There’s no universal definition of an indie author. Strictly speaking, an indie author simply means an author who’s ‘independent’ of a publishing house.
Indie authors, therefore, always self-publish their work. Confusingly, authors published by small independent publishing houses are not considered indie authors.
However, an indie author isn’t necessarily the same as a self-published writer.
What is the difference between an indie author and a self-publisher?
The Alliance of Independent Authors defines an indie author as:
A writer of fiction, non-fiction or poetry books who self-publishes their own works and retains control of their publishing rights.
Unlike authors who self-publish a book for family, friends or community, an indie author (wants to) make a living from writing and publishing books. They are “indie” because compared to authors who sign an exclusive trade deal with a single trade publisher, or a single self-publishing service, they are relatively independent – the creative director of their own books and their own publishing business.
The Alliance says that an indie author must:
- Have self-published at least one book
- See themselves as the creative director of their books and of their author-business. Although they may well hire other professionals to assist with book production and marketing, they retain creative control.
- Be proud of their “indie” status, and carry that self-respect into all their business ventures.
In summary: a ‘self-publisher’ is any writer who self-publishes one or more book(s), for any reason.
An ‘indie author’, by comparison, must self-publish their books aiming to make a profit. To meet this definition of ‘indie author’, a writer must take their business seriously, aiming to reach as many readers as possible.
What are the advantages of Self-publishing as an Indie author?
Successful indie authors usually keep a higher percentage of royalties. According to Reedsy, Amazon self-publishing royalties range broadly between 50-70%, whereas traditionally published authors gain on average 5-15% of sales.
An indie author has ultimate control over their final published book, retaining its legal rights.
A traditionally published author sells their legal rights over the book to the publishing house, and thus lacks the same level of creative control. Because traditional publishers invest so much money in a book, they tend to be risk-averse, preferring to work with books they believe commercially viable.
This can be a disincentive for authors who want to challenge traditional publishing norms, or write for a niche audience.
Authors who’ve tapped into their core readership may prefer to directly target these readers themselves through advertising.
Since certain niche areas tend to be overlooked by traditional publishers, indie authors who are well-connected to their readers may be in a better position to design and target adverts.
Moreover, a traditionally published author has no control over how much money is invested in the book’s marketing and advertising, whereas an indie author can choose both how much to spend, and where it’s spent – if they possess the resources to do so.
Traditional publishing is a slow process. After a publisher buys a book, it often takes years before the book is available to buy (though independent presses may work to shorter timescales.)
An indie author can, if they choose, often publish more books in less time.
The Disadvantages of Being an Indie Author
More time on the business = less time for writing
All the work falls on the indie author.
That said, most successful indie authors understand that it takes a team to publish a book, and therefore hire independent editors, proof-readers, illustrators, marketing and advertising teams, etc.
However, it’s up to the author to find and manage their team of specialists, bearing all the financial risks of investment.
Fewer industry connections
Unless an indie author is already very well-connected, it’s much harder for them to sell their books to bookshops; to obtain endorsements/reviews from other well-known writers; to find a place for themselves at literary festivals and so on.
Most indie authors will need to invest money in their business, meaning they bear all the potential financial risks if the book doesn’t sell.
Risks of scams
Writers seeking hybrid presses for publication may be at risk of scams from ‘vanity presses’ – supposed hybrid publishers, who will in fact take the writer’s money and legal rights, while providing little or no services in return.
New indie authors should beware these so-called presses – check SFWA’s vanity publisher database carefully to ensure you don’t fall victim.
Conclusion: What is an Indie Author?
There’s no right or wrong choice in terms of traditional or indie publishing: think about your lifestyle, your interests, your writing preferences, and your likely readership when considering which of the two paths you’d prefer to follow.
Being an author – indie or traditional – is hard work, so whether you seek indie or traditional status, you’ll need to ready to persevere and develop certain qualities to succeed.
Article Written by Polly Watt
A former refugee lawyer in the UK, Polly Watt honed her skills working on cases where careful editing often really was a matter of life and death.
As a Fictionary StoryCoach Editor, she will apply the same care and attention to detail to your structural story edit. She’s passionate about stories and loves working on all different types of literary genres.