The Day the World Turns Upside Down

Just read this awesome comment from a KBoard member, DDark, in a discussion about dropping the word “indie” when referring to self-published authors:

I love being Indie. It’s like saying I’m an entrepreneur and I’ve never personally felt a negative connotation with it. To be honest, that tide is changing with readers, and in the past year, I’ve never seen so much “indie awareness” among readers who love to support the indie community. It could be genre specific, but they are falling in love with indie books and are letting go of those old stereotypes, realizing ways they can support the community. I love the label in other areas because I intentionally seek out indie movies and indie music.

And it reminded me of a blog post I put up a couple months ago where I predicted that we would soon see a day when traditional publishers do things with books to make them appear self-published.

Let that sink in for a moment. I’m saying that major publishers will do things to make their books look indie in order to appeal to readers who enjoy discovering new and underground works, who like supporting artists directly, who enjoy being part of a movement and a new cultural trend. It’s because of what DDark is saying about a changing tide with readers. It’s happening. I know people who read almost nothing but indie books. Their number is growing. That’s a demand, and major publishers will (another 2014 prediction?) start working to satisfy that demand.

We will have gone from the day when self-published authors tried to blend in with the big boys to a new era where the major publishers attempt to emulate us. We’ll see lower prices, perma-free, faster publication, e-book first windowing, more print-on-demand, cribbing our covers and fonts (!!), making shelf space for genres we invent (NA, anyone?), and urging their authors to “act more like a self-published author.”

Heresy? I don’t think so. I think it’s inevitable. Look at what major food producers do to make their products appear to come from a smaller, more intimate source. Look at Etsy and the rise of the maker movement. Look at the desire to “shop local.” Or the love of things hand-made. We are seeing a return to the roots of art where music can have pops and static and films can have a few sloppy cuts and books can do a little head-hopping, because it’s all about finding something new and exciting and ours.

The thread asked if we shouldn’t drop the “indie” label and just think of ourselves as authors. I’m going the other way. I use the word indie a lot, but I try to remember to use the word self-publishing. Why? Because I’m damn proud of what I do. Sure, I enlist others to help me make the best product possible, just as a small business owner can rarely do everything on their own. Just as a painter needs someone to manufacture their brushes and their paints. But I’m at the helm of this sad-looking ship. I can run it on a reef or discover some land nobody ever dreamed of. I’m a self-published author. Watch out for the pretenders.

81 responses to “The Day the World Turns Upside Down”

  1. I love it when you post encouragements like this. It keeps me going! INDIE ALL THE WAY! And people told me I’m crazy for giving all my ebooks for free. The funny thing is, my readers are still buying my books and donating money, sometimes MORE than the actual price of the book, so there you go :) xoxo

  2. As always, you’re thinking forward Hugh, and casting a vision for us. I can see you in your wizard hat and crystal ball…

  3. I love the thought of this. I’m hoping to have my first self pub offering out in a couple of months and I love the thought of being out on my own, writing for myself and doing it my own way.

    I’m very new to this so I really don’t have an audience but the thought of creating something for myself and sharing it is what drives me. I could care less if I make any money doing it (thought it would certainly be nice) but just having the tools I need to put myself out there is incredibly exciting.

    Thanks for showing the way, leading the charge etc. I hope your vision comes true sooner rather than later!

  4. True and poignant. My only disagreement is with the “sad-looking ship” comment. Hugh, sir, you run a damn tight ship, and a sleek and sexy one at that.

  5. Can I advertise my books as ‘all natural, home-made locally’ ? :)

  6. >>>major publishers will do things to make their books look indie<<<

    Kind of like when Anheuser Busch came out with their own line of "Micro Brews". Let the buyer beware

    1. Exactly! There are probably parallels in film and music as well. Major studios releasing works to gain arthouse attention and that sort of thing.

      1. Right Hugh! Every major studio has their “Indie Division”, created to compete with actual indie studios. And for the most part–it’s worked!

      2. “Artisanal.”

        Ever notice everything in the grocery store now has an “artisanal” label on it? Bread. Olive oil. Marmalade. Sliced cheese. All produced by multinational corporations in huge factories. But you’re supposed to picture a burly fellow in a canvas apron when you buy it.

        1. Art is anal?

          Strange sign to have by the groceries.

        2. Yep. Same thing with goth and punk culture — you can buy commercialized simulacra of the real stuff in any mall with a Hot Topic store.

  7. Well said.

    I still get that look from people when I tell them that I’ve self-published my books. It’s that look that says: “Oh, you failed at life and gave up on being a real success.”

    I know in my mind that they are the ones that are wrong. They are the ones that don’t understand the shifting tides of the industry. They are the ones who associate success with give 90% of your income away.

