Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Rose By Any Other Name

by Joelle Charbonneau

Okay. I’m confused. I’m hoping some of you can help me out. This week, I saw a moniker for the first time that made me blink. Maybe it’s been out there for a while and I’m lagging behind the pack. With the impending release, I tend to be less plugged in. (Who am I kidding – I’m always lagging behind, but the release gives me a great excuse so I’m using it.) Anyway, this week, several self-published authors have begun using the term “independently published” to describe their publishing path.

Up front, let me say that I am not against self-publishing. I think every author has to decide what is right for his or her own career and make a choice as to how best to pursue it. Self-publishing has and always will be a viable option. Some argue that the rise of the e-book has made it a better option than traditional publishing. Hey – it might be. It gives authors total control of their books (which freaks me out – because I am not certain I should ever have total control of anything) and the right to set pricing. It also gives authors a way to connect with readers without going through a middleman. If this option feels right to an author, I say go for it.

But the thing I don’t get is the new “indie published” label. Saying a book is indie published doesn’t change that it has been self-published. It’s kind of like saying a duck isn’t a duck if I call it a goose. Changing the name doesn’t change the content. So why do it at all?

I’ve also noticed that some of the authors using this new label are very aggressive in pushing back when someone questions it. They are offended if someone calls them self-published. Why? If you act as your own publisher, you have self-published a book. Why would someone be offended by that term?

The only thing I can come up with is that these authors think that changing “self-published” to “independently published” is going to make people take their work more seriously. Personally, I think the content will do that more than the label. If a book is well-written, well-edited and entertaining, I don't care what you call it. Do you?

So, help me out here. What is the logic that I’m missing behind saying you are independently published versus self-published? What am I missing?


Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with it until they say they're not self-published. Ebooks are a game changer, but let's be blunt here. "Self publishing" means you published it yourself. Even JA Konrath, the Pied Piper of Kindle, calls it that, and he does it.

I think a decade of bad POD practices have left the term with a stigma to the point where even small publishers were called vanity presses.

Bryon Quertermous said...

First, in theory, I don't think it's a bad term. Independent film makers raised the money and produced the films themselves just like self-published authors, and independent musicians put together the money themselves to record an album just like self-published authors do.

The problem is the attitude. Independent filmmakers and musicians, for the most part, invested all of their money in their projects to get them noticed by the major labels and the major studios. Whereas the bulk of self-published authors have a nasty hatred of the major publishers, yet want all of the acceptance, prestige, and benefits that come with being published by a major publisher.

Jay Stringer said...

Bryon makes an important point. McFet has raised the same issue a few times aswell; we have indie filmmakers and indie musicians...why not indie book publishers?

I like that question. But i do see a difference.

A indie band/musician tries out their music. Their editing and criticism process is playing live and getting a sense of what works and what doesn't. There is a honing period to the songs that makes them better.

An indie filmmaker still has to sit in the editing room, often with either a pro-editor or at home with a collague, another eye and ear. After that they need to screen the film, to find distributers and promoters, all of who'm will often have notes on changes to the product.

An indie publisher can sidestep this in many ways, and i think that can be harmful. I can't speak for everyone, but i need my work to get some tough love from my agent and from other trusted eyes. I can't take my book on the road night after night and see which bits work with a live crowd, i can't sit with an experienced editor or promoter.

Taking feedback and criticism is one of the hardest parts of our job. And early on it would be very easy for us to opt to sidestep it and go it alone, straight from our own early drafts.

I'm sure there are some writers out there who can do this, and do it well. But not me.

Dave White said...

Oooooh, I hope the self published people come on out to argue with this... Should be fun to watch.

People who call their books indie published probably think it'll draw to mind "indie bands." You know, the ones that Brooklyn hipsters like?

John McFetridge said...

As an old fogie, I'd just like to point out that there was a time when indie filmmakers and indie musicians were definitely not trying to get noticed by major labels and studios (okay, John Sayles had his one studio movie, Baby, It's You but that was a mistake ;) and plenty of musicians have no desire to be part of the big label machine.

I'm interested in the idea of self-publishing, but I really like the idea that this new technology may make it possible for small presss (like indie labels) to make some money.

Like Joelle, I wouldn't want to go it totally alone.

Clare2e said...

Of course, Konrath now has sales and history plus a sense of humor, so he doesn't need to be hyper-sensitive about what he's called as long as the name's spelled right on the check.

I see the latest rebranding of "independently published" authors as a hope to be viewed as Talented Outsiders Versus the Evil Establishment. That's way cooler than being prejudged as crappy writers, and to publishing professionals, "self-published" has too often, and sometimes unfairly, been shorthand for craptastic. POD came also, too often, to signal deluxe craptaciousness. (Long-suffering blogger POD-dy Mouth didn't find a lot to recommend in the end.)

But while discussing author labels, may I ask about "pre-published?" I genuinely don't get the logic behind using that. It broadcasts the writer's one-sided declaration of an impending relationship with traditional publishing which may or may not ever occur. It's not certain that I'm only "pre-"published any more than I'm only "pre-" Nobel-winning or "pre-" playing Rummy with the Pope. In relation to the Big 6, if that's the general ideal, I might actually be "never-published" and not know it. Why call any attention to that sad state of affairs?

