Thursday, June 16, 2011

Help! Another Identity Crisis

I've seen these two terms chucked around, "Indie" and "Traditional." Now, I know these terms are rife with some controversy, since they were (according to interwebs lore) first coined by a shady vanity press in order to glamorize their scam. Yet, regardless of how the categories started, they have been widely adopted in the "writing world" - or, at least, in that corner which I haunt.

I have always understood it to be a matter of scale.

"Traditional" publishers, in my understanding, included the Big Companies - the brick-n-mortar, advance-granting, agent-oriented, paperback-lovin' companies that market/sell internationally and make big bucks, and all those mid-range companies run on this model in hopes of being one of the Big Publishers. We can all name several of these off the top of our heads, no doubt.

"Indie" (short for "independent") publishers, I assumed, included the small scale publishers - micropresses and self-published authors who have a smaller distribution and privately-seeded marketing budget, no agents and no advances, but royalties from sales alone. Largely, these days, this means epublishing.

This week I ran into a handful of blog comments that claimed "indie" doesn't include self-published. But, this sentiment I easily disregarded as indie authors who, foolishly, have bought into the idea that self-published means vanity publishing and terrible quality. These comments were, after all, left on a now-fairly-famous so-so review to which the regrettably deficient self-published author under review left some awful, immature and petty ravings, involving the senseless repetition of expletives. I can see why people were scrambling to distance themselves from her.

However, I then came across something a little more puzzling, and not exactly unique - and from a source I can't so easily dismiss. From a NY Times bestselling author and writer of "how to write" pieces, Bob Mayer, it was hard to ignore. This quote, which was not the gist of his point (just what struck me), is from the June 12th post on his blog Write it Forward:
I use the term indie for one who self-publishes and trad for those who are published via a traditional publishing house. I’ve copyrighted them and you need to pay me any time you use them. Joking.
True, Mayer is clearly expressing his terms as he sees them for the purposes of his post, which is an otherwise considered and useful editorial. Yet, he is not the only person defining these terms this way, and I am confused.

I consider myself an "indie author," though it seems many people do not grant me this category. However, I am not really published through a "traditional" venue, either. So, what the hell am I?

First off, why do I consider myself "indie"? Well, frankly, my publishers thus far have been pretty independent - without a big corporate source of money, no advances, requiring no agents, not having a publishing "house" as such, and focusing largely on ebooks, they seem to me to be small-scale and, therefore, not the same as those commonly recognized as traditional. They are, I believe, independently owned and operated by individual publishing entrepreneurs. I don't even think they have investors beyond their owners/managing editors.

And why am I seemingly not "indie"? Because I do publish through companies not belonging to me that employ editors not controlled by me, and, especially, because I do not "self-publish." I guess. (Insert "head scratching" emoticon here.)

Now, I suspect the easy argument is that these companies could become traditional-scale in time, and that Harper-Collins might have started out as a micropress (I really couldn't tell you if it did or not, actually). Also, more obscurely, the concern might be that these publishers, be they ever so humble, might be creatures similar to the "gatekeepers" that indies dislike so strongly, and that signing with these epubs might be "compromising my artistic vision" in a way that self-pubbed writers don't have to. Finally, I reckon the royalties thing is the kicker - as long as a middle man is getting a cut, I guess (according to some) I am not truly "independent."

Well, colour me confused. I can understand the arguments and points above, but they never occurred to me naturally. I had to ponder them.

But, the point of all this is - Even if I concede that I am not "indie" (which I don't, really), I am left with a dilemma. What am I? In this recurring rhetoric of "indie" vs "traditional"... which am I? Am I an "us" or a "them"? In a greyzone, worthy of the attention of neither?

True, we shouldn't think in those terms of narrow categories, but such is what we have to work with in the seedy underbelly of starving author forums. So, where do I land?

It would just be nice to know.

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