What Are Indie Books? (And Other Indie Publishing Anomalies)
by Joe Walters
What does the phrase “indie books” mean?
Weirdly enough, this a complicated question.
Different companies and different people consider an “indie book” different things, almost like the ambiguity of “blurbs.” For an industry so obsessed with words, this makes sense to me. Oh, it needs analysis? Sign some book nerds up!
So I’m throwing this out there…
This is how IBR defines an indie book: “a book that is either self-published or published by an independent press.”
You may ask, “Why not just choose one word for indie press authors and one word for self-published authors? Why use only ‘indie book?’”
There are a TON of similarities between the two types of indie books.
Let’s look at it first from the perspective of a person entering a bookstore.
Maybe it’s Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million, but my vote is for the indie bookstore down the block from you. You walk in and see books on tables and books on shelves, and you want to read them all. (Or I do.)
But did you know that most books in most bookstores come from the same five publishing houses or their imprints?
You might know their names: Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, Harper Collins, and MacMillan. These companies publish books by celebrities, by Stephen King, by Booker Award winners. They use large marketing budgets to sell large amounts of books to their large customer bases. And a lot of the time, they’re excellent books by brilliant authors & experts.
But just because they’re published by these companies doesn’t mean they’re better than the books that are published elsewhere. Just because they’re all over your local bookstore doesn’t mean that they’re the only authors and books worth reading.
Books by indie presses win major awards every single year. These presses publish and promote books that break boundaries, take risks, and change the way we see our world. (I’m looking at you, Braiding Sweetgrass!).
Now, here’s the thing…
Books by self-published authors can be just as or better than traditional publishers. They see this is a business decision–one in which they can launch when they want to, build their brand how they want to, control the output, and receive considerably more in in royalties. There are so many good self-published books out there, with hustling authors pumping out bestselling books.
I guess what I’m really trying to say here is:
Put your trust in indie books.
I’m not telling you to stop reading books by the major publishers. Actually, I’ll tell you to read more of them (because *plot twist* books are awesome). It’s just–you should also make room on your nightstand for impressive indies.
Don’t balk at your purchase when you see “Independently Published” in the Product Description box. Make indies a regular part of your reading habit so that you can see all of the amazing things that authors and presses can do with their limited budgets and unlimited creativity.
My company (IBR, the site you’re on RIGHT NOW) reviews only indie books and curates lists of them. We want to give both types of “indie author” the opportunity for publicity & recognition. We want to shout indie books from the rooftops since the Big Five publishers already have real estate up there.
But before you go scrolling more of our book lists, let’s put to rest some indie publishing anomalies.
What is an indie press exactly?
It is a publishing house that is not connected to the Big Five publishers except in relation to distribution. Indie presses can be as small as one dedicated individual in a basement to full offices of full-time employees. The departments can include editing, marketing, design, legal, accounting, management, etc. An indie press can even have a number of imprints.
What is a small press?
An indie press (just smaller)! A small press may consist of only a few employees and publish a few titles a year, while bigger indies with bigger staffs publish 100+ books a year. Things can also get a little mixed-up with that “small” designator when the books make it big via huge sales and big awards.
What is an indie author?
At IBR, we consider an indie author to be a writer who either self-published their book or got it published by an indie press. Some people choose only to describe self-published authors as indie authors, but I like indie presses & their authors way too much to leave them out of the distinction.
Yes, this means that bestselling authors with major indie presses and wide distribution wear the same “indie author” moniker as a self-published author who has to do most if not all the work themselves. So why put them in the same category?
By going with an independent press, these big-name bestselling authors are still contributing to a break away from the at-times singular vision of the same five companies & their imprints. New minds, idea expansion, risk-taking, groundbreaking–indie authors can sell a ton of books or none; they’re both still indie to us.
What are some more similarities between self-published & indie press authors?
If you publish with an indie press, you may receive services like editing & cover design for free. (If you publish with a vanity indie press, you pay them for the services).
When your book comes out, the press may do some marketing on your book’s behalf too. Maybe they send an email, post it on social media, and pitch for reviews. It benefits them to sell books because they get a portion of the royalty.
But beyond this help from the press, they share almost everything with self-published authors. Many indie presses use Print on Demand services instead of printing large quantities of books at a time.
Like self-published authors, indie press authors are responsible for doing the bulk of the marketing: pitching for reviews & interviews, doing readings, operating email lists, paying for book promotion, etc.
This is hard, time-consuming work—one of the many reasons why I want to make things a bit easier on indie authors with IBR. These humans are out here actual sweating—selling, producing, and writing great books all wiping their brow.
Where can I find & support indie books?
- Independent Book Review! We review only indie books, and we curate our collection by delineating our favorite books (Starred Reviews) and we put together book lists regularly that highlight some of the amazing work being done in the indie publishing community.
- Kindle Unlimited & Scribd! These eBook subscription services are highly utilized by indie authors. Not all of them will be indie published, but if you check out the “Product Information,” they’ll share if the book was independently published or published by an indie press.
- Deal sites like BookBub, BargainBooksy, and Fussy Librarian! If you subscribe to email lists like the ones provided here, you’ll get notifications of free or discount books. And who utilizes this service often? Indie authors!
- Amazon bestseller lists! If you go to specific genre bestseller lists, you’re bound to find indie books scattered throughout. Like I said earlier, indie authors know how to make this thing work. You can find out if the book is indie by clicking on the title and scrolling down to the Product Information section.
- Your local indie bookstore! Maybe! Hopefully! Some indie bookstores respect the struggle AND believe that these books can sell, so they stock indie books. Some bookstores that come to mind are A Novel Idea (Philly), Greenlight Bookstore (NYC), and Powell’s (Portland)!
And…indie book 101 is complete. Thanks for stopping in! Let us know your favorite indie books in the comments below.
About the Author
Joe Walters is the founder and editor-in-chief of Independent Book Review and a book marketing specialist at Sunbury Press. When he’s not doing editorial, promoting, or reviewing work, he’s working on his novel and trusting the process. Find him @joewalters13 on Twitter.
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