We now have to understand the term independent, or indie publisher slightly differently from what we used to mean by it. The term no longer means just an independently-owned publishing company (i.e. one of those “traditional” book publishing companies not owned by a conglomerate) it’s now also a self-publishing operation, usually, but not necessarily, publishing books by writers other than the owner of the imprint. The picture is complicated a bit by the unambiguous existence near the front of our collective mind of the independent bookstore. In publishing we might cope with this distinction by trying to reserve “indie” for the self-publishing end of the spectrum, and saying “independent” when we are talking about those mid-sized and small publishing companies which are not owned by someone else, but I fear that that horse has already bolted, and we have to keep adding the word “traditional” to publishing when what we mean is a non-self-publishing type of publisher. Thus we have to say something clumsy like an “independent traditional publishing company”, leaving “indie publisher” to mean the supersized self-publishing operation. Henceforth this shall be my practice in this blog.

This nomenclatural collision leads me to reflect on why it is we continue to make the distinction between indie and normal/traditional publishing. I’m not sure I understand in what way Ms Wild, whose indie publishing operation is described in this New York Times article from 2016, is really different from Penguin Random House. Well, of course I know how it’s different — it’s smaller — but in functional terms both operations have to take care of the same things. Is what Ms Wild is doing really any different from what say Bennet Cerf and Donald Klopfer were up to at Random House in 1925? Sure she’s a writer, and I guess that’s perhaps an important distinction, although lots of writers have been involved in publishing, think Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, T. S. Eliot, etc. Since it has now become so much easier for writers to get published — nobody has to wait for some stuffy publisher to agree to facilitate this passage — inevitably some of them will exhibit an entrepreneurial side and ettle to “publish” not just to write, and will accordingly make the decision to self-publish. Ms Wild is obviously smack bang in this group, and has been wildly successful.

On the other hand I do think of the self-publishing business as a different business than traditional publishing. Self-published books are not usually available in bookstores; indeed the entire business model is dependent upon, and owes its existence to, the internet. In a way these sorts of nomenclatural problems are not really real-world problems. If we need to be precise we can always add a few words to make it clear what it is we are actually talking about. Self publishing is a wonderful development. That it can from time to time bud a small publishing company is also wonderful. Let’s just get on with it.

Mike Shatzkin lists five basic things a publisher must do. If you are considering going down the indie route, perhaps you should consider whether you are ready to provide these functions to your authors, or come up with a rationale as to why these steps are unnecessary. Not to be outdone in the busy-work department The Scholarly Kitchen‘s Rick Anderson weighs in with 96 things publisher do. No wonder we always felt far too busy in those independent traditional publishing offices.