Indie Publisher or Self-publisher … What’s the difference?

Sometimes the words, “Indie Publishing” and “Self-publishing” get used interchangeably, but are they the same thing? Well, sort of … but no. There is a distinction between a self-publisher, that is an author that publishes her own works, and an independent press, which is a small press that publishes books by multiple authors. Wikipedia defines it thusly:

The terms “small press”, “indie publisher”, and “independent press” are often used interchangeably, with “independent press” defined as publishers that are not part of large conglomerates or multinational corporations. Defined this way, these presses make up approximately half of the market share of the book publishing industry.  Many small presses rely on specialization in genre fiction, poetry, or limited-edition books or magazines, but there are also thousands that focus on niche non-fiction markets.

In addition to the above definition, I would add that an indie-publisher may or may not have a traditional distributor which holds inventory of paper books and distributes them to retailers. More “small-publishers” have these sorts of arrangements than do “indies”—however, today, with the availability of Ingram’s Lightning Source and other such services, retail distribution is within the reach of even the smallest of indie publishers.

But what about the “self-publisher”? Wikipedia again says:

Self-publishing is the publication of any book or other media by its author without the involvement of an established publisher. A self-published physical book is said to have been privately printed. The author is in control of the entire process including, for a book, the design of the cover and interior, formats, price, distribution, marketing, and public relations. The authors can do it all themselves or may outsource some or all the work to companies which offer these services.

The key distinguishing characteristic of self-publishing is that the author has decided to publish independently of a publishing house. In the past, self-published authors had to spend considerable amounts of money preparing a book for publication, purchasing bulk copies of their title, and finding a place to store their inventory. Print-on-demand and e-book technology have allowed authors to have a book printed or digitally delivered only when an order has been placed.

It should also be noted that indie presses are not in the business of printing or selling author services, but make money by selling books! That’s not to say that some reputable small presses might not ask an author to help with the cost of production, but it isn’t a revenue source, and the publishing agreement may not be predicated on that monetary contribution. This distinguishes indie/small presses from vanity presses. Small indie publishers are also selective, which means they don’t publish every author that submits work.

But what about Createpace, Lulu, Blurb, Amazon KDP etc. etc.? Many authors publish their books using these services. In this case the author IS the publisher, and the services are book printers and distributors (albeit with limited distribution) and KDP is not a “publisher” but rather a closed distribution system (distributes only to the Kindle e-reader app or devices).  (KDP includes a basic ebook conversion service, not ideal, but it sort of works.)

So, if you are publishing your own books through any kind of printing and distribution system that is not a publisher/author services company, you are a self-publisher. That’s perfectly OK! It is a legitimate choice and it puts YOU in the driver’s seat, you’re in control and that’s exciting and rewarding in its own way.

If you are publishing your own books AND books by other authors, you are an indie/small publisher. You are a brave person! Go for it.

Likewise, if you are an author using the services of a small press and they are making money FOR you by selling your books, you are traditionally published. (If your “publisher” requires a huge investment in production services and/or requires you to purchase a significant amount of inventory [sometimes at near retail cost!] then you are working with a subsidy or vanity press. Run away.)

But where do Sue Campbell’s services fit in this equation? I sell author services to self-publishers and small presses. Someone has to design and produce books and e-books. Some authors can and want to do all the work themselves, others don’t or can’t. Small indie publishers may not have staff or expertise to do these creative and technical tasks. That’s where the services of independent designers, editors, and book packagers come in. This kind of expense is not only legit, but completely necessary for most people.