What’s So “Indie” About Indie Writers?

Henry Baum’s recent post (about foul language in self-published books) raised this issue, which has been on my mind for a while. What IS so “indie” about “indie writers.” Is it merely a fashionable term, wishful thinking? The term comes from the “indie” film and music trends of the late 20th century, but I think those artistic fields are fundamentally different in important ways from book publishing. Both music and film require much more equipment, technical expertise and money, and usually involve more people as well, whereas writers only need to type into a computer, save their files, and upload them to online providers such as Amazon or Smashwords.

Another important distinction is motivation. Self-publishing seems to me to be a different game entirely. From what I’ve seen, most “indie” writers are not rebelling against any industry standards. Independent films are generally movies that the major studios would NOT make, and independent music was originally not the kind of music that the major corporations believed would sell, hence they had no interest (co-option came later). But indie writers are mostly writing the same kind of books that are already being published. They’re writing in the same popular genres, with the same themes, structures, plots and conventions. They’re following the same rules and outputting the same products. There’s just so many of them! The big publishers are used to controlling the market, keeping the gates (as it were) but the walls are falling down around them. People can now put out the same stuff that the publishers can, and since it’s pretty much the same, why should the consumer care where it comes from? If it’s cheaper, even better. So what’s so “indie” about them?

I know there are some who really are breaking new ground, playing around, experimenting, getting ahead of the curve, but writing is a tricky thing to be independent with. Story-telling is deeply engrained in all of us since childhood. The conventional norms exist for a reason. When someone recently critiqued one of my books for “not including the appropriate arcs”, this was just a reminder to me that readers do have definite expectations. They desire a certain kind of story, one with the right amounts of “character development” and “narrative” with “underlying themes” and “dramatic tension” and of course a “resolution” with comforting denouement. Writers defy these conventions at their own risk, but how else can you be “independent”? What does that mean in writing? (Opinions, please)

In music, ‘independent’ is always about defying conventions. Kurt Cobain did not sound like everything else on the radio at that time. Independent films are not required to have the most beautiful people in them. Independent books, though …

The contemporary self-publishing field does make it possible for truly independent attempts at literature to make their way into the world more readily than before (even those missing the appropriate arcs), but how many of them are there, and how many people really want to read them? My guess is that the answer to both of those questions is “a pretty small fraction,” and that’s okay. It’s better than nothing.

I would just suggest that the term “indie writer” is misleading, and mostly misapplied. It sounds cool, but rings a bit hollow when you look at what is really out there.

  • Indie writers are the same as any other small business person who decides to open his/her own shop rather than buying into a franchise that dictates how their business should function. Yes, most small businesses fail, but does anybody go around pointing fingers at somebody who sets up a small business? Anybody who believes in buying goods or services from small business rather than lining the pockets of big corporations, will at least give the small business a try. If the business can’t get customers or provides a shoddy product, then they’ll go out of business.

    That’s what an Indie Writer is–a small business startup trying to succeed in a megacorporation world.

  • That’s certainly one valid definition, from the money-centric point of view, as opposed to the artistic one, which I think is the major impression associated with the word “indie” (as opposed to “independent” as in “small independent bookstore”), but maybe I’m wrong about that and your definition is the more resonant one.

    Even there, independence is relative. Amazon is like the owner of a global flea market space and independent writers (self-publishers) are stall-renters – they still have to pay this dominant megacorporation. They are still playing in that world. Pockets will be lined!

    • Janet James Sasaki

      Have you read Amazon digital platform contract with authors? It is very fair and totally gives authors a great advantage over the small percentage and loss of control the authors have in the old publishing system.

      Publishing companies have been pushing trashy and badly written books in the book stores for years using false advertising techniques, by placing them on the “best sellers” table with special deals they make with booksellers. It is a big farce, it is no wonder that this industry fills landfills with unsold books.

      In the very near future, the next generation of authentic writers will never be forced to waste their time sending letters to the “gatekeeper” agents or ever need to fit into a publisher’s “profitable title formula”. They too will have more freedom to share their art like the artists that can pick up their brushes and paint, or the artists that pick up their instruments and play.

  • Good point. In my town, there’s an on-going Saturday Market. The sellers set up their tables by paying for a space for it. The primary sales are of hand-crafted items. Just about any small business has to pay somebody for the privilege of doing business. Just because they pay rent to a corporation doesn’t mean they’re any less a small business.

    In the case of Amazon, the good part is that the small business person only pays when something actually sells. A much better deal than the hoagie shop in the mini-mall gets.