    Thanks for helping to transfer some of the head knowledge into my heart so that when I get that look, I can return a smile knowing that they will understand one day what I already know.

    1. I feel you, James. Many of us have been there. So much is in our own attitudes. WE can control that. WE can be proud of ourselves. And I think that will bleed through. I think it’s infectious.

  8. I love your comments, Hugh. It got me thinking, wondering… where exactly does this leave me? I’m a professional graphic designer turned Indie Author, so I have a leg up on my Indie friends with not-so-typical Indie Covers. Have I got the look? If I had still been running my graphic design business, my covers would have cost $800 or more, the logo packages I put together even higher if clubbed in. Indie Authors can’t afford that. Shoot, I wouldn’t hire me! Thankfully, I don’t have to. So, here’s the question: Do my books look like traditionally published books? If so, will they be skimmed over by Indie book lovers? Will I need to turn down my artistic standards though I’m self-published? LOL All this speculation is fun and I believe it’s all plausible. Look at history, patterns do repeat themselves! But seriously, I say this in jest and fun, however, no matter what, I will continue to take pride in my work and could never create or give anything but my best. I would never think about watering down anything or changing it to meet the market. I’m going to give you “me”, the “Indie Me”, and yeah, I’m damned proud of all I’ve done and all I’ve gone through to get here. I won’t quit because I can’t. That’s what passion is all about.

    1. Haha! You raise interesting points. I think the cover art issue is the least likely to come true. More likely, self-pubbed authors will continue to improve their designs until it’s hard to tell the source. You should make your covers as pretty as possible.

      The main thing is the passion you talk about. Having your career in your own hands is terrifying and thrilling at the same time. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

      1. I love this post! And Linda brings up a mind-bending point- the idea of “looking indie” vs. “looking traditional”. I’ve always strived to have professional looking covers, even though I’m loud-and-proud indie. It’s interesting to ponder the idea that a rougher “indie look” to a cover might be a signal to readers that they’re on to something unique. But I think Hugh is right – you should make the best cover that you can. And indies are doing this already. In fact, I’d venture to say the *prettiest* covers I’ve seen recently have all been indie. Big name authors may get some original art, but what indies do on a limited budget (basically leveraging design knowledge and an intuitive understanding of their audience) very often beats out the midlist covers slapped together by publishers.

  9. I became an indie author on Independence Day in 2011, and I wish I had done it even sooner. What’s been a revelation to me is the reaction when I tell people I’m self-published. Instead of being put off, they are impressed… they do NOT think it’s lesser than traditional publishing… they think being an indie author is cool and cutting edge. And it is.

    Already we do see trad publishers bringing their prices down, having sales, and trying to emulate what we are doing. And some of it they will be able to imitate, but one thing that’s impossible for them is to corner the way we do. Indie authors can react more quickly to changing trends, seasonal differences, and the tendency of Amazon in particular to reformulate algorithms and marketing tools.

    Another advantage for indie authors that trad pubs don’t have is that “pioneer”spirit. We help each other. We share information. We urge the newbies along in their writing and publishing efforts rather than seeing them as interlopers in our territory. This comes from our joy in creating this new way of getting our art out into the world, and the knowledge that one person’s success does not diminish ours. There is certainly much collegiality in traditional publishing circles, but they are more likely to see the other guy as a competitor.

    This is part of why it’s so much fun to be a self-published writer now. We’re making it up as we go along, and we have buddies doing it with us.

    There’s nothing like the feeling of creating something from nothing every day.

  10. TOTALLY agree! I always say the self-published label is one that authors used to hide but now wear with pride. :) I love being indie. And thank you for paving the way! Happy new year!

  11. Brilliant! But of course, it will be the new trend. Everyone will want to wear the badge of honor that is ‘Indie’.

    That said, I have the feeling that big publishers don’t have the flexibility of Indie authors. We can be here, there and everywhere. We can publish a book every two months, slink around the Internet on blogs, twitter, Facebook and whatever else there is, have fun, chat and network. Make our own brand and write how we want without worrying about ‘brand’ or sticking to one genre.

    I was once a trad published author. I know the restrictions that entails. I broke away and it’s the best thing I ever did. I have a feeling readers have discovered that Indie authors offer a lot more than trad published authors. Simply because we don’t have to follow any rules.

    1. “I have a feeling readers have discovered that Indie authors offer a lot more than trad published authors. Simply because we don’t have to follow any rules.”

      I think you nailed it here. The same freedoms we enjoy, readers enjoy the products of. Topsy-turvy and crazy, eh?

