Indie Wonderland

New writers may well be confused by the superfine distinctions between self-published, vanity published, e-published and indie published.

I self-published my first book, a non-fiction writing manual, Your Words, Your Story, because I wanted to use it in the classroom as soon as possible. I knew from experience that trying to  traditionally publish a book takes years, so I decided to go it alone. What self-publishing means is that the author pays a printer to print copies of her book. She sets up a small press, buys her own ISBN number, writes a letter to the Library of Congress and later sends copies of books to them so they can be filed along with a jillion other books. Distribution can be a problem, but I had a built-in source–my college bookstore.

Self-publishing was a difficult endeavor, and had I known how much trouble it would be, I might not have done it. I hired out some of the work, formatting, design, cover image. The entire venture cost me about $3000 and I recouped that money quickly. Now I sell the digital form of that book on Kindle for 99 cents, and to my surprise people other than my students buy it.

The difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing is simple. Self-published authors with small presses have a long tradition in literature and are involved in every step of the production of their book. They learn the business end of the publishing industry. They take care that their books are scrupulously edited. Virginia Woolf’s husband set up Hogarth Press  so he could publish his wife’s brilliant but misunderstood novels. Walt Whitman, a poet far ahead of his time, self-published too.

I feel fine about being in such company. I found a printer known for quality work and met with them to discuss everything from the size of my book to the color of the pages (buff is better than white) to the type of print I wanted. Then I hired a skilled professional to format the book to the printers’ specifications. This is not how the Vanity Press folks do it.

Vanity Press companies take out ads in writer’s magazines and promise to do everything for you. Just send your manuscript and they’ll do the rest. What happens here is the writer loses creative control, and at a price far above $3000. More like $10,000 or more. Writers who don’t understand the slim but important distinction between vanity and self-publishing are writers who do not do their homework. Neither vanity writer or vanity press has any interest in editing. To their own detriment, vanity writers don’t want to know about or deal with editing or any of the many other aspects of the publishing end of things.

Now Kindle Digital Platform and other internet sources are making it easy for self-published and vanity authors to upload their books with free distribution at little to no cost. And thus the indie writer was born. Indie books run the gamut from unedited unformatted vanity projects to professional quality books. These indie authors aren’t just for e-readers. They have the option to print their work on demand. (POD). I decided to use KDP for Sister Issues, my first published novel, that fits no mainstream niche (one sister is chick lit the other is women’s fiction). Also because I was familiar with it from my first book.

With Sister Issues, I didn’t bother with the print version; I just wanted to join the band of indies. I still ended up paying someone to format my book, but this time it was for $100, a price well worth the work–because the internal workings of KDP demand certain formatting details if the writer wants an e-book not riddled with mistakes and strange re-arrangements. I found that out the hard way, too, but it’s so easy to “publish” and “unpublish” on KDP that it didn’t cost me respect or readers.

Right now, indie books vary wildly in appearance and content. Some authors, like Terri Giuliano Long, are trying to change what we have: vanity and self-published indie writers along with  traditionally published authors reprinting their back catalogs all duking it out for a spot on the list. It isn’t easy promoting an indie novel, and so far the mainstream press has been wary. As Terri Long notes, this is also changing.

Still there are so many books out there. The serious novelist who doesn’t fit any major publishing parameters finds her work buried under vanity crap and well-known traditionally pubbed authors. This is where we are now and this is what we, the indie authors who care about production and content excellence, are trying to fix.

Something funny happened to me when I indie pubbed. I received a contract for another novel from an e-publisher. These folks have been around for years and their quality of content varies. Anybody can put up an e-pub house on the net. And frankly, most of what sells is very spicy sex to soft core porn like 50 Shades of Gray. Although I love building sexual tension, I’m not fond of what my editor politely termed “consummation” scenes. Still, as an adventure, I decided to try working with an e-publisher as well. They take care of all the things I didn’t like doing on KDP, like providing a book cover, formatting, editing, distribution, and marketing.

The Wild Rose Press is set to release my new novel, The Paris Notebook, July 18, 2012 in both electronic and print versions. It will be interesting to see which novel does better, the indie self-published or the e-published by an online publisher. Right now, it’s anybody’s game.


  1. I agree. It is very hard to get noticed under all the “piles.” I especially find it hard since Amazon decided to do the free 5 day promotion thing for books in their select program. There are so many freebies out there that you may as well place your book in a bottle and throw it in the middle of the sea. It probably has a better chance of being found. The ebook market has opened it up for Indies, but with the promotion of free books all the time, a good percentage of people never actually pay for a book anymore. Which totally defeats the purpose.
    I will have to check back and see whether your book with Wild Rose does better than with KDP.
    Good luck!


  2. Thanks for your interest, Barbara. I will keep you posted on sales figures for both novels:) So far, my indie novel has NOT been selling like hot-cakes.


  3. Thank you so much for this terrific post, Cindy!

    I love that you explain these terms, which are often muddled and confused. In “Sticks & Stones,” I refer to indie authors as both self-published and indie, because many people in the traditional world consider only small houses indie. As you point out, many indie authors own our own small houses and we get involved in all aspects of the business (as do many who publish via KDP, Createspace, etc.). This is an important distinction.

    As more serious, talented writers – like you – come into the field and invest time and energy into producing quality books that rival those published by traditional houses, the stigma faced by indies will go away. In an ideal world, at least in mine, indie and traditional authors would stand together, each group recognizing the other as professional. To some extent, this is already happening.

    I love that you’re publishing your next book with a small online press. It’s wonderful to have so many choices – this is such an exciting time to be a writer!

    I wish you continued success Your Words, Your Story and Sister Issues – as well as great success with The Paris Notebook! Please keep me posted!

    Warmest wishes,



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