    The price of business varies, but I do cede your point that megacorps will always get a piece of the action. In that respect, they’re like the Mafia. 😉

  • A better term to use for the “indie” writing that falls outside of the mainstream norms might be “underground”. Most indie publishing I see is almost exactly what mainstream publishers are doing – like Bob Collins mentioned in his comment on the previous article, most people on the indie publishing sites are selling either vampire romances or murder mystery books, which is almost exactly what the big six are selling us.

    When I was a kid and got turned onto bands like Flipper or Black Flag, it wasn’t because they were getting a different percentage of the profits because they weren’t signed to a major, and they were putting out pretty much the same music as Michael Jackson or Madonna. They blew my mind because they were putting out music that 99% of the straight world thought was pure noise, but to me, it was life-changing. It was hard to find, and the album covers were not like a Yes album with a Roger Dean airbrushed mural on it, but the music spoke to me, even if it didn’t have guitar solos in the research-proven spots that rock songs required.

    I think that’s ultimately my disappointment with “indie” publishing. We’ve been given the keys to do anything we want to do, and ultimately, we do exactly the same thing that we’re expected to do. Instead of having conversations about how to write a book that doesn’t follow conventional story arcs, we have conversations about what kind of book covers attracts viewers.

    This will ultimately become the death of the movement. Punk saw the same thing, when underground music became entirely homogenized, and you were practically required to follow a certain code of conduct and wear a specific uniform and act a certain way. By the time “alternative” music became the mainstream, there was no way a band like The Minutemen could have released an album like _Double Nickels on the Dime_, and I feel like we’re already to that point in self-publishing.

    Of course, I’d love to be proven wrong about this, and I welcome links to any books I should be buying and reading that are more than James Patterson or Danielle Steele re-hashes.

    • Great comment – this is exactly the world I come out of, 80’s punk rock and indie rock. And I’d love for indie publishing to have more of that spirit. I’ve even questioned being editor of this site because I don’t really fit the profile of new self-publishers. My hope is that self-publishing becomes a medium for all types of writers to be successful.

      Same time, I don’t think this will sink the movement, because the movement’s as much about the process as the content, and the tools of publication will always be there for everyone. Right now, self-publishing has gained credibility because people are making money off of it – and the stuff that makes money will be commercial for a long time to come. Ultimately though, self-publishing opens up publication for all types of writing that might be turned away by the mainstream – and that possibility will never go away.

    • Amy

      Seek and ye shall find, which is the hardest directive of all when it comes to indie books. Take a walk through IndieReader. I can’t promise all the titles included are the book equivalent of Flipper or Black Flag, but our goal is to help you find the ones that are.

  • It sounds like you got reviewed by a writer. I don’t believe readers have expectations of story arcs or formulas. A general reader either thinks a story is good or not good based on certain elements which I’m still trying to pin down. (Okay, so maybe they do have some expectations of conflict and resolution.) But I think readers don’t necessarily care for formulas unless they’re reading a specific genre like romance or mystery.

    You’re right though. Most of the “indie” publishers aren’t publishing because they want to experiment or try new things, they’re publishing their stories because they’re hoping to make money. I don’t think that’s going to ruin the movement, but it can make it easy to find ways to stand out so we aren’t all homogeneous.

  • I don’t know, man. Lamenting that writing is limited by “the same themes, structures, plots and conventions” sounds suspiciously similar to lamenting the lack of innovation in music because it relies on the same notes and frequency vibrations it always has, or that red is the same boring red as it’s always been since the dawn of the word “red,” so visual arts is therefore hopelessly landlocked.

    Horse patooki.

    Everything you mention is mechanics. To the ultimate end-user, of film or literature or art, is the human who is affected by it. All else is irrelevant. The only thing a reader really cares about is the guided daydream the writer leads them on. If they’re well-read, then they can’t help but discover that some of those daydreams are mind-bending generators of life-altering epiphanies.

    To me, “indie” means “independent.” Cottage industry. Single or small groups of artists trying to make mind-bending daydreams for their end-uers. It means the Corporate Man hasn’t yet gotten his fingers into it, and the middle-men are exiled into irrelevance. It is a revolution, a rebellion, but not against the conventions of film or art or literature. It’s against the conventions of corporate and commercial manipulation.

    What we as indie writers do with what seems a sudden and golden opportunity remains to be seen. But I have faith. Out of the chaos and sudden wash of incompetent wannabe writers, stories and writers will eventually emerge who will knock our socks off.

