Do Previously Published Authors Putting Out Their Backlist Deserve The Indie Name?

I follow a bunch of indie publishing blogs.  I follow even more indie publishing folks on Twitter, so I wind up reading (or at the very least skimming) a lot of posts about indie publishing.  Something I have noticed lately is that there are certain groups who are looking at previously traditionally published authors who have turned around and self published their backlist (because they got their rights back) being referred to as indie authors. This isn’t new material.  It’s stuff that somebody, somewhere in New York decided once upon a time was good enough.

Frankly, it kind of bugs me.

Now don’t get me wrong, authors who have the rights to their backlists should ABSOLUTELY be republishing those books themselves.  It would be stupid not to in a market where they are getting less and less from their New York contracts.  Self-publishing provides a passive income stream that no author should pass up if it is available as an opportunity.  But do these people deserve the title “indie author”?

I have no beef with people who follow Joe Konrath’s example.  He self-published his backlist and has put out scads of new material.  It’s the new material part that makes him an indie author in my mind.  He’s taking traditional publishers out of the equation.  But to authors who haven’t done that?  Who are taking previously published works that were edited and copy edited by someone else in New York as part of the big publishing machine and just essentially clicking a few buttons to put it out themselves. To me, this does not an indie author make.

Being indie means bypassing tradition.  It means making sure that your work gets the attention it needs from crit partners, editors, etc.  It means either doing the work yourself or hiring someone to do some of it for you (i.e. copy editing).  And I kind of feel like until these authors take the plunge and put out something NEW that New York has never had its hands on, they haven’t earned the right to be called “indie”.

Of course, this all presupposes that they even WANT to be known as indie.  A lot of them probably don’t because they still see some stigma involved.  Joe Konrath the multitudes are not.  But that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

17 thoughts on “Do Previously Published Authors Putting Out Their Backlist Deserve The Indie Name?

  1. Yeah, I don’t think they’re indie authors. What irks me even more is those who publish their backlists and do the indie thing who were previously published but they think they are “better” than indies who have never had a publisher at all. And that’s just not necessarily the case.

  2. I don’t count them as indie authors either, because in most cases, they come equipped with a ready fan base and part of being an indie is having to start from scratch gathering readers for your work.

    But I’m quite happy they’re going the self-pubbing route with their backlists because it does only help the whole idea of self-publishing being a viable alternative to seeking traditional publishing. 🙂

  3. I don’t know what you call NY authors like me who put up backlist but I know what you call the ones who don’t: “stupid.” Or “lazy.” Or “scared.” Or “brainwashed.”

    I waved the indie flag for a few months but now I’m like, well, just do your thing. No road is better or worse. They’re just roads. This isn’t the Dead Sea Scrolls, it’s just some midlist e-books.


    1. I call them traditionally published. That doesn’t change just by publishing backlist that was previously published. I don’t believe I said anywhere that I believed they were lazy, scared, or brainwashed, so I would appreciate it if you didn’t put words in my mouth. This is not an issue of me throwing around any disrespect toward these authors. They are not better, worse, or otherwise than any other author. I just think that it is a misnomer to refer to them as indies. If you have rights to your backlist back and your publisher isn’t going to do anything with them, it does seem foolish not to self publish them to institute an additional passive income stream. It is difficult enough to make a living as a writer these days, so having a backlist that you’re not doing anything with is tantamount to having money in a shoebox under the bed instead of in an interest earning account. It just seems like a smart financial decision.

    2. LMAO Scott, I think I love you re: Dead Sea Scrolls. That’s about like my “We’re not donating a kidney here or curing cancer, it’s not world-in-peril stuff.”

  4. Well now, here’s a new and interesting version of us vs. them. There’s no question that there have been a bunch of trad authors, wannabe trad authors, and trad industry people who have bashed indies all over place. They’ve accused us of all manner of incompetence, disregard, and even of being a drek mob bent on destroying literature.

    For whatever reason, books and snobbery go hand in hand for a lot of people. So many places where you see people talking about books, you’re going to see people ragging on someone else’s choices. Take Romance. Hugely successful genre. It’s a lot more accepted to be out of the closet about enjoying those “trashy romance novels” now, but there are still plenty of people who will look down on you for reading the sexy books, the girly porn. And then, amongst the romance readers, there are those who will bash, heartily, entire markets within the genre. All category (Harlequin, Silhouette, etc) novels are crap. Or they’re written for stupid women who should be better able to appreciate a full-length book by a real author. When erotic romance bypassed traditional publishing and started to make a name for itself, started to sell, people came out of the woodwork to bash it. To call it not romance (regardless of what kind of story it was), to keep it out of the romance organizations, bar it from contests and awards, etc.

    They told us that if we just got through middle school, it would get better. It doesn’t. It’s like it’s just in the nature of people to put each other down.

    So here we are. Indies. We’re feeling kind of bruised by everyone who’s told us that we’re impatient, not to go through the process of trad acceptance. That we’re lazy for not wanting to query, so we’re probably too lazy to write a good story, to proofread, to put out a quality product. For those of us who have put in the years writing, shoving things in drawers, starting over, studying and learning to do it better, for those of us who work hard, who hire the help of designers and editors, and believe that we truly are offering a quality product, for those of us who have issues with trad publishing that are completely outside of whether or not they would want us, it’s shitty to be lumped in with a bunch of people who either didn’t bother to put out a quality product, or who merely thought they had and were mistaken. We’re asking that people judge us based on the quality of our work, to get over the stigma that self-publishing has had in the past, for whatever reasons. And we’re trying to re-brand ourselves as indie.

