Are Indie Published Authors Really “Published” Authors?

There used to be a perception years ago that a writer who made use of self-publishing services was not a published “proper” author. In fact, back in the day, such authors who paid for publishing services were dismissed and criticized (often harshly) as ‘pretenders’ and wannabes, and the presses that offered such services were laughed off as ‘vanity press’ publishers.

But what about today? 

Times have changed however, and so has the industry as a whole. These days, everybody seems to have a book or two in them – and with the advance of desktop publishing since the early 1990’s, which allowed the ordinary public access to typing, editing facilities on their home or office computers, coupled with the simultaneous rise of the internet and e-commerce – the number of writers looking for a publisher to take them on suddenly exploded beyond the capacity of traditional publishers who used to accept a handful of new manuscripts per year.

The frustration of writers vying for a chance to get a foot in the door at ANY publisher resulted in a definite need for someone to do something! And someone did.

Fast forward to today, where online publishing companies like offer complete packages, including editing, cover design, formatting and marketing services to writers – not just a select few that have been solicited by a traditional publisher, but to anyone who is interested. ANYONE. That’s right, anyone can create a user account on Lulu and upload their content, and as long as it meets their standards as well as the standards of their distribution partners (Amazon, Barnes & Noble etc and numerous others), they can earn royalties from sales of paperback or ebook format sales. Some companies in this field may charge for this service, but it is free on Lulu, and they only charge for services if you get stuck, say with a cover design, editing or formatting – or to market your stuff for you.

Yes, that means you can do it all yourself – if you are multi-skilled and capable, for free!

Nevertheless, some people – very few – still seem to harbor the idea that indie-publishing isn’t ‘real publishing’.

I’ve actually had that chucked in my face a few times – once even by an author with a so-called ‘traditional publisher’, who seemed to think that being beholden to a company that treats you like an employee means he could fart strawberry scented rainbows.

I’ve also been with a traditional publisher, and let me tell you – being indie is better. Why? Because I have COMPLETE creative control. There are no arguments or lengthy justifications with any editor for why I spelled a word or name differently in a sci-fi story because I decided it works in that context. No arguing with any faceless bodies behind an email address about what I want on a cover and whether or not it suits company policy. No having to email managerial staff with queries, who condescend to reply to me a week later if or when they feel like it or tell me not to contact the CEO directly. No wondering what my sales were for the past 6 months, or if I’m getting stiffed in the royalty department.

But does self-publishing (these days commonly called ‘indie publishing’) qualify a writer to call themselves ‘published’? Back in the day, some – especially traditional publishers – would have flipped their wrists at the person asking, and loudly guffawed “No! Of course not!”

Today however, even these slow, staid, paisley pajamas and bunny-slipper-wearing dinosaurs have been forced to join the information revolution, and to also offer such services – but at a formidable price.

That’s right, they have entered the ‘vanity press’ market! For a sizable sum of money (amplified if you consider an exchange rate of Rands into Dollars) you could get your manuscript professionally edited, formatted, covered and printed by some big names in the traditional publishing community – under some quaintly named “imprints” of course. And oh, marketing and distribution – that’s an extra, and they will drop a box of 100 “free” copies on you and wish you luck with peddling them door to door. But why? When you could just do it yourself and publish your book FREE via Lulu – only paying IF you need anything – and sell them globally?

In addition, the revolution in publishing has resulted in the appearance of small indie publishers who offer their own services to writers, and publish as traditional publishers on a small scale via outlets such as Lulu or Create Space. If these publishers don’t offer some kind of definite, distinct marketing service though (paid or not) – you’re really better off just doing it by yourself direct.

The answer to the question lies in the submission guidelines most publishers seem to share these days when requesting submissions. Many requests for submissions stipulate that self-published manuscripts will not be considered because they are considered already published.

That’s right – the average guideline for new submissions is: if your manuscript – be it a short story, novel or poem – has been self-published, it has still been published. That pretty much settles any would-be argument.

What about quality? Aren’t books published by “traditional publishers” better. Not necessarily. Traditional publishers are less likely to distribute a book that is either inflammatory (or defamatory) or that is filled with errors both factual and grammatical than an indie author who does it all themselves – but in terms of actual print or ebook quality, both typically have similar quality control systems in place. Further, accidents do happen – which is why there are different editions or impressions of the same book over time, and it isn’t always because of updates or changes in information. Also, since a writer’s reputation rides on the quality of the product, you can bet that a failure to edit out typos, plot-holes or grammar and spelling mistakes before publishing a book is going to result in readers posting about their disappointment very early on. It will hurt the writer’s reputation (and the publisher’s too).

If people were to put out a ton of garbage with poor grammar, loads of typos and spelling mistakes, or their book arrived in the mail with stacks of printing errors or blank pages, poorly printed or designed covers, readers would just say “Well, this is rubbish, I won’t buy that again!” and it would reflect in the ratings on the site where you bought it and in the complaints to the companies facilitating the self-publishing industry. Nobody is perfect of course, and so over all there may even be one or two little typo’s here and there that have slipped through – just as you might find just with any book from a traditional publisher.

This should bring to your attention the different responsibilities between the publisher and the author – in traditional publishing, the publisher is responsible for the physical quality of the book (editing, formatting, trim size, materials, and cover design etc) and the author is responsible for the content (i.e. WHAT the book is actually saying). In indie publishing, the facilitator is responsible for the quality of the physical book (stitching or binding, print quality, and seeing to it that the author’s input meets market guidelines so that it can be distributed etc) while the creator (author) remains responsible for everything else!

This is why all manuscripts and projects submitted via need to pass a string of quality assurance tests before they appear on distribution networks like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo etc. Indie publishing doesn’t necessarily mean poor or inferior quality products, or inferior content. In fact, it brings entertainment or content to you that you would otherwise likely never have seen!

Lastly, people who buy books don’t seem to really care who the publisher is. It’s the book they are after – the story or the characters, or the reputation of the author being a good storyteller.

Indie publishing is still publishing. The industry – and the market – say so.

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