Traditional vs Indie Publishing – What’s the big deal?

Today I want to talk publishing. This is gonna be a long post, but there is good information in it for readers in the same boat as me. For you authors out there? Well, sorry if I bore you a little today…

As the ‘reader-only’ here on Magical Musings, I know very little about the publishing world. I see a lot of “support indie authors” promotion via blogs, events, companies, etc, out there around the web. My first response is what’s the big deal? Why do we care about how a book is published? I just want to read it! But I think that question shows how little I know. So, instead of remaining ignorant about this whole publishing thing, I thought it might be best to have my questions answered. I reached out to an author that has published over 20 books both with publishing companies and on her own. Our interview is below.

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Let’s start out with some definitions. What is “indie publishing” and “self-publishing” and “traditional publishing”?  And are there any other types of “publishing” I should know about? And are those the correct terms to use?

Traditional publishing refers to the Big 6 publishers: Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, Macmillan, The Penguin Group, and Hachette. Last fall, Random House and Penguin merged, so now there are only 5 major traditional publishers. Within each house is a variety of imprints. For example, HarperCollins boasts 30 book imprints, including Avon and Harlequin.

Digital-first publishers (where the book comes out in ebook format first, then print some months later) are often labeled as traditional publishers, but digital-first publishers are not large conglomerates. They are usually small presses or they are an imprint of a larger publisher.

Self-publishing has multiple definitions. It’s used interchangeably with indie publishing these days, but years ago, it referred to authors who paid a vanity press like AuthorHouse or Xlibris to publish their books. Writers who couldn’t find a traditional publisher willing to contract their book would pay the vanity press to publish it for them.

These days, self-publishing typically refers to authors who don’t pay a company to print their books, but publish their stories at retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble on their own. The retailer takes a small percentage fee from each book sold and the author receives the rest in royalties. If an author wants a print version of a book, they use a service like Createspace.

Indie publishing can refer to authors who publish their own books, but occasionally, people use the term to refer to small presses. Some small presses do both ebooks and print. Some do not do print books, and those are usually referred to as digital-only presses. Small presses are similar to traditional publishers in that they accept submissions and offer contracts.

What about those self-publishers that form their own publishing company? Do those self-publishers become indie publishers?

If the author creates their own company to publish only their books, they can call themselves either. If they’re publishing other authors’ books, they’re referred to as a small press or boutique publisher.

It seems there are a lot of authors that cross over and publish both traditionally and independently. Is there a lot of conflict between those that traditionally publish and those that indie publish to the point that we have to cheer for one and not the other? Or is it that the indie publishers don’t get the same level of support so that is why so many companies and blogs are doing their best to support them?

For many years, anyone who self-published (paid a vanity publisher like Xlibris to get a book published) was looked down on by traditional publishers and many traditionally published authors. There was a real stigma attached to being self-published. When ebooks hit the market, the traditional publishing world (authors, editors, writing organizations) was resistant to say the least. Ebooks were a fad, print would never go out of style, etc, etc. Ebook authors, and the small presses publishing them, were ignored, ridiculed, and considered second-class citizens in the publishing world.  The books were considered to be low-quality (and some were).

Then Amazon opened independent publishing to all authors and the indie/self-publishing revolution began. Readers created new bestsellers, like Amanda Hocking, and more recently, E.L. James – authors who were not published previously with either traditional houses or small presses. Since then, the traditional publishing world has realized ebooks are here to stay and are a growing market. Authors are figuring out they can keep their readers happy and make more money publishing books on their own. Indie/self-publishing allows them complete control, from writing to editing to cover art.

As a reader, aside from the cost and “packaging” of a print book, I personally can’t tell the difference between an indie published book versus a traditionally published. I have read some really great books and some not so great from both types of publishing.  Do you think there are readers out there that are leery of indie published books?  Why do you think that is?

Most readers don’t care who published a book, they simply want a fantastic read at a reasonable price. If a book has poor editing, unengaging characters, plot holes, or other issues, readers may be turned off, regardless of who published it.

There are readers who believed in the early days of indie publishing that books published directly by authors were of lower quality…and some were. Traditional publishing was seen as a “gate-keeper” separating the wheat from the chaff. If a book wasn’t seen as good enough for a large publisher to offer a contract for and put in print, it must be a poor read. What they may not have understood is that publishers had very stringent business models that only allowed so many books in certain genres to be published in a given year, and like the movie industry always looking for the next blockbuster, they started trimming book deals down to a handful of top-selling authors and cutting those authors not raking in the sales. New authors, with no movie deal, popular blog, or huge fan base already built in, were finding it harder and harder to get published the traditional way.

Today, there is less stigma with indie and self-publishing because many traditionally-published authors and first time authors to any kind of publishing are embracing this option and providing the same quality (or better) books. Authors whose books were rejected by the Big 6, possibly for reasons other than quality, have found niche markets neglected by traditional publishing. Authors with unique voices that never fit the traditional model are turning their love of storytelling into successful careers. Prolific authors aren’t hampered by contracts that only allow them to publish once or twice a year. Business-minded authors who love to control cover art, price, and availability, while keeping their readers happy, are building empires.

When people refer to an “Indie Author” do they mean someone who ONLY publishes indie or can that person do a combo of traditional and indie?

It can refer to either. Many authors who are published with a traditional house and are also indie published refer to themselves as “hybrid authors”.

For those readers that have yet to read an author outside the Big 6 (or 5) publishers, why should they give an indie author a try?

Readers have the best of both worlds right now. There are fantastic traditional, indie, and hybrid authors out there. Every genre, every price range, every format. Many indie authors price books at free or 99 cents to entice readers to try their books. Others create boxed sets for a low price. Serious indie authors are prolific, hire fantastic cover artists and qualified editors, just like the traditional publishers and small presses. They’re turning out high-quality, entertaining books and making a lot of readers very happy.

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Well, I sure learned a lot and am glad I asked those questions. Readers, what questions do you have about indie publishing? Authors, for those of you that publish independently, what do you enjoy most about it? 

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6 Responses to Traditional vs Indie Publishing – What’s the big deal?

  1. Edie Ramer says:

    Great explanations! Thanks, Amy and your author. If anyone asks me about about traditional vs indie publishing, I’ll send them here. 🙂

  2. Mary Hughes says:

    Amy, thanks for the explanations! Concise and cover all the bases, including the background history. The publishing scene has changed so quickly in the last ten years. For me, indie publishing has more involvement. I get to pick covers, blurb text, even font type! Very hands-on, and I enjoy it. 🙂

  3. Misty Evans says:

    What a great post, Amy. I enjoyed it. Thank you for taking time to learn more about the publishing world and inform readers!

  4. Terrific post, Amy!!
    There are so many people — both inside the publishing industry and out of it — that don’t realize how much has changed in recent years. You asked excellent questions and your author friend gave wonderful responses to them!! 🙂
    Marilyn Brant`s last blog was …Latest News!

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