie Authors and Name Recognition

People like JA Konrath, Barry Eisler and others have the benefit of name recognition to help with their sales.  And please, don’t tell me this isn’t true.  Let me give you an example.  Konrath published his first ebook, independent of a publisher – did people find it on Amazon?  Of course they did because many people knew the name JA Konrath from seeing his books in stores, seeing him at writing conferences, or they knew about his blog, or met him at a bookstore, and they would type in his name into Amazon, see his legacy books AND the new independently published ebook.  Those readers had no idea that the new book was independently published, they just saw another book by Konrath.  And some of them bought it.  And those sales helped Joe make more sales (it has to do with Amazon rankings and how the books people buy show up as recommendations for other buyers).  Then you have a snowball effect which, in Konrath’s case, has led to phenomenal sales.

Another example.  Renée Pawlish independently published an ebook at the same time (my first book, Nephilim Genesis of Evil, in fact first appeared as a paperback in 2007, the ebook in 2011, but this is an example :)).  She had no legacy publishing deal, no books in stores, no signings, she had not attended any conferences.  Who searched for her?  Nobody, because she didn’t have any name recognition.

Name recognition is a big factor – the readers have no idea about the indie author so the indie author has to work harder to get his/her name out into the book-buying world.  As an aside, there was what I thought was a humorous exchange this last spring on a Facebook page that I belong to, and one author was saying that his books were selling well and he hadn’t done any marketing in order to do this.  Another author jumped on this, pointing out that the first author had been mainstream published and people knew of him, so of course he had sales.  A highly spirited debate ensued.  This topic touches an emotional chord for many authors.

Also, I do realize that many of these authors do a fair amount of their own promotion beyond what their name brings.  But the name does help :).

Indie Authors and The Closed Doors

Indie authors don’t have the same doors open to them as those that have been mainstream published.  We cannot be nominated for an Edgar like Konrath, Eisler et al can, because in order to be considered for the Edgar and other honors bestowed upon authors by many writing organizations, we have to have a mainstream published novel.  Like it or not, if you only have self-published novels, you aren’t considered a true author by many writing organizations (we can debate whether this is fair in another post).  And this means you don’t benefit from what these organizations can offer you.

Indie Authors and Professional Services

Indie authors do not benefit from professional editors, agents, publishers, and others who help them shape their books into quality works.  Yes, we can hire these people, but many indie authors do not, or they hire editors who do a poor job (or they are duped by poorly qualified editors – again a debate for another post).  Someone who’s had a legacy published contract does not have to hire out for these services (unless they choose to independently as an extra step in the process).

Indie authors don’t fight through the publishing system and hear what’s good, bad, marketable and not marketable in their novels.  They don’t hear hey, your book isn’t good enough to be published yet.  And so they don’t know they need to improve.  Conversely, any author who has been through the mainstream publishing process has taken all the critiques and it’s helped them improve their writing (or it should have).

Indie Authors and The Paved Road

How many of you see someone like Colin Hanks (son of Tom Hanks) or Kate Hudson (daughter of Goldie Hawn) and many other children of Hollywood celebrities, and these people are saying I crawled through the ranks, I didn’t have help, etc. etc.  That’s simply not true.  Now I know, many of you will say they still had to audition and learn how to act and more.  All true.  But I’m sure their parents knew what direction to point their kids in, where to go to get an agent, how the system works, who are the best acting coaches and so on.  It’s the same with indie author versus mainstream published author.  I’m not getting invited to writing conferences and seminars, I can’t pick up the phone and ask my agent to get whatever door opened for me (not that the door opens but the clout is there for the possibility), and so on.  I don’t benefit from rubbing elbows with these authors, gleaning writing tips and so on.  There are benefits to being mainstream published.

Indie Authors and Money

All that I’ve written is food for fodder, a debate that I’m sure will continue as more and more people jump into the self-published ebook pool.  To me, the term indie author isn’t about drive and being non-traditional and things like that.  Many mainstream published authors have incredible drive to succeed, many have gotten through the mainstream publishing system and have published cutting-edge books.  Many think outside the box, are innovative, and look for new angles (as do many indie authors).  For lack of a better way of saying it, it’s about how your first book came into the marketplace (are you backed by a corporation or not).