      1. Susanne O'Leary Avatar
        Susanne O’Leary

        Topsy-turvy, crazy but a win-win for authors and readers. Creative freedom has brought new life into what was becoming an increasingly stale publishing industry.

      2. Here’s a relevant quote describing the similar indie renaissance that recently swept the videogame industry. contributing editor Keza MacDonald says:

        “We’re now enjoying the fruits of a tremendous change in the games business that has taken power away from publishers, meaning that creators no longer have to persuade men (it’s always men) in suits that their idea is sellable and instead can just make and sell it themselves. …every year the games that emerge from this thriving new ecosystem get better and more interesting.”

        1. I was thinking exactly the same thing.
          You just have to look for Projects like the game Star Citizen.

          Crowdfounding earned them 36 Million Dollars until now. And it does not seem that they stop earning money.

          Or the DayZ Mod for Arma 2.
          They started as a free to play Mod for a PC Game. Now they published a standalone version and in the first 3 weeks they earned ~19,2 Million €.

          I know that it isn’t all about the money, but I just wanted to give some examplet for how succesfull these people are.

  12. I’ve always loved independence, both from a life perspective and a work one. There are few who yearn to be managed or controlled by someone or something else. Entrepreneurs are celebrated in all other industries. It is high time that publishing adopted that spirit. Celebrate your independence and wear the badge openly and proudly.

  13. Here! Here! Beautifully said.

  14. I even distinguish between Indie and Full-Indie, the latter being a writer who does his own covers, editing, and promoting. If a writer has an artistic bent, can squint at text with the best of them, and enjoys selling–why not? I’m a proud Full-Indie!

  15. I feel strongly about who I am and how I got here, and I don’t mind sharing that with my readers so they know how different it is to be a self-published author vs tradpubbed. I’m also of the camp that believes those who have books that rock out loud should not hide that they’re indie, because those successes are helping to remove the stereotypes some people have of self-pubbed authors, and as a result, they are becoming more relaxed about not caring who publishes a book (unlike several years ago). Readers want a good book. Period. Some support indies harder, and others don’t care either way, but I like to disclose my story with anyone who asks. When I hear the word “Freelancer”, I don’t have a negative perception about that title, even though that person works doing the same thing as someone who is under the umbrella of a large (or small) company. Same with “mom and pop shop” or “family owned restaurant”.

    And yes, publishers are trying to look indie. I’m seeing it all the time with their cover designs. Maybe we need a Sundance Film Festival equivalent.


    1. “Maybe we need a Sundance Film Festival equivalent.”

      Dannika, you are just full of awesomesauce today!

  16. I’m hugging this post and I couldn’t agree more. I think we’re seeing that deceiving indie look from publishers in romance more and more (and in not so great ways). I’ve had several readers point out books they thought were indie’s as examples of how bad some self published writers were (and how sloppy the editing could be). Except they weren’t self published books, they were from major publishing houses and my guess is they wanted that “raw” look to tempt the exploding NA and Contemporary Romance reading market.

  17. Well said, Hugh. And I don’t think it’s going to be only publishers who start to emulate indies. I think there must be many traditionally published authors who look with envy at our 70% royalty rate, compare it with their meagre 25% and start to do the sums.

    Staying traditional surely doesn’t add up for most midlisters (are there any left?). I know. I was one, but decided to turn indie in 2010. Best decision I ever made.

  18. “…a return to the roots of art…”

    Yes to that, an exciting outlook indeed!

  19. “…a return to the roots of art…”

    Yes to that, an exciting outlook indeed!

  20. I still run into the occasional reader who treats the concept of self-publishing with disdain, but then I quietly ask them if they’ve read WOOL or CYBERSTORM. “Why yes,” they reply. “Then you’re already supporting independent science fiction! Look deeper and you’ll find more gems!”

  21. this makes me both excited and sad. Excited, because it’s always exciting to hear about the reading public embracing self-publishing. Sad, because so many self-publishers are going in the other direction. The rough-hewn brilliance you refer to above is exactly what writers are trying more and more to distance themselves from. As a lover of zines, bizarro, internet poetry and voices like nothing else you’ve ever read – where the warts improve rather than diminish – I would find it a great shame if readers went looking for the underground and found only books that wanted to be like mainstream offerings

  22. Speaking as a reader, not an author, I would say the cover art does not figure too much in my purchasing decisions. The synopsis does, however. When it comes to a indie author that I have never heard of, if the story idea “grabs” me, intrigues me, and the price is low, I will roll the dice and download the book. That’s how I “discovered” Wool and Hugh Howey. Best 99 cents I ever spent. Now like a crack addict, I’m hooked. Michael Siemsen and Nick Cole are other authors that I “discovered” in this manner, and like Hugh, have graduated to my “gotta read the next book just because I like this author” list. But that’s just me….

