Self-Publishing Vaguely Defined

Self vs IndieI read an article recently that seemed dated. In other words, my first impression was that it was written eight, maybe ten years ago. However, on further reading, I found it was published on December 7, 2015.

My first impression came from two things:

1) The lack of specifics pertaining to self-publishing.

2) The snobbery aimed at those who self-publish.

In the early days of self-publishing, authors used a collection of names to call themselves: self-published authors, freelancers, independent authors, independent publishers, non-traditional authors and indies (shorted from the independent adjective). Some simply called themselves authors and left it at that.

All these tags are still used, but many authors have settled on one and used it to brand their work. Authors can use whichever they want to describe the method they use to get their stories into the hands of readers. They all mean the same thing.

In the article I read, the author divided authors into three groups, two of them being self-published authors and indie authors. The third I’ll comment on later. In my working experience with self-publishing, these two types of authors are the same. It depends only on what the author wants to use.

Here’s where the condescension comes in. The author of this article had this to say about self-published authors: “This group is primarily interested in writing, and though they may enjoy the tasks associated with publishing, they have relatively little interest in the business.”

She goes on to state, “Self-publishing is the perfect verb for writers for whom publication is primarily an expression of self.” She adds, “…they are less interested in reaching readers than in expressing something, and putting it out there.”

Reach readers

She feels by defining self-publishing in these terms it is not considered snobbery, yet she writes, “Just because it is not perfectly executed does not mean that the effort itself is not valid, in some cases noble. The snobbery that has traditionally met these writers’ efforts is ill-judged. Snobbery always is.”

Mmm. Okay. But stating I’m not interested in the business and I just want to express myself is not being a snob towards my noble efforts.

An interesting side note to this is, the author Orna Ross is founder and director of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). On their About page, the first sentence states, ALLi “is a non-profit professional association for authors who self-publish.” So members are not interested in the business and wish only to express themselves. She calls herself an indie author to separate her from the members.

As a self-published indie author, I am very interested in the publishing business, as I know other self-published authors are. Sure I publish because I want to see my books in print, but I do all this work with the goal of reaching as many readers as I can. To tell me I don’t, belittles all the long hours of work I’ve dedicated to reaching this point in my publishing career.

With regard to Indie Authors, Ross states, “…indie attitude of mind is core to what we do: our most defining feature, and our most essential tool.” She adds some are dedicated do-it-yourselfers while others are happy to collaborate with a publishing service, work with paid services or trade publishers.


In my opinion, her sweeping, general description of Indie Authors includes every type of author out there, from self-published to traditionally published. In essences, everyone is an indie author if they choose to call themselves that. From my experience, they could also call themselves freelance writers. As long as they do not work for a company that publishes their writing (such as newspapers, magazines, etc.), that’s what we are. I have been a freelance writer for almost twenty years.

The most unclear definition is the third type of author: Author-Publisher. Ross defines them as, “authors who want to make a living from their work.”

I paused in my reading the article right there and thought about this. I suppose there are authors out there who don’t want to make a dime. They just want to work their day job and write on the side, sharing their stories with others. They usually publish eBooks only and set them for FREE on Smashwords. Go look; you’ll find them.

But the many self-published and traditionally published authors I know want to make a living from their work. They not only want it, they crave it, they dream of it and they work hard to reach that point when they can say, “I don’t have to support my writing career with a ‘day job’.”

The unfortunate part of this third type of published author is I believe she included Subsidiary Publishing and Joint Publishing. She states it is “second-best to trade publishing”, and that writers go “through a tough time at first, and often fall away.”

The very reason I define the methods an author can take to publish their work is to warn them of the dangers lurking out there. I’m not saying this because I read a sad story on the Internet by an author who was disappointed by a subsidiary publishing or joint publishing experience. I’m saying Authors Beware because I’ve read hundreds of stories by disappointed authors who have been burned by these companies. I’ve also met several writers in person who have lost thousands of dollars from these two types of publishing companies.

The warnings about these types of ‘publishers’ are all over the Internet. It takes less than ten minutes to find stories about authors who have been burned by companies who appear to be reputable. If everyone played fair, there would be no need for Predators and Editors. Author Solutions is one of the biggest culprits, and they go by many names: iUniverse, Trafford, Xlibris to name a few. They’ve also forged partnerships with some famous publishers: Simon & Schuster and Harlequin (Read David Gaughran post)

There are many spot-on views in Ross’ post, such as self-published authors think globally now, not just regionally. We want to sell to the world. We also support each other. We are there for other writers to help them succeed. The writing community is a great community.

However, the general and unclear definitions Ross provided to distinguish one type of publishing from the other is not only misleading and confusing, it’s dangerous. The publishing business can suck thousands of dollars from unsuspecting writers if they are not properly informed. I could be polite and say everyone plays nice, but that would be a lie.

I would rather have an author write to me and say, “Thank you for the warnings about subsidiary publishing and joint publishing, but I found a publisher who helped me get my book published and everything worked out great.” Instead of, “Why didn’t you tell me that some publishers who offer their services will charge me thousands of dollars and still not publish my book?”

