Okay, I admit, this entry is a bit later in the posting than I might have liked. I’ve been sitting on it since May 21st, when someone retweeted a comment from agent Sarah LaPolla. Other worthy topics kept coming up that required my attention; in particular, the posts about standards, and blah blah blah. Now I’m ready to climb up on the soapbox.
Let’s start with the tweet in question:
Indie writer = published w/ a small press who gave you a contract & had an editor & packager who wasn’t you or someone you hired separately.
I’ll own it: I saw some red when that came up in my feed. The whole thing smacked of the sort of dismissive attitude that does absolutely no-one in publishing any good, even those who work through the traditional system, though they don’t always realize that. Not having the greatest of days, I tapped out a scathing reply and hovered my finger over the trigger.
Nah, I thought, best to give yourself a second. No need to fly off the handle.
So I allowed myself a moment to calm down, and as I did so, I realized that she might be quoting a source, perhaps a writer. I didn’t agree, but I’d like to see the source I asked her where it came from, and if this meant that writers like JA Konrath and/or John Locke were not “indie” – the idea seemed patently absurd, but what the hell, she might have been pulling it from somewhere.
Not so much. She sidestepped John Locke altogether, but replied about Konrath:
Both are used because people misuse “indie.” He’s self-pubbed & proud. Self-pubbers shouldn’t hide behind a mis-label.
It seemed fair enough. That certainly makes some sense. No question, the term self-publisher has some negative connotations associated with it that need to be corrected, even if she’s confusing the issue a bit. I decided to take a long time to chew on it. I can kind of get what she’s saying here, that self-publishing will never lose its stigma until people start owning the term. Like I said, that’s fair enough, and like Konrath, I’ve never been ashamed of being a self-publisher.
But…and there’s always a but, isn’t there? I later realized that this was an offshoot of a blog entry that she wrote about the subject, and got all spun up again. The pertinent quote:
AND STOP CALLING YOURSELVES INDIE. You’re not that either. Using “indie” interchangeably with “self” only confuses people who want to self-publish and pisses off actual independent publishers. There is a clear difference between publishing with a small press (“indie”) and using a vendor (“self”). Misusing/stealing pre-existing terms doesn’t give you credibility; it makes you look unprofessional.
This helped clarify the issue for me, and especially what she was really saying. The gist is that self-publishers shouldn’t call themselves indie because small, independent publishers get butt-hurt about it. Well, okay. The problem is that you can play that semantics game all day long and make any word mean anything you want, but that doesn’t make it so.
“Indie” comes from independent. Period. Not “independent publisher”. This means that self-publishers have every right to use the term indie. Hell, I don’t see anything more independent than running the show yourself, and if that’s not indie, then the word indie has no real meaning. I guess, unless you want to use it as a convenient label (sorry, “term”), yet another gatekeeper device that separates writers from their readers. She made a lot of other points about the “troublesome” element in indie/self-publishing, but JW Manus covered those quite handily.
Oh, and please, one other pet peeve: labeling someone as unprofessional when you write part of that statement in ALL CAPS ARGH I AM ANGRY is pretty hypocritical. It’s okay to be unprofessional on some level – I’d never claim that this blog post is particularly professional – but seeing something like that just irritates me.
Getting back to the label (damn it, I keep doing that, “term”). Look at the music industry, where there is no such arbitrary distinction. For example, I dare you to say Ani DiFranco is not indie to any self-respecting music fan, and yet she began as the epitome of a self-publisher, founding her own label just to release her own music and be free from the yoke of someone else’s label.
I think it comes back to the worship of tradition that runs rampant in publishing. I have my own theories about why this attitude is so prevalent and stubborn; they’re related to some of what JW Manus said in her own entry about how long publishers have controlled writers, but that’s an entry for another time.
But just because something has “always been that way” does not mean that it’s correct. Bottom line is that no one person or group of people owns the term, no matter how long it’s meant one thing. As people who deal with language every day, you should know that language is constantly evolving, and an inability to recognize that is commentary all on its own.
My preferred usage is indie/self-publisher, as it is a nod to the power of self-publishing as well as being independent, but I understand why people would choose to just call themselves indie, and they’re as varied as you could imagine. Some, I think, want to associate themselves with the tradition of indie publishers as they establish their own presses. Others, like me, want to pay tribute to the nature of indie in taking risks and standing on your own. I’m sure some folks might want to deliberately obscure what they’re really doing, which is doomed to failure, but that’s their prerogative, too. The market (aka the readers) will speak on that, not people throwing around definitions on Twitter or their blogs – and that includes this little rant.
At some point, I assume that people will get that readers are now the ultimate arbiters of what is acceptable; clearly, that point is not yet here. It’s time to stop assuming that readers are stupid and respect their ability to discern between works.