  23. Appreciate your comments and admire your writer’s journey. I’m proud to be an indie author. I work hard for my novel and the one that’s coming out later this month, but I wouldn’t want it any other way for these two works. The first found its readers in book clubs and libraries which I cultivate. That has led to being picked as a community read and some national awards. Indie bookstores are also a part of the equation. Was proud to be an Indies First author this past November. Self-pubbed never crossed the bookstore’s mind (one of the best on the West Coast, by the way). Makes me work even harder to hone my writerly skills and the write the best book for readers to read.

  24. Hear,hear Hugh! Hurrah for self publishers. I’m certainly proud to be one.
    I recall my experience at the London Book Fair in 2013. I was sitting in a talk designed for publishers (I wasn’t supposed to be there– oh well), and it was full of young execs in suits practically high fiving each other. A rather insular vibe.The talk was about finding new customers. One of their tips? Make yourself more accessible to the reader through massively funded websites. Hmm. Haven’t we already cracked this one for free? Keep up the good work!

  25. If readers are moving to indie-authors, it’s big publishing that’s to blame. Just like Hollywood tends to create the same stuff over and over, the Big Six, or is down to five, do much the same, giving readers 20 different versions of a similar book, constructed in basically the same way.

    Readers are starting to give independents a go just in the hopes of finding a story that has some heart and wasn’t created with a stencil.

    As Dan Halloway said, it’s important to give readers the indie experience they’re looking for.

    The simple way to do this is to tell the stories we want to tell and let everything else be damned.

  26. They’re going to adapt the business models of indie authors because they have to in order to survive. They’re about two years behind and I’m not sure they’re catching up. It’s very hard for large organizations to change. So we’re seeing acquisitions of small digital publishers. Kensington just bought one. I wonder what the authors of the acquired house feel about that? This is a trend those who aren’t indie will see more and more of: their contracts being sold to other publishers, much like musicians were sold and traded among labels years ago. My take is that traditionally published authors are indentured servants to their publishers– some of them very well paid for their service, but they lack control and that is going to be more and more critical as the publishing world continues to spin on its axis.

    1. “They’re going to adapt the business models of indie authors…”

      Hi Bob,

      How are the big publishers going to adopt indie business models without shedding their high overhead? The indie model includes authors earning a living wage while still being able to price their books reasonably to reach lots of readers.

      And, in Kensington CEO Zacharius’s own words, readers don’t buy a book based on who the publisher is, and usually can’t even tell whether a book is self-published or not, so the argument that traditional publishers can command a “quality” premium doesn’t make sense. Readers pay premiums based on the *author* name, not the publisher.

      1. The big 5 need to move out of NYC yesterday. Pronto. Now.

        They need to cut back on the lunches and expense accounts. They need to hire more business majors in all non-editorial positions and let the English majors stick to working on the texts. The glory days are over, and if they manage this the way the auto manufacturers did, trying to wring the last bit of fun and moolah out before the ship goes down, the industry will be as empty as Detroit.

        Penguin Random House could operate from Kansas just fine. Look were Walmart is HQ’ed. Or Amazon.

        1. Mark my words. This will not happen. Publishers will not move out of NYC. New York is the heart of book culture and they’re too much ingrained in that culture to give it up. Most of their editorial employees will quit the business before they move out of NYC.

          Of course, I suppose they could all work out of their homes. It wouldn’t make much difference…

          1. You could argue that it already is moving out of NYC. Amazon is on the west coast. Scribd, Oyster, and other book tech companies are as well.

            Considering the fact that indies had more top 100 ebook bestsellers than any major publisher (, and that ebooks have claimed a third of fiction sales in just a few short years, that is book production, sales, and distribution taking place outside of NYC.

            Everywhere America is now the heart of book culture. :)

  27. That’s an interesting thought, Hugh. As usual, Bob Mayer has interesting input as well. Sorry that I don’t have anything intelligent to add to the discussion, but you have both given me something to think about. Thanks.

  28. One of the important things to keep in mind is that the large plodding dreadnaughts are slow to move, slow to change direction, slow to adapt. Independent operators, the cutters, zip around, trying new things, able to adapt on a dime to changing market conditions.

    So if the big boys want to emulate indies, they’ll be trying to mimic our after-images. They’ll be eating our wake while choking on our dust. The prototype for the successful Big 5 copycat will be 2010 Hugh Howey, while 2014 Howey is busy inventing tactics they won’t hear about until 2020.