But regardless of what anyone feels the definition of indie author is, or what the impact indie authors are having on publishing, in this day and age there is most likely more money to be made by self-publishing your own works.  However, please note this as this is probably the most important piece of advice you can hear: if you publish something of poor quality, you greatly diminish your chances of getting more readers and/or making money.  Readers are not likely to read one bad book that your wrote and come back for more.  Especially if you’re an indie author.

So, what do you think the definition of indie author is?

Image: pixtawan /

About Renée Pawlish

Award-winning author Renée Pawlish writes the bestselling horror book, Nephilim Genesis of Evil, the Reed Ferguson mystery series, short stories and non-fiction ghost stories.
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13 Responses to Indie Authors – Who IS An Indie Author?

  1. Hi Renee,

    I think that what you’ve written is probably the most concise look at indie vs traditional publishing that I’ve read. Nice work and very well thought out.

    Warm regards,

    • ReneePawlish says:

      Thanks, I appreciate that. I’m sure I’ll get disagreement, and those that will think I’m ripping on JA Konrath, but oh well. If it provokes some thought, I think that’s good. I appreciate your comment and good luck to you.

  2. I would have to say that I agree with you. In my case I’m sure if I knocked on enough doors I could bet a traditional publisher. However, I am very happy with the freedom that independent publishing provides for me. It is not about awards or conferences, it is about getting a good story in the readers hands. If I can do that, then I am a real author despite what some suit in a publishing company thinks.

    • ReneePawlish says:

      Yes, I agree about the freedom. Awards are nice, they can help sales, but I’ve had a ball seeing how much people are enjoying my works. Thanks for your comment.

  3. An overall excellent definition of indie authors. However, I might also add those authors who went tried the mainstream route and got chewed up and spit out along the way. After all, for every Stephen King, there’s probably a thousand authors who managed to get a so-so contract with Random House (or some such) that went absolutely nowhere. Despite being published, these people have no more name recognition than an indie self-pubbing his first book to amazon. Additionally, anything they learned from the experience might have been overshadowed by the negative (ie having their boom cut to ribbons by a professional editor).

    Just a thought. As for myself, I am 100% indie. I dare say for me it’s about not wanting to play the games and the politics. I just want to write entertaining stories and get them out there.

    • ReneePawlish says:

      Rick that’s a good point. It does show that, at least in these days, almost every author has to pound the pavement for sales and recognition. And I agree about the difficulties of game-playing and politics – ugh! Thanks for the comment and good luck to you.

  4. Memoirs Rhonda Johnson says:

    Renee, GREAT BLOG. You spelled everything out clear and full of information. Just to update you I read on Linkedin .com news that a self-published author Alan Sepinwalls received a book review from the New York Times. Yes, Indie authors have to put in the work to get notice. I’m here to make it clear… I believe in my book Memoirs Of An Addict Fact or Fiction and I plan to go the extra mile to self publish it. Thank you for all you insight.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Thanks for your nice compliment and comment – sometimes I think I’m just speaking into cyberspace and no one notices. I had not noticed that about Sepinwalls but will read up on it, that is a definite positive for indie authors.
      Belief in your book is the first step…I wish you all the best with Memoirs Of An Addict.

  5. I consider myself an indie author although all eight of my titles have been traditionally published. Apart from the first title, published in 1980, none of my other books sold much more than about 300 copies, and the majority were to UK libraries. For that reason I consider myself an ‘unknown’ writer. With the e-book revolution I have released all my titles in paperback and Kindle, each of which I have converted to the necessary format myself. I am lucky enough to have a son who does the jackets for me, so no costs there. When I asked my current publisher back in 2007 why my books have never gone into paperback, he told me it was because I wouldn’t make the paperback companies any money. Now I am having to learn about marketing and promotion. I have already achieved more sales as an indie than I ever achieved with my mainstream, London publisher.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      I believe your situation is more the norm – most authors, whether indie or traditionally published, don’t sell well. It’s a grind to sell books, but that’s part of the challenge, right?
      Best of luck to you and thanks for your comment.

  6. Pingback: Both sides of the self publishing coin. |

  7. I have been working on a manuscript for almost three years and plan to finish this year. Indie Author – that is me. I plan to submit to a handful of small presses and agents but I am not going to wait forever for some one to believe in me.
    I believe in me.
    If I get picked up by an agent or a press, great ( maybe ), but I plan to self-publish and put myself out there once I am ready to be read by a customer.
    I am working hard towards making my first impression into the world of books a positive one.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      It’s a tough business, no matter what direction you take, but it can be very rewarding.
      I wish you the best of luck and thanks for your comment.

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