Another take on the pre-published label signifies that, unlike thousands and thousands of others, I simply haven't written the check yet to have the deed done myself. Among one's intimate writer friends, perhaps self-identifying that way stirs up chummy optimism which can be nourishing. But I don't know what listing oneself as "pre-published" online, or as I've seen in bios and even queries, communicates positively to the world-at-large about my writing if the content hasn't (yet) : )

Amy B. said...

Someone who says "independently published" instead of "self-published" is like someone who always says pommes frites instead of french fries: you're saying the same exact thing, you just sound doucheier. When I come across it in queries, it gets a small eyeroll but then I get on with reading. I have nothing at all against people who self-publish, as long as they do it honestly.

Of course, honestly means making it clear that they published it themselves. Many say "this book was independently published" or just "was published" without any hint of "by me." But there is this magical thing called Google which allows me to type in the name of the book and find out who published it. And if/when it turns out to be the author, I get pissy. Someone who lies when trying to start a business partnership with you will probably lie to you later as well, and why would I want to work with someone like that?

Dana King said...

This isn't PC, so I'll understand if I take a beating for it.

Given the stigma that accompanies the term "self-published," I think "independently published" is the sub-published writer's way of trying to stay ahead of the stigma curve. It's not dissimilar to how it's no longer acceptable to say someone is retarded; they're mentally challenged. Or will be until society comes to associate the same attitudes--rightly or wrongly--with "Mentally challenged" as they have with "retarded." Then it will change again. (Similar things have happened with deaf/hearing impaired, blind/visually impaired, and many other physical and racial attributes.) It's an attempt by the group looked down upon to redefine the discussion.

The difference here is not dissimilar to the differences with indie music and films. It's one thing to try to frame the discussion about you when the subject is something over which you have no control. (Mental acuity, physical attribute, race, or sexual orientation); it's something else entirely, and to me, less palatable, when it's to shift the perception of something one has freely chosen to do.

Bryon Quertermous said...

Oh my god I HATE pre-published.

@Amy B has the best wording ever with the douchier remark. Well said

Joelle Charbonneau said...

I agree that the acceptance of the terms indie film and indie music means there should be indie books. But I think if you are changing the name to avoid the stigma, there is a bigger issue to address. A name change isn't going to do it.

And yeah - Amy - you have the best wording ever!

Sarah M. Anderson said...

Amy--How do you feel about freedom fries? ;)

Joelle, great question. Don't feel bad about lagging behind (and you're totally within your rights to blame it on your upcoming release!). I'm apparently lagging so far behind I hadn't even heard the term yet!

Mike Dennis said...

It's just another example, Joelle, of the euphemism hysteria that has gripped a lot of society. In fact, reading your post about it inspired me to write a blog on that topic on my own website. Just click on my name.

Ray Banks said...

I think the term "indie", wherever it's applied, is misleading. Independent film-makers and bands may well raise the money themselves, but they also pretty much rely on established distribution models, don't they? Kevin Smith may have maxed out his cards for CLERKS, but he still needed Miramax to get bums on seats. Therefore he still needed external establishment validation before he got it out there. Same with Rodriguez and EL MARIACHI. Of course, things have moved on from there (much to the Weinsteins' chagrin, I'm sure), but unless a monetised distribution channel comes along that doesn't spring from an established corporation (i.e. Amazon), then the word "indie", regardless of intent, is entirely disingenuous.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Joelle, love your sense of humor and that you're not sure you should ever have total control of anything.

But some do. And those are the people I am coming to respect very much. I am thinking of one woman who has put her stuff out there. She has never, nor will she ever give anyone access to her cover, her content, editing, etc.

She has been approached by agents, and she says go away. I am an independent published author. She may be self-published but I say she's damn independent too and a fantastic marketer and author.

Amy Atwell said...

An interesting conversation. I'm neither self-published nor indie published, so I don't have a strong opinion about one term being right and the other wrong. I don't believe that self-published or indie authors produce bad books. I think bad writing and bad editing make bad books. Frankly, I've seen my share of both bad writing and bad editing in commercially published books.

I think one key argument for the new term is that self published authors used to write their books, pay to have the printed and bound, and then they became the main retailer for their books. Indie authors generally sell digital versions of their books through Amazon and Smashwords. Much like the indie filmmaker needs Miramax, the indie author needs Amazon. The word published is defined as "prepare and issue for public sale." Indie authors are relying on Amazon to "issue" the book, yet Amazon isn't the publisher.

So, that's one potential reason for the evolution of the term. Our language is constantly evolving. What was called electronic publishing a year or so again is now habitually referred to as digital publishing. Gotta keep up with the times.

As for pre-published, I agree it's often misused. I'm not sure, but I may actually qualify as a pre-published author. My book is contracted and in the midst of preparation for release by the publisher. Frankly, I find it much simpler to tell people I'm contracted.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

LOL Amy just said pretty much what I was going to say. That happens a lot. :)

Some authors may use indie to avoid the stigma, but I think most are using it because of the changes that have made it possible for so many more authors to become published, and to find an audience.

The term "e-published" has been so misused, I don't blame publishers and media for using "digitally published" or "digital first" instead. People are STILL misusing it, because e-books have been around for 15 or more years, and e-book does NOT mean self-publishing.

I don't like pre-published, myself, but it came into use among authors struggling to find optimism in a dream-killing business. I can't really blame them for that. :)