They’ve screwed up all our words.

March 30, 2011

I’m in a mood. I just came back from reading someone’s blog where the word “Indie Publishing” was mentioned. Oh, thinks me, do we have a new small trade press on sidewalk? No. She was talking about self publishing – as in DIY.

Blink. Blink.

How and when did “indie publishing” become the definition for doing it yourself, and why did I not get the memo? Indie publishing used to mean a small trade press who was independent – that they weren’t part of a conglomerate. They acted just like their big brothers in New York, assuming all costs of production, marketing, promotion, and distribution – but their balance sheets lacked the same number of zeros.

But there are no clear-cut definitions anymore, and it’s all up for grabs as to what means what. And that puts me in a mood.

Much has changed and gotten more confusing since the time I wrote my Definitions post a year and a half ago, and it makes for some puzzling conversations.

Vanity/POD/Self/Indie Publishing

Take the lunch conversation I had with a very lovely author. Over a tasteless lunch (but wonderful company), my friend told me how she’d pubbed her first book with a POD company.

Um, no you didn’t, sez I.

Yah, I did, sez she.

No, you pubbed through a vanity press…AuthorHouse. They’re a vanity press. You paid them money to publish your book.

It was her turn to blink. But they called themselves a Print On Demand sez she.

Heh, sure they did. It sounds a lot better than calling themselves what they are: vanity. Perhaps a more polite term is “subsidy press.” But the term was originally coined because the author pays for all the production costs, which is far from free – thus the company is appealing to the author’s “vanity.”

They are not Print on Demand, which is a whole other business model, and you’ll find the definition here.

But wait, it gets even better. While at a writer’s conference, an author told me she was published by an indie press. Ooo, I know lots of them…which one? Poisoned Pen? Tyrus Books? No, she said, iUniverse.

Blink. Blink.

Um, didn’t you have to pay to get your book published? Sure, she replied.

This is when I pinch the bridge of my nose and count to ten.

It wasn’t until I got back to my room and glugged back a glass of wine that I wondered, if iUniverse is an indie press, then what the hell am I? The idea of being classified with the likes of iUniverse or AuthorHouse is as attractive as having my eyebrows singed with a flamethrower loaded on crack.

But hold on – the Gods of Insanity weren’t done with me. At that same conference, an author told me she’d self published her book. Wow, sez I, gutsy move. What’s the name of your publishing company? AuthorHouse.

Blink. Blink.

Cue pinching of nose and counting to ten.

All I can say is that the vanity/subsidy presses have been hard at work retooling their PR strategy. And why not, they certainly have the money for it. So now the word is that they are one of the following: POD, Self-Publishing, or Indie Publishing.

There…doesn’t that sound nicer? Cleaner? More attractive?

It’s like the old saying, “I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for dinner.” Except in this case, the axiom is, “We do care what you call us and we want to show you that we’re really nice guys as we stick our hands into your wallet.”

I have no problem with vanity/subsidy presses, per se. But I do have a problem with purposefully fooling the public in order to look gentler, kinder, benevolent. It’s like politicians calling for “revenue enhancements.” Puhleeze. Does anyone not realize it’s simply gentler word for TAX? Why do you think those blockheads changed the terminology? To make it more palatable, to fool us.

And this is exactly what the vanity presses do. “Let’s call ourselves something else so we sound better.” And it makes for very confusing conversations because there are so many authors who are genuinely flummoxed about the manner in which they published their book.

Eh, so what’s in a definition, Pricey? Well, glad you asked. If you make writers believe you are an “indie press,” then the writers have expectations about what you’ll do for them. They see their books as being on equal footing as, say, our books. And this is where disillusionment and anger sets in.

I know because I see it all the time at writer’s conferences. Doe-eyed authors come up after my seminars and ask if their iUniverse books will be nationally distributed because they said they are an “indie press” and, gee, you said in your seminar that you’re an indie press, too.

Cue the nose pinching and counting to ten again.

No. iUniverse isn’t on the same footing as we are. Not by a long shot.

But it doesn’t stop with vanity/subsidy. Print On Demand companies have done a lovely job of calling themselves “indie presses” as well. They aren’t. Not by a long shot. If you haven’t already, go check out my post on Definitions, where you’ll see what a POD company is.

I give a seminar that breaks down all the different types of publishers, what they can and can’t do for you (based on my chapter from The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box). I also include the proper terminology so we can establish who is what. When I got to the Print On Demand section of my seminar, a woman in the audience got very red-faced and stormed out of the room. Yikes. I was fearful I’d hit a nerve.

Later that night, she bought me a glass of wine and apologized for bursting out of the room. She was recently published by a well-known POD press – except they don’t call themselves POD, but rather, “independent publisher.” Because of that, she thought she was going to be nationally distributed in bookstores, along with marketing and promotion. Yes, yes, she’d been told they use the Print On Demand for their books, but big deal…so does every other publisher. And as far as distribution is concerned? Bah, no worries, sez they. We have the same distribution as Random House – Ingram and Baker & Taylor.

Based on that, she’d signed her contract.

Only until she heard my seminar did she realize she’d been duped. And this makes me so cranky. POD publishers – the skanky ones – stay in business by fooling people. They water down the definitions and play loosey goosey with the truth in order to make themselves palatable. Why? To make money, of course.

Print On Demand printing isn’t the right term. It’s called Digital Printing, and yes, everyone uses it. It’s a cost effective way of doing a short run, say, for Advance Reader Copies (ARCS), or backlist titles. But less-than-honest POD publishers are very savvy at the art of dilution, and they water down the facts to make themselves appear to be our equal.

The long and short of it is this:  if authors never bought any of their books, the POD publisher would fold up their tent and go home because their primary marketplace is selling to their authors, not the bookstores.They are hindered by the fact that they don’t have distribution (Ingram and B&T are warehouse distributors – a different animal) , so they can’t sell enough books to keep themselves afloat.

I have written many posts on POD publishers because of the confusion they’ve created:

Print on Demand Series
POD and Readership
Series #1
Series #2
Series #3
Series #4

Series #5

Series #6

Series #7

Print on a Dime

I hope you take the time to read them because there is a lot of good information in there.

At any rate, all of this editing of definitions of vanity, indie press, POD, self publishing has made for some strange conversations because I first have to figure out what they mean by “self-pubbed.” Vanity is not self-pubbed. Check the copyright page. Does it have your name there? Nope. Did you set the retail price? Nope. Your publisher did.

You. Are. Not. Self. Pubbed.

Self publishing is when you are the publisher and you assume all aspects of production, marketing, promotion, distribution, and order fulfillment. You set the retail price, and it’s your name on the copyright page. It’s hideously expensive and time consuming, and not for anyone with weak intestinal fortitude.

What this screwing with our definitions has achieved is general confusion. And this is great for the wanna-bes. But I have to admit that it drives me buggy. A couple years ago I had a writer ask me what I charge to publish books.

Blink. Blink.

Where did you get the idea I charge? Oh, sez she, I read your bio the conference website, and it said you are an indie press.

Gah. Since then, I’ve changed our bio to say that we are a mainstream publisher. I don’t think the vanity and POD guys can stake that claim for themselves, so I’m safe.

For now.

I think.

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