I’m a writer. I love writers, and I want them to succeed. I want them to get their books published and have a great experience. I can’t feed them to the wolves because it’s not nice to say some publishers are ruthless and only want their money.

You can read Orna Ross’ full post here: Opinion: Every Author Should Self-Publish (At Least Once).

I define five ways an author can publish. I clearly define the methods, so there’s little doubt about what to expect. It can be read here: Revised Five Types of Book Publishers.

Editor Diane Tibert

13 thoughts on “Self-Publishing Vaguely Defined

  1. Thank you, David, for adding this information. I’m happy to hear the organisation is helping writers. Self-published authors are often on their own, so organising can only benefit them. I’m working on creating a Co-op of self-published writers in Nova Scotia, a group that can share information and help distribute books to independent book stores.

    I’ve seen the writers who want to only share their work and not get paid. I see no problem with that. To each their own. The problem I saw was the definition provided for self-published authors in ALLi’s article. We call ourselves self-published authors because that is the name we’ve chosen from the several floating around six years ago. I prefer it to indie, and that’s just a personal choice. It has nothing to do with the definitions in the article.

    Perhaps one day self-published will be broke down further into two groups: professional and recreational. The person who writes and gives their work away for free would be considered recreational.


  2. She goes on to state, “Self-publishing is the perfect verb for writers for whom publication is primarily an expression of self.”

    LOL, that’s a noun.


    • David, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I sincerely hope she informs members to the dangers of certain types of publishing. I haven’t had the time to read other articles on the website, so maybe this particular article was an exception. Still, it misguides writers and spreads false information.

      Every time I read this sentence I feel as if someone is patting me on the head and saying, “That’s nice, dear. You are expressing yourself.”

      Thanks for visiting, David.


      • Oh I meant it in a very light-hearted way.

        I think self-publishing is a very broad church and that people do it for all sorts of reasons. Just like writing. An example: I read a wonderful book by an author which I picked up for free one day. Then I saw all his other books were for free – permanently. These were really great books, formerly traditionally published but the rights reverted and he was now self-publishing, critically acclaimed, commercial successes, and so forth. I had no doubt that this guy could be making good money with these books if he chose to, but he was giving them away. So I emailed him and asked why, and he said, “I’m getting old and I just want to be read.” My shtick is so focused on giving authors the tools to build audience and maximize the income from their books that sometimes I forget that there are writers with different needs and goals.

        And Orna Ross is good people. I’ll happily vouch for her. BTW it’s ALLi that is the non-profit, it’s not seeking authors who don’t want to make a profit, it’s stating that the members’ dues go towards running the org rather than aiming for profit. I’m not a member, but ALLI is definitely for professional (and aspiring professional) authors too. They have all sorts of workshops and resources on marketing etc. And they campaign on a lot of issues to help authors, highlight scammers, warn about overcharging providers – and do sterling work there, unlike a lot of orgs who take the easy option and keep quiet.

        Just wanted to clear that up.


  3. Well I don’t know anything about publishing but I do know a very successful self published author on her 13th book and as I understand making a good living. Perhaps these snobs are just jealous?


    • That is wonderful news about your self-publishing friend. Write on! I’m not sure why the person who wrote the article said what she did. It’s unfortunately, but everyone has their reasons for doing things.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Diane. Don’t forget to look up Roz Morris. She is an “indie” from the UK plus has good writing tips via her Nail Your Novel series. Pat

    Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the TELUS network.


  5. Whoa, I’m reading this early in the morning and getting steamed up. I dislike being patronized, and the article you review here about Indie publishing sounds patronizing, indeed. I connect with a lot of self-published writers, and as you know, they work HARD at their writing craft, and then just as hard at publishing: promoting, marketing, social media work, etc. To be self-published is to be a Renaissance Writer – good at quite a number of things… including publishing for success.


    • When I first read the article, I assumed it was old with old thinking. I was quite shocked to find these thoughts were recent. After reading it again, picking out certain sections, I thought I must be reading this wrong. Perhaps I was misunderstanding what I was reading and the author did not separate indie authors from self-published authors, and that she didn’t give a seal of approval to writers ‘hiring’ publishing companies to publish their work. And that she believed self-published authors weren’t interested in the business or making a living from their writing; they were just playing and expressing themselves.

      There are a lot of ‘publishing’ companies out there, such as Author Solutions, who appear great, but are far from it. Giving a general acceptance of them can mislead writers into choosing them. I want clear-cut definitions of each method, so writers can make an informed decision.

      As I stated in my five types of publishing, if the publishing company does what it says it will do–and that’s the key–it will work. But if they don’t, the writer is left holding the bill with little to show for it.

      Thank you for your comment. I was getting worked up reading the article too, that’s why I had to write this post. Like you, I know how hard writers work to self-publish their work. They put in long hours to see their books are the best they can get them, and they want to sell to a large audience and one day making a living from the royalties.

      Dividing us is an old school method of weakening a particular group, which ultimately weakens every group. All writers must stand together as one.

      I recently read a comment by a fellow writer. It went something like this: It used to be all self-publishing until someone decided they wanted a cut and became the middle man.

      And that’s where publishing companies–all of them–entered the picture.

      Liked by 1 person

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