    The second advantage Indies will always have is that to the Powers That Be at a publishing company, each book is a product. Its care and feeding is seen to by editors and executives, making choices by spreadsheet fiat. An indie controls the destiny of each of his book from the germinal idea to post-publication promotion efforts. We put more effort into editing, because every golden word reflects not on the publisher, editor, marketer, or accountant, but square on the author.

    We care more because we have to, and even if the Big 5 emulate us, they can’t fake that level of devotion. We love our books. The best they can do is curate them.

    1. Michael:

      I think you have pointed out the critical distinction.

      It’s our work. Our art. We care more than they do.

      Of course it’s a business to us as well, but it’s more than that.

  29. I’m already seeing this.

    In a lot of savvy readers eyes, being an indie author has bad-ass gunslinger cachet.

    It’s only the people who don’t read that much who still assume being a self-published indie means that you couldn’t get yourself an agent or publisher or whatever that old-school process entailed. Nowadays, when a prolific reader learns you are an indie, the reaction is often: “wow, this writer is so good that he or she doesn’t even need all that publisher hype.”

    As to traditional publishing trying to emulate us indies… well, sure, they’ll try. But it’s ultimately a lost cause. No matter what they do to make their books seem “indie,” they can’t afford to price them reasonably enough or pay their authors well enough or be nimble enough or internet-savvy enough to actually compete head-to-head with indie authors, outside of the shrinking bookstore market.

    I think in a couple years, the pendulum will swing all the way to the other side, and the industry-savvy readers will be saying: “Big-5 published? Why? You weren’t good enough to make it as an indie?” But that will only be a minority of readers. Most won’t even notice or care who publishes the books they read…

    …just as they don’t notice or care today.

    1. “I think in a couple years, the pendulum will swing all the way to the other side, and the industry-savvy readers will be saying: “Big-5 published? Why? You weren’t good enough to make it as an indie?”

      The crazy thing about this crazy thought is that it might not be crazy at all.

      1. I think the pendulum has already swung that way in many writing circles. We all know writer’s who will live and die by the Legacy model, for better or worse, But I think there are more aspiring writers out there (and more everyday) who’ve abandoned their BigPub dreams in favor of the indie process. And it’s not all about money.

        “Submit to an agent/editor? In God’s name, why?” is something I’m hearing more of in my different writing groups whereas two years ago SP talk would get you shunned.

        1. The time involved is a major factor — and a lot of this is cultural. We can’t sit through 2 minutes of commercials anymore. We want same-day delivery.

          Here’s something I think about at least once a week: I’ve been WRITING for about as long as it used to take people to LAND AN AGENT. From writing the first word in my first novel to quitting my day job was 2 1/2 years. Yeah, this is the exception to the norm; I’m not saying it’s easy, or that anyone can do it, or that luck isn’t involved. I’m just pointing out the fact that I should very well be unpublished right now, shopping around a manuscript, trying to get an agent. Instead, I’m wrapping up my 15th or 16th published title.

          Think about how far behind a writer would be if they spent two years querying. Those days are dead and gone. Yeah, some people will follow this path. A lot of people will. But those in the know are chattering about the folly of it all, just as you say.

          1. “From writing the first word in my first novel to quitting my day job was 2 1/2 years. Yeah, this is the exception to the norm;”

            Absolutely. You’re a record holding outliers but that “rare group” seems to get bigger with every new success story we hear about. How many Joe_Nobody’s are out there now making good, to great to obscene money that nobody outside their sub-niche readership will ever hear about? Hell, 50-100$ a month adds up to an avg. legacy advance in a the years it takes most to find an agent. If ever.

            Certainly the people writing all the anti-SP articles for the Huff and Salon have no clue. But that’s ok. Other writer’s are hearing these stories and that’s what matters.

  30. I’m an Indie author and a reader. When I wrote a blog post last week about the books I’d read last year, I would say probably 75% of them with independently (or self-) published. Names like Hugh Howey, Michael Bunker, Jason Gurley, Matthew Mather, Peter Cawdron, etc…the list can go on and on. Shoot…every year for Christmas I buy my dad a book or two. The last few years I’ve bought him a Jim Butcher book. This year I bought him Little Green Men by Peter Cawdron and The Scout by Eric Tozzi. Both excellent and both self-published.
    Just two years ago this wasn’t the case. I had the same attitude a lot of people had, but eventually I realized that just like with anything else, there is good and bad to be found. There are some terrible books in both the traditional and indie worlds. I’ve found, though, that the indie books do have the “cojones” to go outside the box when a traditionally published book would not.

