Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Equation Occasion - What

The What Installment of 
(W5+ H) x (IP ÷ RMs)
The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of Indie Publishing - R McCormack Style

This week I welcome W2, also known as What, the next variable in our Indie publishing equation.  Many of you may be surprised to learn that our generation of writers isn’t the first to ask what self-publishing is all about.  And book publishing isn’t the only industry with an independent component. 

When musicians independently publish, they “self-release” a recording.  This has been done by some well-known bands, both as downloadable music and in CD form.  We also see this happening with the rise of small businesses and local restaurants, who offer us a more unique product than big corporate entities. 

As for books, artists (of all kinds) and illustrators use self-pubbing to create art narratives, portfolios, graphic novels, and coffee table books.  And when it comes to fiction, you may again be surprised to know many best-selling and recognizable authors have self-published.  Most might think of Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’m talking about novels like Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts and JK Rowling’s eBook versions of Harry Potter.  And if we go way back and look at the early favorites and masters, we’ll see a long list of authors who, due to timing and circumstance, never blinked an eye at producing and marketing their own work.  These include Dickinson, Whitman, Austen, Twain, and more.

Of course, these Creatives had many resources at their disposal.  For the early authors, once they gained readership, I doubt they were hunched over a table with ink-stained hands, pressing lettered stamps on homemade paper to create their books.  These folks had connections.  And for those successful authors who came later, they had connections, but also an incredible amount of industry knowledge and/or funds to create their Indie publishing platforms.

One thing is for sure, the publishing industry is changing at a rapid pace and we must ask: 

What is Indie Publishing now?

Today, in simple terms, Independent or Indie publishing is when one (or a few) author-publishers self-publish a title.  The term Indie publisher used to refer to small presses that were not aligned with one of the Big Six publishing houses.  An author who ends up at one of these small presses will receive many of the same services one would get from the corporate houses because these smaller, niche publishers are part of the traditional publishing market, putting out about ten titles a year.  These presses are not printers or vanity presses.  Those who go with a printer or a vanity press pay those entities to print books for them.  Now, before we move on to how these terms have evolved, here’s one other label to toss out there: boutique press or house. 

Boutique is one of those terms to be careful with.  Small presses, printers, and vanity presses can all call themselves “boutique”.  Most do this to indicate that they deal with unique titles, but some printers and vanity presses assume this branding in order to disguise their status.  There have been many a writer/author who was lured into paying for their printed book when they thought the press was covering those costs. 

So, leaving boutique out of it, how do all these other terms fit into today’s marketplace?

Small press is still the term for, you guessed it, small presses, and those do not fall under the self-publishing umbrella.  As for printer and vanity press, those have mostly been absorbed into the bigger term self-publishing, but we still hear them used.  Indie publishing is the one term that seems to be in a state of flux.  It could still describe a small press, but with the advent of eBooks and print-on-demand (POD), a small press could be one gal or guy with a computer.  In addition, with the economic recession, the Big Six have reduced the amount of titles they publish, and with individuals doing more and the Big Six doing less, the small presses find themselves with space to take on more work.  As these small presses grow, they shed their Independent Publisher designation, which, remember, originally put them at around ten published books a year.

Now, let’s make one other important distinction.  Most self-published authors aren’t using printers or vanity presses anymore because they can use the eBook and POD markets (defined in moment).  This, my friends, is where Indie publishing breaks away from the self-publishing model.  As an offshoot, Indie publishing holds the basic tenets of its parent-template, but the difference lies in who it attracts.  Remember our Who Am I questions from last week?  Here’s how we add it all up:

The Indie published author is one who accepts the same responsibilities and quality level of a small press while maintaining their individual status and self-publishing a book.

So really, what is Indie publishing?

All this talk about responsibility and quality may sound a bit snooty and even, well, vague, as it can be difficult to define what it means to be accountable to standards.  What we really need to know is, what does Indie publishing look like?

In my own research, I’ve found that as self-published authors move more and more toward certain standards, it begins to look more like the Indie film community when they transitioned away from the “low budget film” tag.  In that transition, the unique voices, ideas, artistic expression, and niche topics were elevated by improved technology and…dedication to craft.  And that’s what Indie publishing is becoming.

