It’s late, and I’m tired, and somehow I blew all my writing motivation for the day after getting 1400 words written in the novel this afternoon (which, all things being said, I don’t mind at all, since novel progress is terribly important), but I’ll throw some word juice at y’all for a bit.

It’s this word “indie.”

You see, it used to have cachet. If you were an indie musician, it meant you were making and distributing your music yourself, either because you hadn’t yet been signed to a label, or because you were giving all labels the finger. If you were an indie publisher, it meant you had looked at the major NYC-based conglomerates and found something lacking there, and decided to fill that niche with your own good taste by curating your own set of books and authors. If you were an indie bookseller, it meant you were either tired of the big box bookstores (many of which aren’t around now) with impersonal service and price slashing, or you wanted to sell books where they weren’t previously being sold, both reasons pointing to a love of community.

If you were an indie author, it typically meant that you purposefully eschewed the major NYC-based conglomerates and either went through an indie publisher, or you got in there, did the hard job, and published your own work. If you were smart enough to avoid the vanity presses, it also usually meant having boxes of your own books stuffed in your closet, to be hauled out at book fairs or meet-the-author sessions, or what have you, and you were doubly motivated to sell those suckers, firstly because you were proud of your writing, and secondly because they were expensive to produce and you wanted to recoup some of your costs.

And as you sat there looking at the boxes and boxes of printed paper with stories you wrote down from your own head inscribed on them in ink or toner, you might have wondered why they weren’t selling so well. Maybe it was because you skimped on the cover art and snagged a public domain piece that didn’t really fit. Maybe it was because you couldn’t be bothered to find someone to edit the text, because who really cares about typos anyway? Maybe it was throwing together the internal design because you figured people just want the text and it doesn’t matter how it’s presented. But then, as you sat there, you maybe started thinking that those things are important, that maybe you should improve the quality of your books next time. Maybe then, the next book might sell better, although it may not.

But now, “indie,” at least in terms of referring to writers, has come to mean anyone with Microsoft Word who feels the urge to vomit a sludgy trail of words, and then slap it up onto the Internets for sale. Creating e-books has never been easier (I went through Smashwords for Red Dot Irreal, because of their quality control, their automatic format conversion, and their distribution to multiple outlets, but it’s just as easy to go through B&N’s PubIt program, or Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program), and because of this, the online stores have gotten flooded with e-books that look as if a lower-than-average third grader had put them together.

And because of this, “indie” has now lots its cachet, its sense of cool rebellion. Now “indie” = “anyone,” which has completely sucked all meaning out of the term.

I am proud to be an independent author, but I have only self-published twice in my career. In 2003, Janet and I put together Four Seasons in One Day, and the main reasons to do so were to showcase both of us and to get in a “trial run” (so to speak) on forming our own indie press. Every other one of my publications has been published by someone else (most of the pieces in 4Si1D were also reprinted, by the way). (I’m not counting The Curragh of Kildaire here, as I never intended to sell it, but yes, if you want to get pedantic, that was self-published too.) Even the ebook of Red Dot Irreal went through a rigorous editing process with Kenny and Karen at Math Paper Press first, and it wasn’t until the final print version was ready that I felt comfortable converting it to digital.

So please, can I ask for some common sense, and ask folks to stop using “indie” when you mean “self-published”? The terms are not interchangeable, not even semantically similar. My blood pressure thanks you in advance.



Filed under Publishing, Red Dot Irreal, Writing

2 responses to ““Indie”

  1. Merlyn Sng

    Hi Jason. Loved your rant on the term ‘indie’. Just wondering what your thoughts are on the times when ‘indie’ becomes ‘mass’ the way it progressed with rock music.

    • Isn’t that what’s happened here? Because anyone can self-publish their e-books, anyone is now “indie”; the term could easily be switched for “mass” in this case, as it’s pretty much worthless now.

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