    1. I bought about a hundred books in 2013. I can count on one and a half hands how many were Legacy Pubbed. Scalzi, King, some G.R. Martin and a Pohl classic. Everything else was Indie. I doubt I’m alone and I’d also be willing to bet that in super hot genre’s like Romance and Thrillers, where rabid fans go through books like Tic Tacs, that the buying disparity isn’t limited to a small percentage of SP fans.

      And since we have no true idea how big the total indie sales picture is and we then have no clue how big the digital “pie” really is, I can’t help but think that BigPub is in far, far more trouble than they can imagine right now in terms of losing readership.

      1. Yeah. This. As much as we talk about titanic shifts, I don’t think many people appreciate just what’s going on.

    2. :)

      You rock. Readers such as yourself are — when you really get to the heart of it — the ones changing this industry. That’s no joke. Thanks, Will.

  31. I’ve always had mixed feelings about the word “indie.” I am self-published. “Indie” used to mean published by an independent (non-corporate) publishing house. It felt like the word was being appropriated or used to make SP seem more respectable, but by now it’s a fact on the ground. I haven’t observed this trend of making trad published books look more indie, but I can see, especially in certain genres where SP has had more success, some of what you are pointing out. E-book prices for TP are coming down. There’s a lot of pressure to create a series whether SP or TP. All writers need an independent social media presence.

  32. I’m one of those who reads indie authors almost exclusively, though it’s not necessarily because of any preference I have for them in particular, but because they offer such incredible bang for my buck.

  33. I asked Jason Gurley the other day “I wonder who the last buggy whip salesman was to be a dick to their customers?” This in regards to how many agents and publishing house employees still make publicly condescending remarks about authors – especially indies. Even while the world is changing under their feet. When Gutenberg was putting all the scribes out of business, I wonder how many of the we’re still on Twitter cracking wise? I read a blog from an agent the other day and it was breathtaking how out of touch with people like me it was… And I’m a writer and an avid reader. Now Hugh, if the Big 5 start putting out Amish Sci-Fi I’ma be pissed!


  34. What makes self-publishing exciting is being able to read (and hear) the true voice of the author—and not consume some product that has been run through a marketing department’s meat grinder. It’s that energy that the Big 5 may try to fake in an attempt to appear “indie”.

  35. I do think of myself as an author (reader first, then author, then publisher. No adjectives necessary). I’ve always thought literary agents and corporate publishers were the ones who first tried to append the “self-published” label to that (I doubt either Twain or Poe would have used the term back in the day), and I think they did so to diminish authors’ efforts, so that’s the one I eschew. I prefer “independent” mainly in the sense that it is used within the movie industry; there are films produced by the big studios, and then there are those that are developed outside that system, without input from studios–I think that’s a useful and meaningful description of what is occurring now. And just like in the movie industry, where studio and independent releases exist side by side, where blockbusters and art-house flicks both find audiences, I think maybe that situation will develop in publishing, as more independent authors sign up for corporate distribution but continue to develop projects outside of it.

    As for major publisher doing things to make their books look indie, given that so many indie authors have suggested that the major way they compete against BPH is via price, yes, we’re already seeing prices come down. That’s as much a function of the market as the industry, though, and will only continue.

    I’m damned proud of what I do, as well, and that’s why I don’t like the term “self-publishing.” I’ve seen others embrace it, and that’s fine for them, but I saw where it started and the derision and condescension with which it came loaded, and it’s not one I use. There are too many really cool authors doing really cool things, and then a corporate industry trying desperately and often unsuccessfully to keep up with them.

  36. This blog surprises me because it’s already happening. Harper Collins Avon Impulse line and Entangled and other publishers are selling books for 99 cents (it worries me what cut the authors get, especially with 25% of net and no advance from Avon Impulse.) Harlequin is putting up boxed sets the way a lot of romance writer’s self publishers are. It’s totally already happening.

    All of the Big Five have opened digital first lines and only one of the big five requires agents for those lines.

    Harlequin’s digital first imprint Carina is ripping off authors by suddenly randomly lowering prices on their books to compete with self publishers and making the author eat the entire cost of the reduction. This disgusts me because I’m with a better digital first publisher who has long done reductions and freebees but never makes the author eat any of the costs of those promotions.)
    My own indie publisher actually started offering free books before the self publishing wave as a kind of promotion, or maybe they saw self publishers doing it back in 2010 I’m not sure. Now everyone is copying it.

    Yes publishers have perma free books now too.

    They are copying the digital box sets that I think self published authors started? Harlequin has created a number of seperate digital first press imprints, and yes they made shelf space for NA there when publishers and agents would not touch NA before self publishing, and they are copying the digital box sets..

    The ebook windowing thing has been done by my (what was once called indie) publisher very successfully since 2006 so I”m not sure you can attribute all these things to self publishers as some indie publishers (and by indie I mean independent publishers not self publishers here.) led the way with some of this stuff.

