As the Stigma Fades

Some people think indies stink. That’s a strange kind of bigotry in a culture that reveres artisan workmanship and reviles mass-produced cookie-cutter goods of every other sort.

Indies are innovative and original. We are the cutting edge. It’s the big publishing houses that produce the bland sameness: the one-size-fits-all content.

If you saw someone making jewelry that looked interesting, would you ask them if it was available at Wal-Mart then decide if it’s not good enough for Wal-Mart, it’s not good enough for you? Yet it seems to me that is just how some people regard indie books. If it’s not available on the shelves of Barnes & Noble (or whoever else is left in the brick and mortar book business) it must be because it’s no good.

Some people think indies stink. That’s the bad news. The good news is that these people are in a small and shrinking minority. They do not represent the views of the book-buying public. Numerous surveys show that book consumers care very little about a publisher’s imprint.

In fact, as brands go, publishing house imprints have always been the weakest. People might get into fistfights over Coke vs. Pepsi, but no one ever said, “I only read titles published by Random Penguin Solutions because they only publish the best.”

Among the people who do think indie writing stinks on ice are the members of the traditional publishing establishment including various related and interdependent sectors. That means brick-and-mortar franchises, much of academia, and the vast majority of literary award programs are not big fans of the indie movement. (Link to article in The Guardian)

Their awards are often little more than self-aggrandizement. In many instances, the so-called judges of these “award programs” are the members of the very publishing industry that produced the titles they judge. Where is the merit in that?

I question whether this really matters. I find it remarkable that indie published titles now routinely occupy best-seller lists alongside those vaunted guardians of the printed word. It would be impressive if the playing field were level, but we know it is not. We know that trad publishers have all the advantages of massive marketing budgets, prestigious affiliations and longstanding favor with the literati. We now also know of the numerous little tricks big ink has used to create the mirage of buzz and momentum behind their titles.

How we are viewed by these people becomes less important with every passing day because these people become less relevant every day. What they think, say, do, and like or dislike really just doesn’t matter anymore.

They may have been mighty dreadnaughts in the past, but they are now merely rusting hulks. Their time has passed. Indies are nascendant (don’t bother looking that up, it’s a portmanteau I coined just for this article. You’re welcome).

The stigma of self-publishing is fading fast. We do not stink.

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

38 thoughts on “As the Stigma Fades”

  1. Thanks for the new word, Stephen. I did, however have to look up portmanteau, so thanks for that word too.

    Portmanteau – an old type of large leather suitcase, especially one that opened out into two compartments

    Most of all thank you for your great walmart analogy (lower-case w intended)

    1. Thanks for looking up portmanteau, Veronica. I was just rushing to the dictionary when I saw your post.

  2. Well put, Stephen. Thank you! And true, most readers don’t even remember who published the last book they read. They just remember if they liked it or not.

  3. Now don’t you go dissing all those fancy literary awards folks! People pay good money to pretend to be judged by their peers! You mess with them, you are messing with the economy, you commie!

    Great article as always, Senor Hise. Though I’d probably be more inclined to buy something that wasn’t in Wal-Mart … simply because then I’d know it wouldn’t have been sweated on by Billy-Bob the Duck Hunter.

  4. Excellent post Stephen! I especially like the combination of “ascent” and “nascent” to create the new word “nascendant” for Indie books. We’re all rising stars in the creation of stories.

  5. Love this post, Stephen. I especially like the jewelry analogy–personally, I’d much rather wear (read) someone’s original creation than buy a mass-produced piece of — well, you get the idea…

  6. This is a great post with extremely relevant information. I attended a writers club meeting the other day. One of the panelists, who hosts a literary radio talk-show, said, “I don’t include self-published authors.” I was livid! She has a job because of writersβ€”not the other way around. I once heard a quote: Those who can, write, those who can’t, teach. (Perhaps ‘preach’ could be substituted here!) I think indies are incredible, spending hours on end writing, promoting, blogging, social media, etc. I doubt I would ever want a traditional publisher after proving how successful my self published work would become.

    1. We are favored by more than the weight of numbers. We are more agile and innovative, we can react more quickly to the changing environment and exploit technology without encumbering ourselves with the massive overhead costs borne by dinosaur publishing. Indies have it going on. πŸ™‚

  7. I really can’t remember when I purchased a book and immediately looked for the publishing house. Title, blurb, and the author certainly; for me it’s the content. Changes for self-published authors over the last year have been remarkable. Indies are defining the future.

    Thanks Stephen for an enjoyable post.

  8. Agree entirely. Honestly, my take has always been simple: ignore the folks who have a bias against indie publishing.

    They are largely irrelevant.

    And they’re almost always biased. Publishers are biased – because hey, we’re eating into their profits. πŸ˜‰ Magazines and newspapers owned by publishers are biased, because their parent companies are losing money to indies. Agents are biased – because every indie writer is one less client. Academia is biased because the idea of “the unwashed masses” rising up and publishing things themselves sends the same tremors of fear into those hearts that the Gutenburg press did all those centuries ago.

    We scare them.


    Konrath said it best, quoting Gahndi: β€œFirst they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

    They’ve stopped laughing.

      1. Most people working in publishing have not really figured out that about half of fiction ebook units sold are self published. When told this, they refuse to believe it.

        As that truth begins to sink home, however? Yes. They’ll fight back. How precisely is hard to predict. We already see articles by the Author’s Guild that are anti-indie and pro TP. And Penguin’s acquisition of Author Solutions is effectively an attack on self publishers as well, if a very aikido one.

        Yeah, I think we’ll see more of the same, and increases of intensity, as time goes on.

  9. “The numerous little tricks big ink has used to create buzz”: It’s becoming increasingly apparent, at least to me, that a whole lot of that “bestseller” thing is nothing but smoke and mirrors. Great post, EM.

  10. This might be applicable.
    I remember back in the 80’s (my old time memory is still there) when someone came into our computer forecast meeting and predicted – PC’s will replace mini-computers. They told the guy to leave the meeting…’if that’s true we will not make any money…we need a better forecast!’
    The company I worked for later filed for bankruptcy and they were not the only one who did. I guess they could have used my hearing aids.
    Publishing houses refuse to recognize that things are a changing and it is driven by the user or reader in this case. It comes down to; quality, cycle time, cost and ultimate customer satisfaction.
    A ‘Good Read’ for a ‘Fair Price’ with ‘Timely Availability in the format they choose.’
    We indies can do in less than one month what it takes the big guys to do in a year.

  11. Stephen, I completely agree with your column. The “dirty little secret” big publishers don’t want you to know is: the reader has always been king. Big technology craps on big publishing and levels the playing field. The cream rises to the top. Welcome to Creamoria! (I coined that term.)

  12. Late to all the parties this week (one of those weeks); I’ll just say, ‘Great post Stephen,’ and I agree with all the above comments. Oh and, Creamoria, I like that too!

  13. There’s a great short article in the most recent Atlantic on “Outsider Art” that came to mind as I read this excellent piece:

    I do think as long as indie authors simply try to replicate the old school traditional concept of books as commodities and do the tango with Amazon, Apple, and Google (who are only offering that model for the most part) we’re going to continue to have the scent of amateurs (or minor leaguers).

    I thought I’d have my next novel ready to publish by the end of summer. I’ve backed off that schedule and am thinking now that I should take as much time as needed. My mantra these days: “Quality, quality, quality…innovation…quality, quality…innovation, quality…innovation…” We still have a ways to go, I think, but this is a great essay nonetheless.

  14. Okay. Just stumbled on this in a Daily Beast interview with Junot Diaz:

    DB: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

    JD: The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art.

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