    I guess it’s nice that we’re so proud of being indie that some of us now want authors to earn the indie name, in the same way others want people to go trad to earn the name “author.” Nice that we’re proud of it. My gut reaction to this post is that I’m not really comfortable, myself, standing at the door to Club Indie and saying who’s indie enough to get in. I get what you’re saying, but to me it feels like more of the same book crowd elitist garbage that I’m really tired of right now. Call me Kumbaya Girl, but reading this just made me think: Can’t we all just get along?

    Besides, I think we all freely admit that there’s a fair amount of self-pubbed drek that gives us a bad name (and pisses us off). Now here’s a group of authors who might want to get their feet wet in self-publishing by putting out their backlist. Right now they’ve got contracts, and maybe they’re looking forward to more contracts. It’s not in everyone’s best interest to leave a job that’s paying them upfront to start their own business. That’s a huge deal, and if we were talking about less artistic industry, it might be easier to see what a huge step it is to walk away from the feeling of security that can come from working for someone else. Some of those authors may never walk away, and that’s a reasonable decision for a lot of them. Independently publishing their reverted backlists might be all they ever do. But others might put out work that was rejected by the publisher on the side (because we know they sometimes reject stuff for no good reason). They might eventually go all indie. These are proven professionals who want to play for team indie part-time. Are there drawbacks to the start-up indies in having them? Sure. They’re competition who brings a fan-base, they’ll climb the Kindle lists faster than unpublished authors, they may appear to be more successful on the surface until the new author has a chance to establish her own fan base and catch up. But there are also benefits. And I just feel like, at the end of all it, I just need to believe in my own work, and that its quality can compete.

    (PS. I read what Scott said as more like: “…but I know what I call the ones who don’t…” rather than insinuating that was what you thought.)

    1. I really wasn’t trying to start an us vs. them argument. I certainly wasn’t trying to cast aspersions, and I definitely don’t have the time or inclination to run around like a lunatic insisting that people call things what they really are. I just see it as an inaccuracy and it bugs me in the same way that people who don’t use Oxford commas bug me.

      1. Maybe it was the “deserve” part of the title that was throwing me then. I don’t think you’re running around like a lunatic, but the topic and the post had a certain feeling to me when I read it.

  5. Technically, they wouldn’t be real indies because the backlist was originally traditionally published. But I, personally, don’t care what they call themselves. A lot of people call themselves what they really aren’t. LOL. But I think they are doing themselves a favor by e-publishing that backlist.

    Also, I have a feeling that Scott exactly didn’t mean what you thought he meant. 😉

  6. I do know of one instance, where the family of a deceased author had to set up their own publishing imprint and go through Lighting Source, to print the books out. The writer’s publishers would not publish his books, even though he had a strong fan base, because he had died.

    In this case, the family had to use the means of the indie author, to keep his works out there. But in their defense, they never said “indie”. But it is a good example of how backwards some of the publishing houses think and why some authors choose to follow our footsteps.

    Another writer, did take his back log. Rewrote them, then indie-published. His reason was to get back to what the stories were supposed to be, not what his publisher had made them. But again he never said he was an indie. But in his case I would let him have that title, because he took the books back and redid them the way he wanted them.

    1. And that’s a really great example of a transition. 🙂 I think the posts I’m reading are not the authors themselves referring to themselves as indies but other people referring TO them.

  7. Eh…this sort of thing is the reason I don’t normally use the term “indie” to refer to myself. I do occasionally (normally when I’m lazy, and don’t feel like typing out “self-published”), but it seems like there’s no clear definition for “indie authorship”, and whenever I use it, I come across a post saying if you don’t buy your own isbn, you’re not indie (I haven’t yet). Or if you don’t set up your own publishing company, you’re not indie (haven’t done that either). If you may at some point consider trad. publishing, you’re not indie (I like to keep my options open). I’ve come across all of these “rules” – usually on different sites or blogs, never all delineated out in a hard and fast “this is what defines an ‘indie’ author”. It’s annoying, and I hate feeling like I might be donning a label that doesn’t apply. So I normally just avoid it.

    I just use “self-published” most of the time. That way no one has to wonder if I’ve earned it or not, or can accuse me of misleading them about what I’m doing – because the meaning is absolutely clear. Granted, there’s the stigma that goes with the term…but I can deal with that. Easier than trying to decide if I meet all the given criteria on any given day.

    1. Oh for Heaven’s sake. I have not bought my own ISBNs, and I haven’t come up with the name of a publishing company which is really just me. I think there are some people who do that as part of some well-thought-out business plan, where doing those things has some particular meaning for them and their business, but I think there are a lot of others who do it because they’re trying to mimic NY as much as possible, possibly in an effort to be less-noticeably self-pubbed.

      I use the word indie to describe myself because I think it applies to my reasons and philosophy. If that doesn’t fit in with some other indie’s concept of what’s right, if I need to save up that much cash (for a block of ISBNs) or go into debt to get started, and come up with some clever imprint name to pretend that there’s more people here than just me to make them happy–well, I hope they’ll be able to cope.

  8. I think we can get too hung up on labels. In a perfect world (and I know we aren’t living in one), the readers wouldn’t even care whether or not someone was indie or published the “traditional” way, as long as they were producing a good product at a good price. Right now, trad publishers don’t sell at a good price when it comes to ebooks. And I’m even beginning to wonder about the term “traditional”. Will indie eventually become the “new traditional”?

    1. I was actually wondering about that too. Will “traditional” always be? Or will it eventually just become “publishing” – encompassing all methods. One can only hope…

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