    If publishers are going to have a chance at keeping the best authors they could really, really benefit by faster production because I know so many authors who do not want to wait. They also need to stop it with the screw them over legal clauses, the non compete nonsense and suing authors over going indie. All that is doing is turning authors that might have been hybrid into authors that will be totally indie now forever more (and I’m talking about formerly traditionally published authors who are now angry or disgusted. )

    I have no beef with my own indie publisher (other than a kind of pathetic lack of promotion, which might have been fine if they had warned me they would get me NO reviews before my book came out so that I could have just done it myself) However everything else about my small pub is great, but not many authors feel like me about their pubs and frankly I see an awful lot of people wanting to submit to my publisher because their are so few publishers that treat their authors as fairly.

    And Hugh rather than moving out of New York I’m afraid what the Big Five are doing to survive is exploiting naive, disabled, elderly, mentally ill, rich teenagers etc…. with horrendous vanity press scams side scams that net them huge dollars through outright fraud. They aren’t committing the fraud themselves but they do not seem to care that they’d hired a company that regularly commits fraud.

    1. Wow. Crazy to hear that more and more authors are being drive away by NC clauses. When will publishers learn that readers can’t get enough of their favorite authors? The more books released, even if on the same day, the better.

  37. I mean this is the kind of thing the vanity press scams they own do…..(Xlibris, Author Solutions, iuniverse, trafford, balboa press and many more are all run by the same company owned .and they have many many more names)

    This is really just the tip of the iceberg. And this is how they are choosing to make money now?

    1. That Xlibris video is sad, sad, sad. :(

    2. ““The industry is changing rapidly and we don’t know where it’s going, but I think we have a much better opportunity working together creating change in the industry rather than having change thrust upon us,” -Kevin Weiss, Author Solutions CEO. 2012

      Here’s the real sad thing; as long as scams like AS have been around bilking people for thousands with absolutely nothing in return, as long as there have been websites about writing scams and now, as wide reaching and in depth as the writing blog-o-sphere is, plus the fact that 5 sec. on Google can tell you almost anything in the world, that these operations continue to make money.

      And thrive. Globally.

      From the Pearson/Penguin mid-year report:

      “In self-publishing, Author Solutions performed well helping more than 13,000 authors to publish titles in the first half of 2013. In February, Penguin India launched Partridge, a new self-publishing imprint, in partnership with Author Solutions.”

      13,000 aspiring writer’s cut checks for Author Solutions in only the first 6 months of 2013.

  38. I think you’re absolutely right. If you look at the trend now in big business, it’s all toward telling a story – using the human experience as a way to make connections with their customer base. They adapted to the whole social media movement rather quickly – no reason to believe that they won’t go ofter the authenticity of indie-ness if they can get away with it. I think the real question is, will the public buy it?


  39. It is like anything in life. No matter what you choose to do you will have people who applaud and those that detract. It’s best to choose your own path, the one that will make you applaud your achievements.

  40. I was at one of our cherished local bookstores recently. I saw some handsomely-produced hardcover books that I thought I might want to buy. The cheapest was $30. The bookstore has a reader’s club and discounts NYT bestsellers, but after living in the indie universe for the last couple of years, I now see hardcovers as kind of heirloom items, like jewelry. I found myself yearning for those books to be in e-form so I could afford them.

  41. I don’t want business majors making creative decisions. That’s what started to happen in the film industry when the stock market tumbled in the 80s. A bunch of business types came in and started making really bad decisions. While you stated they ought to be in non-editorial positions, it won’t matter. They will take over all the decisions. That’s what happens.

    Even now, in the Big Five, that seems to be happening. The solutions to publishing’s problems isn’t more business majors. Business is a box like any other. It produces those who think as the system demands.

    Publishing is already too much business and not enough creativity. if self-publishing is attractive because “indie’s don’t follow the rules,” It’s not going to help publishing to follow more rules. Their problem is they have bought into a couple of delusions. The first is that they know what the reader once. The second is that they believe they are giving the reader choice. When you buy retail space and put all your marketing behind books you think will succeed, and then those books succeed, you are not giving anyone what they want. You are creating the illusion of choice.

    The industry is mostly owned by large conglomerates. I don’t even see it as traditional publishing versus Amazon, but mega-corporations fighting for control of the reader. I think a very possible outcome is that in five years the industry re-normalizes to include indie ideas, but the control is still in the hands of the money people. I thought music would break and open up, but it did so only briefly. I’m not saying indie publishing will go away, but I think it i a mistake to underestimate the moneyed interests that have a lot invested in this.