Now, some would claim to have authority over evaluating levels of excellence, but the truth in Indie publishing is that you’re asked to be your own judge and jury.  A good litmus test is to compare your ideas of quality to an author or book that you love and are willing to give your personal stamp of approval.  You can also go to agency or publishing house websites and view catalogues to see how they present what they’ve deemed quality work.  You’ll want to do this with your marketing ideas, too.  Look around at promotions and campaigns that you admire.  As you assemble your criterion for a job well done, you’ll start to understand what self-publishing means to you.

The truth is that all of self-publishing is about artistic freedom.  We're seeing traditionally published authors creating projects just for this market, and we're seeing self-published authors willing to cross over and publish traditionally.  It's a craft bonanza, and writers, illustrators, and even industry professionals are feeling empowered by the creative possibilities.

The other truth to self-publishing is that in choosing this route, you will affect your reputation.  But you get decide if the affect is positive or negative.  Look, the stigma attached to self-publishing has always been about one question:  Is it well-crafted?  In the beginning, when folks had a vision to see their words in print, but were turned down in the traditional marketplace, few knew (or accepted) the value of critique, editing, formatting, or design.  There was a level of professionalism missing from many of the self-published titles.  I’m not willing to squash the creative expression behind any self-published title, and those not-so-professional books did pave the way for more knowledge and better printing options.  Lots of early self-published authors were pioneers, and on their backs the self-publishing marketplace was carried, becoming what it is today.  And the evolution continues…with more refined and polished works making up the Indie publishing movement. 

What’s all the fuss about?

Okay, okay, you get the point.  Quality matters in Indie publishing.  But what are the basics?  The need-to-knows?

As I mentioned last week, with all self-publishing, you create the material for the interior—whether words or art or both.  You also design or get help designing a full cover, as well as the front and back matter inside the book.  This includes the copyright, acknowledgements, and bio pages.  You then choose a printer, vanity press, eBook, and/or POD publisher.  If you only have a printed form of your book as the original and aren’t familiar with computers, you would need to go to a printer or vanity press.  These choices will cost you money up front, and eBook and POD are free.  Yes, free.  The companies listed below allow you to upload your content for free, and charge only a small percentage when you sell a book.  These days, it makes sense (cents) to become savvy and work within the online publishing world.

Still, there are artists who prefer to work with printers or vanity presses due to the way they create their visual art.  These kinds of books are extremely personal and stylized, and the quality rests on how their hardcopy art is scanned and put into print.  If you want to take a 30x36 original on canvas into printed form, but you don’t have a large enough home scanner, you could either use a printer or have it professionally scanned and adapted to a usable computer file.  This would allow you to use all the online services below.

The online publishing world is made up of groups like KDP for Kindle, Pub It for Nook, and Smashwords for Mac and Sony eReaders (though Smashwords and Kindle have apps and links for almost all reading devices, including smartphones and desktop computers).  POD publishing is a growing industry, but I used CreateSpace by Amazon.  Lulu is another popular site.  Print-on-demand means that your book isn’t printed until someone orders it.  In all these cases, you upload your interior and book cover files directly to the individual sites.  We’ll chat more about this process later in our equation.  For now, just know that this is the basic What of self-publishing, and there’s actually not much fuss with this process beyond learning curves and patience.  Oh, and knowing When it’s the right choice for you.  Check back next week for the W to the third power.

What?  You'd like more information?

Check the links in the left column under Helpful Places.  And to see more about my self-publishing journey, read my interview in Heidi Horchler's author series at Chroi and Me.


  1. Holy cow that's a ton of info! The publishing landscape is vast and can be tricky! Thanks for breaking it down for us. For your readers who may be wondering about the Big Six, and the hierarchy of publishing houses, I found this blog post:

    I think it's important for writers to know that they CAN do this on their own, and do it WELL, as you have, without having to pay a "Vanity press." I have heard so many nightmare stories from writers who were misguided by these supposed publishers, only to end up with boxes of books in their garage and no way to market or sell them.

    Your series is a great way for people to learn the right way to indie publishing. Thanks so much for sharing all you've learned.

  2. Thank you for this additional link, Heidi. Very helpful. I'm glad to share all this...though I'm still learning myself. It is an exciting time, whatever the case.