Indie Publishing versus Self-publishing

The terms “Independent publishers” and “indie publishers” were until recently associated with small presses, to identify them as separate from larger, traditional book publishers. Over time, authors who wanted to maintain complete creative control over their books began to create their own small presses, which really only involves starting a business and little else. Being a small press or an independent book publisher does not mean having a printing press in your basement! The rising popularity and ease of access to print-on-demand (POD) through IngramSpark and CreateSpace has served to increase the number of indie publishers.

As authors moved towards circumventing traditional publishers or small presses who required that a book be accepted in order to be published in return for payment (one hopes), we saw the advent of vanity presses and assorted publishing opportunists. These companies masquerade as traditional publishers by having authors go through an elaborate process to make them think or at least feel as if they are being accepted to be published. Typically the author pays to have the book published or sacrifices an inordinate percentage of their royalties for the privilege.

Where the company’s profit comes from can be your first clue into what sort of company you are dealing with. As Judith Briles said in a 2014 article on the topic of self-publishing versus indie publishers (

Small presses make their profits by selling books to consumers, rather than selling services to authors or selling a small number of copies to the author’s friends.”

A clarification is needed here: Companies such as 1106 Design sell services to authors, but we don’t pretend to publish the book, nor do we lay claim to any percentage of the royalties! Once we have completed the services for which the author has hired us, the author has complete ownership of their book, their files, their imprint and their royalties.

With the term “indie publisher” being used more and more to describe an author who has started their own publishing company, what has happened to the “traditional publisher?” Nowadays, a traditional publisher means any publisher—big or small—that agrees to publish a book on behalf of an author and to pay the costs for doing so.

More recently, yet another new term has emerged: indie author. What is an indie author?

Like an indie publisher, the indie author maintains complete creative control over his or her book. The two terms are being used interchangeably, and perhaps being an “indie author” sounds less scary and confusing than being an “indie publisher.” One definition I read at said that an indie author is an author who has self-published at least one book—and I suppose that means self-publishing by any means available.

I’d like to propose a slightly different definition of both indie author and indie publisher. The real definition lies somewhere in between, and it’s not just semantics.

An indie author is an author who maintains complete creative control by self-publishing his or her book through companies such as CreateSpace or Book Baby, both of whom offer editing, proofreading services-for-hire, along with cover and page design services or do-it-yourself templates. The indie author uses one of the company’s ISBNs and therefore is not the publisher of record. (A note is warranted here: CreateSpace allows authors to either use their own OR one of CreateSpace’s ISBNs. It behooves an author to understand the ramifications. (Learn more about where to purchase your ISBNs at The company never releases the design files to the author (only the PDF, maybe), and will happily hold the indie author hostage for more money should change ever be required to those files.

An indie author may self-publish his or her book as a hobby, or may have the notion that they will make money as an author. Either way, the indie author will attempt to self-publish by the cheapest, fastest and least painful route possible. An indie author does not take the time to learn how to maximize royalties, compare service options, or do the research necessary to ensure the book has the best chances out there in a ferocious marketplace. An indie author will most likely set an arbitrary budget based on “this is all I can afford,” and then find the editing and book design options that fall within that budget, even if the result is a terrible book. In short, the indie author does not treat the book as a business, and wrongly believes that the market will accept and reward a shoddy book. Yes, the indie author maintains creative control, but over what exactly?

An indie publisher, on the other hand, is someone who treats the book publishing project as a serious business and not just a hobby. The author is the CEO of his or her indie publishing company, with the book as the product. The author, or indie publisher, does the research into the book market and the genre in which the book will compete, setting the book up to compete successfully in the marketplace. Indie publishers know their name is their brand, and they want their name associated with a quality product. They know that consumers will not accept shoddy product design.

The indie publisher researches service options, creates a budget, and knows that CreateSpace and IngramSpark are the only legitimate ways to print on demand and thus are the only routes to wide book distribution despite the claims of other self-publishing companies. Indie publishers know that by setting up their own titles and files with either of these two companies, they will maximize their per book revenues. The indie publisher asks, “What are my options, which option achieves my desired outcome, and how much does that option cost?” Budget constraints are a reality for indie publishers as well, but rather than releasing a bad book, the indie publisher may shelve the book project until sufficient money is raised.

Which category do you fit in? Either is completely legitimate, and yes, some indie authors hit upon the right combination of fabulous writing, great design, and savvy book marketing and make it to the big leagues. These authors are few and far between, something like pinning your retirement hopes on your sporty and talented young son or daughter making it to the majors one day. If, as an author, your intent is to create a book that will help you build towards a franchise of books from which you could one day make a living, or to create a book that takes your career to new heights or is a marketing tool for your business, then think about becoming an indie publisher and not an indie author.

Companies such as 1106 Design appeal to authors who run their publishing enterprise like the business it is. For more information on our services, contact me at Consultations are always free.

Contributed as Guest post by Michele DeFilippo