Indie Versus Traditional Publishing
If you stacked all of the books published in the United States in 2012, end to end, you’d surround a hockey rink with a twenty-six story1 wall (yeah, I’m Canadian).
Fifty seven percent2 of those books were independently (also known as Indie) published.
The proliferation of Indie books has sparked media criticism, with concern expressed over the quantity of poor quality publications and the lack of earning potential for authors.
Some of these concerns are warranted, and though there’s room for improvement, I think Indie publishing advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, for readers and authors alike.
For example, consider the traditional method of publishing.
With the least amount of effort, a publisher must select a book that is most likely to make a profit. In general, the selection criteria is similar to this:
• Did the submitter follow submission instructions? (No, discard)
• Does the genre meet the publisher’s interests? (No, discard)
• Is the query letter professional? (No, discard)
• Does the query letter format meet the publisher’s personal taste? (No, discard)
• Is the first sentence of the manuscript written to a prescribed format? (No, discard)
• Is the first paragraph of the manuscript written to a prescribed format? (No, discard)
A yes to all of these questions and the manuscript may land on a pile for consideration. A no to any and a form rejection letter may be sent, or not.
In general, publishers don't select manuscripts with an open mind for creativity. They select manuscripts through a series of filters designed to weed out books that don’t fit the mold. These filters are created from the ghosts of past market experience.
There’s nothing wrong with this method. It is efficient, and efficiency is critical to select high quality and popular literature from thousands of submissions. Agents and publishers are a dedicated group of people, working hard to find great books for you, and for that they should be applauded.
Now, consider the Indie method of publishing.
• Pour a glass of wine.
• Sit in your comfy chair with a laptop.
• Format your manuscript.
• Upload it and press enter.
Books are not filtered and discarded before they reach the market. As the reader, you get to experience it all and make selections based on your personal reading experience, and most importantly, you do this independently of all other readers.
This is a free market at its finest, and ultimately a free market benefits the end user with greater selection and reduced prices.
Indie publishing benefits writers too. Yes, it is extremely difficult to be noticed within the more than half a million books published each year, and yes, authors make little or no money for their effort. But, at least authors have an opportunity to present their creativity to the reader and receive feedback. In the traditional publishing model the majority of works are discarded with little or no feedback to the author. And how much money will you make from an unpublished book?
However, sifting through hundreds of thousands of Indie books is a daunting task not acceptable to many mainstream readers and there must be a better way to reach them, other than enticing them with free books.
This method would include a process to select high quality literature, trustworthy and independent reader reviews of this literature, and mainstream access to the market.
There are organizations working towards this goal including the Book Readers Appreciation Group (B.R.A.G.) and Awesome Indies, who recognize only the highest quality Indie publications.
I’d like to see these organizations grow. I’d like to see readers purchase books through their websites, and I’d like to see honest and high quality reader reviews of their selected books. As these organizations become an integral part of the retail market, Indie books will be an acceptable alternative for all readers.
In the meantime, Indie authors should ignore the criticism and continue to publish their books with pride, accept feedback with grace, and practice their craft with joy.
1) Assuming a standard trim size of 6 inches wide and 9 inches tall
2) Using data from, The Guardian, October 11, 2013, “Self-publishing boom sees 59% increase in DIY titles”, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/11/self-publishing-boom-increase-diy-titles