    • I think you’re missing the point of what constitutes convention. A self-publisher who writes a book about a secret code in a painting called “The Da Vinci Clue” is not shucking convention whatsoever, he’s trying to bank on it. The problem with the mainstream publishing industry is they’re in exactly this camp – they’re looking for books that are similar to books that have already been successful. Those are the conventions of commercial manipulation, and a lot of self-publishers seem to follow a similar formula. More power to them if that’s what they want to do, but to say they’re independent of corporate publishing isn’t really true if the creative impulse is the same. The main thing that separates them is royalty percentage – and I’m not sure if a better profit margin is such a great expression of artistic independence.

  • Lots of good and valid points. One thing is that “Indie” is a loaded word that comes with a definite set of connotations, and those are almost entirely about aesthetics, not economics. If you look it up in Urban Dictionary
    ( http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=indie ) you come across pages and pages of definitions, only a few of which refer to a ‘small business’ or ‘cottage industry’ meaning. As definition #24 says, “it’s a word shortened from independent for a reason”.

    Here are a few typical entries:

    1. an obscure form of rock which you only learn about from someone slightly more hip than yourself.

    7. indie is any business or designer that is not associated with a large company. Indie can also define the consumer who chooses to support small business, independent record labels and handmade items rather than shopping at big-box stores.

    13. people who are indie are not trying to follow along with any fasions or trends, they where whatever they like, they dont take any shit from anyone, unlike most goths, emos and chavs which are all trying to be somthing and have a false personality covered in crap, indie people just do what they want when they want

    17. It’s so hard to be truly ‘indie’ these days, isn’t it? Its seems every time you try not to conform, you’re conforming to something else – the non-conformists! Confusing! But the only way to be indie in a small way is to just do what YOU want

    18. it mostly deals with liking things that aren’t the norm

    23. it has been said many different ways. But “indie” is very broad and encompasses a lot. Its not always a person who tries to go against the main stream-but just someone who likes what isn’t popularized… Indie is what something is before it’s watered down and presented for basic and massive culture.

    24. it’s a word shortened from independent for a reason. indie isn’t something you can copy or try to be and it’s not supposed to be a sterotype. you can’t try to dress like an indie kid because then you’ll be a poser. and there’s no real definition because indie is whatever everyone else isn’t and whatever you are. everyone is trying to make it into a style and it’s about the music anyways, and originality

    29. Indie is just another trend, like anything else.

  • There are several areas in which the ‘indie’ authors are pushing the boundaries.

    One of them is genre. There are countless tales on the ‘net about writers whose submissions were rejected because their story didn’t ‘fit’ neatly within a specific genre, or blended genres in such a way as to defy categorization.

    Story length is another. Traditional publishing has been reducing novel length for some time now, partly due to economics and available shelf space.

    My reader friends (not writers) have expressed suprise when told of the word count restrictions imposed by publishers. Their number one complaint about many novels over the last few years is stories that are ‘anorexic’, or just aren’t plain long enough.

    Indie writers are better positioned to meet those demands, though they need to be careful not to go too far in the other direction.

    As more and more indie authors try to make their mark, I think we’ll see drastic changes in the physical appearance of stories, both in print and ebook. Graphics, extra content, and interactive content are some of the tools innovative writers will use freely, unhampered by outdated customs and restrictions that guide traditionally published works.

    This is a wild time in publishing, and much of the recent revolution has been led by indie writers. I like to think the term ‘indie’ applies to those who are adventurous and independent enough to strike out on their own.

  • An exceptional piece from Tom. And to be fair, I don’t think he is trying to give self-published authors a hard time, but rather, question the validity of the term ‘indie’, and what value it really has. I think for a long time, authors going it alone wanted to steer away from the ‘self-published’ tag, particular those who set up their own imprint and do it properly. However, like Tom, I’m not convinced the ‘indie’ tag reflects an author publishing alone – certainly not in the way we have seen with the indie music scene. When I hear the term used, I always ask – what exactly is it authors are trying to be independent of, when all their endeavors are heartfelt, but often reflect a style/genre already put out by mainstream publishers.

    If authors want to be truly independent, then they need to offer something different – as music artists tried during the 80’s and 90’s – something different in content, rather than path and proccess of publishing.

  • This is a great conversation (like the one that came before it but without those “dirty” words). I agree with Tom and all of the commenters who emphasize that the new publishing world at least allows true “indie” writers to make their writings inexpensively available to the reading public. The old publishing world and its gatekeepers didn’t allow that. We at least have a chance now.

