Publishing terms – one more time…

I remember when I was an irritating little kid (as opposed to being an irritating adult), I wanted to utter cuss words with impunity. My older brothers did, and so did my older sister, on occasion. I saw swearing as a sign that I was no longer that PITA kid sister, but a respected, listen-to-me-roar, walking, talking mass of fabulosity.

I sat next to my brothers’ room, hidden, and listened closely to perfect the inflection while finessing the foreign syllables as they rolled off my tongue. At the very next opportunity, I decided it was time to become one of the big kids. Someone knocked my bike over, and I let ‘er rip. “Fluck you for knocking my bike over!”

My brothers stopped skateboarding and stared at me. “Fluck”?

I blinked. “Wha’? It’s not ‘fluck’?”

Never did I feel dumber.

And this is how I feel about people who misuse industry terms. The one that currently and continuously has my goat is the term “Indie.” Here’s the deal:  Indie is a term meant to distinguish small independent commercial presses from their conglomerate Big Six brethren.


But the Print on Demand presses took it to include them as well, which is incorrect because they aren’t commercial trade presses. Then the vanity folks decided this “indie” term sounded much nicer than “we charge you lotsa money to publish your book,” so they ripped it off as well. The self-pubbers, not to be outdone, managed to squeeze themselves into the “Indie” category as well, and Amazon CreateSpace and Kindle was all too happy to play along. Much to my great sadness, I’ve been seeing e-publishers use this term as well.

Now it’s the point where the term “Indie” has been bastardized into something unrecognizable. It’s ironic that in everyone’s rush to sound legitimate and oh-so cool, no one knows what the term means anymore. It’s lost all meaning. So where does this put publishers like me? I stubbornly cling to the term “commercial press” in hopes that the PODs, vanity dweebs, and self-pubbers won’t cross over this particular bridge.

Please, dear authors, don’t use the “Indie” term unless you are with a true “Indie” publisher. Otherwise, you’re perpetuating the confusion, which makes me flucking cranky.


10 Responses to Publishing terms – one more time…

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    I use ‘small press’, myself.

  2. Mike Mullin says:

    I don’t have any problem with people who self-publish using the term indie. Who could claim to be more independent than those intrepid writers who manage the whole process themselves? Small press works fine to describe the class of publishers you’re calling indie.

  3. Mike, the problem is that its the wrong term for self pubbed authors. They’re self pubbed. Period. When you muddy the waters, the only thing left is confusion.

  4. Mike Mullin says:

    Obviously we disagree. Indie is shorthand for independent. Authors who are handling every aspect of their publications themselves are more properly called independent than those who are under contract to a small press. What’s muddying the water is the confusingly imprecise (and rapidly becoming anachronistic) use of indie to refer to authors published by small presses.

  5. Pelotard says:

    Surely, there is some point where the self-published author becomes an indie press. The question is simply where. Does the author need to have hired someone else to take care of certain aspects, like distribution, marketing, cover design etc? If so, how many? Do they need to be employed, or is it OK with contractors? Or is it a quality issue? For one person to have all the qualifications (you can call them “talents”, if you prefer; no formal education is required) needed to come up with a quality product is certainly overwhelmingly unlikely, but not impossible.

    Look, I don’t know. Lynn is in a better position to answer than I am. But there has to be a point, and like all points, if you look closely enough it’s going to be a bit fuzzy around the edges.

  6. Dan Holloway says:

    This is one of the things that vexes me most of all about the new wave of so-called indie authors, and I think I wrote more about it than any other publishing-related topic last year. But I have to say I come at it from the other end – that this new wave is encroaching not on commercial territory but on the territory of the truly alternative writer who produces experimental content.
    Looking back over the past 3 or 4 years the way the term indie author is used has chaged from being about content (the experimental, uncommercial, boundary-pushing stuff that very few wrote that was found in offbeat online journals and handmade zines. What has happened is a transition in the term indie author from that content-based one to the current one, which is process-based.

    In other words, whereas I’d argue that, just as in the music industry, the term indie press used to exist happily alongside indie author, the two meaning completely different things – the former simply, as in music “not owned by one of the Big Six”, the latter about an edgy, largely urban style of writig (that just *happened* to be made accessible in DIY ways). Now a new kind of self-publishing author has come along and wants to appear, not *less* mainstream like the writers I know and love but *more* mainstream, and so they have, as you say, appropriated the term indie author to mean what indie press means, and they have tried to make the term all about the simple process of *being DIY*.

    And they’ve annoyed people on both wings!

  7. Sally Zigmond says:

    I’m with Lynn here.

    If you’re self-pubbed, why not be proud of it and say so? I know words can change their meaning over time but that is an evolved process that makes sense. If I still had an appendix and decided to call it my heart because it sounded better, I could hardly expect my doctor to understand me. Professions have precise words for precise things and if we hope to enter that profession we should try and get it right.

  8. danholloway says:

    I agree, Sally, and I think Lynn is absolutely right when it comes to presses and what an “indie press” is. It has a very precise meaning, the same as the meaning of “indie label” in music. But take the word “press” off the end, and the word has a plethora of meanings some with longer histories than others – going back to music, I remember a time in the 90s when if you said you liked “indie music” that had a very precise meaning that was pretty much the same as what we now generically think of as “Britpop” [but more accurately referred to a particular kind of vaguely Beatles-inspired guitar set up] but certainly contained bands signed to major labels. When it referred to literature or writers, the word “indie” used to have a similarly fairly concrete meaning in terms of content. You knew you’d get a certain kind of contemporary, urban, possibly experimental literary fiction from an “indie” writer. I absolutely agree with Lynn that the confusion has come because a bunch of people self-publishing “commercial” fiction to Kindle decided it sounded cool.

  9. Pelo, a self-publisher would be an indie press if s/he becomes a commercial trade press and publishes other works besides his own. There is nothing fuzzy about it.

    Mike, it’s perfectly fine to disagree. You can argue the point ’til the cows come home, and it’ll still be wrong. This is why the term “Indie” has become a bastardized word that has no meaning whatsoever. It’s ludicrous to spend the first five minutes of a conversation trying to figure out what the other person means by “Indie.” Sadly, the only ones using this term anymore are the ones who ripped it off.

    I’ll stick to commercial trade press. I’m pretty sure they won’t try to rip that one off…but who knows?

  10. Language changes. “Indie” used to mean a small commercial press. I don’t believe it means that any more — the alternative meaning has become too widespread. It may be time to come up with a new, catchy, equally concise term for what “indie” used to mean.

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