    This is definitely an exciting time, but it also a time when sub-cultures and popular movements are quickly co-opted by the systems in control. Indie publishing is going to have to overcome what the film industry and the music industry did not. The lack of money needed to produce the product that is the book, may allow it to do so, but I wouldn’t count the deep pockets out yet. Money and corporations do not give up control without a fight. In fact, the subject of the post suggests a possible scenario whereby the Big Five, or even Amazon, co-opt indie tactics to wrest control back. The movie studios did the same thing in the 90s when everyone was heralding the age of the independent film.

    Then again, maybe the revolution will persist. I hope so, but I look at history warily.

    1. A business major would know that non-compete clauses don’t help anyone. That 4 gas stations at the same intersection ALL make more money. That volume is king. That backlists are products too. That the way to lure authors in isn’t with large advances but limited terms of license. That the returns system has got to go. That bookstores shouldn’t be the focus of the industry, but readers.

      I hear what you’re saying, but all the bad decisions I see being made seem to stem from a lack of understanding of basic business principles.

      And the worst thing going on in Hollywood right now isn’t business people being business people. It’s business people trying to be creatives. The opposite of what I see in publishing, where creatives are trying to wage business.

      Eh, it’s all a mess. :)

  42. Man, no edit function. Damn you, Internet!

    1. Chris Lites once an edit function! :)

  43. “I don’t want business majors making creative decisions. That’s what started to happen in the film industry when the stock market tumbled in the 80s.”

    You don’t think it’s already been happening for years (decades) now? Don’t you think BigPub has the same “blockbuster or nothing” mentality that obsessed H-wood post 80’s and led to so many of the worst big-budget movies ever made in the 90’s and 00’s?

    Listening to K. Rusch recant ancient lore of how editors used to do all that mythical nurturing and curating of writers, instead of essentially shilling for the marketing and sales dept’s, makes me think that’s exactly what’s happened in NYC How many times do we hear a writer retell how and editor “absolutely loved her work”…but could never buy it. Sorry.

    BigPub has had their Titanic, Avatar and Avengers (HP, Twilight, 50SOG) and, just like Hollywood after the first true blockbuster, they’re never turning back.

    1. I fear you may be spot-on. :(

  44. The parallels to artisan and “local” food production is extremely apt. I think in this over-digitized, massive world, humans are seeking humans. We are not nearly so inclined to believe in the wonders of the great corporations. Quick the opposite in fact. We distrust the big ‘uns and want to see the people in the products we buy. As a result, we are increasingly inclined to give our hard earned money to small entrepreneurs–individuals who appear to actually care about the products they create, whether they be running shoes, balsamic oil, jewelry, or…. indie books! People are tired of paying big prices to support big publishers because they know that most of the money goes to the publishers not the authors. I’d rather support the author directly. As a reader, I want to read a good book and know it was written by someone who is using the money I paid to buy the book to send their kids to school and put food on the table. Yes, Indie is the new organic!

  45. I own a small microbrewery in Alaska and we also have the same trend – big breweries creating imitation craft beers and attempting to market them as such. Keep up the great work!

  46. As I just tweeted, your last line says it all. Thanks, Hugh. Again.

  47. […] I recently posted an audacious claim that major publishers are bound to emulate indies, which would be quite the reversal. I want to now explore how publishers could actually do this, how they could learn from self-published authors. Because I want publishers to do well. I want them to help new authors break out. I want them to keep bookstores open and readers happy. So what I’m going to do, in a very rambling fashion, is pretend that someone just put me in charge of a major publishing house. Let’s say Harper Collins (just to pick one at random). Here’s how I would blow the doors off my competitors and become the #1 publisher in the land (overtaking indies, which I estimate now rank #1 in total sales). […]

  48. […] In many ways, traditional publishing has become the new vanity press. Authors used to spend a lot of money for the ego boost of being an “author” and holding their “book.” Now they simply give up a lot of money in order to think of themselves as “real authors” who can hold their “real book.” It’s still ego and money lost. But I understand the urge. I get it. I can empathize with the need to feel good enough (even though I think we’re on the verge of indie being hip in literature the way it is in other…). […]

  49. Hi. A fun read, this lot. I am a FULL INDIE. (too poor not to be). But I wouldn’t have it any other way. With about 65 titles out there, gathering four and five star reviews all over the place, I am holding my own amongst the trads. I’m actually beating 50 shades of grey in romance on kobo.
    But I hadn’t realized trads were starting to copy Indies until now. Thanks for that insight and I’ll look out for that now. Perhaps I should add Indie on my covers?
    Readers will weed out the wannabe Indies who are no good and support the ones who entertain them.

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