    I could be wrong about this, but it’s been my impression that “indie,” when applied to writers, was merely a shorter form of “independent,” meaning they were independent of the big corporations and their gatekeepers. They were the small business people Marva Dasef speaks of.

    Although I consider myself to be an “indie” writer in the sense of offering “something different in content,” as Mick Rooney says, I don’t think all independent or “self-publishing” writers need to be. If some nobody can take a tried and true formula and make millions and gain a lot of attention, I won’t object.

    On the other hand, the true indie writers we’re talking about in this conversation needn’t give up on finding the readers they’re looking for. More than a few indie films have won Oscars. Someday one of us will win a National Book Award.

  • On the point of publishing convention, and what independence should mean – well, the biggest trap mainstream publishing has fallen into is to be simply be reactive. Mainstream publishing is struggling with a publishing ‘convention’ which doesn’t allow it to connect with readers as offering something new or refreshing. The structure of publishing – with submission to publication times of 12-18 months – can’t possibly be fresh and new. It becomes formulaic – trying to repeat what was previously a best seller. The problem is the public has long moved on from what was ‘in’ 12 months on.

    I think ‘indie’ publishing – to a degree – is also in danger of falling into the same trap, simply because self-publishers can turn around a ‘flavour of the month’ book around within a few weeks. But…that’s not ‘indie’ publishing in the way I think it was originally meant to be.

    For me, indie publishing, as I understand it, is about offering something different, outside of what you expect as a reader, but strong enough to capture your attention. The idea is no different than what 4AD and Rough Trade were doing for music, or Soho or John Calder were doing for books years ago.

    Convention is about doing what is safe, has been done before, and repeating how ever many times you can get away with it and still make a profit.

    Indie should be about taking a risk and creating something new, and preserving that platform, without it ever being used as an avenue for the predictable and the conventional. The moment that happens – it just becomes a part of the larger machine.

  • I can’t speak for Indie Music, but Indie Films are just films made outside the system, often self financed and sometimes with small to non-existent crews. These movies are *made*, then sold to a distrib or self distribbed. So they are made on spec (as opposed to a studio film). The roots of Indie Films are B westerns and B horror movies… and “Race Films”. If you’ve ever been a member of IFP (now FIND in L.A.) and watched all of the indie films looking for a distrib, they are mostly poorly made crap – and there’s even cliche indie genres like the Dying Grandmother Film (where a 20-something artist living in his parent’s basement or old bedroom, his parents want him to get a job, only his grandmother believes in his art… and then she dies! Now nobody believes he is an artistic genius… then, his work is discovered and he snubs his nose at his parents) – must have seen 100 of those in a single year! According to LA Times, 98% of Indie Films find no form of distribution at all. There are 27,000 Indie Films made every year. Ifr you’re in LA, head over to AFM to check out the indie films that *did* get distribution – mostly crap genre stuff.

  • “But indie writers are mostly writing the same kind of books that are already being published.”

    I’m pretty sure no publisher would touch “The Emo Bunny that Should, A Story for Demented Children”. *grin*

    You do have some good points, but there really are a lot of us changing the rules here and there. 🙂

  • wcmartell, you know a lot more about indie films than I do, but the indie film world you describe is what I imagined it to be. And it sounds just like the indie writing world. We find ourselves amid “mostly poorly made crap,” and yet we soldier on.

  • Emo is awesome and I’ve found lots and lots of other great self-published stuff over the past couple of years. I’m pretty sure the term ‘indie writer’ is going to stick for most people, but I think I’ll go with “self-published” for myself.

    • Tom, you can call yourself anything you want, and that will be alright with me. But whatever we call ourselves, I think most if not all of the people participating in this conversation would agree with your view that “indie” doesn’t necessarily mean true “indie.” And yet, I suspect, we all view ourselves as “defying conventions,” as you put it in your post, and have utmost respect for those who do it well. True indie.

      See what you’ve wrought, Henry?

  • Why don’t we just say it plain? Self-published authors have co-opted the word “Indie” to try to escape the (well-earned) stigma of amateurism and to obfuscate the fact that 99% of self-published lit is pure crap that isn’t published because it’s not publishable. They tout the very rare successes of one or the other of their peers as indicative of their kind, when they are actually the happy exceptions.

    • That’s sort of true. That’s how it used to be, in the POD era when people were afraid of being attached to self-publishing. But in the Kindle era, when there are a lot more exceptions than there used to be, indie publishing has more weight. You see agents and editors using it now too.

  • I started calling myself an indie author long before it was cool, or before I heard anyone else use it. Why? “Self-published” was to mean an author took his books to the printer and stored a bunch of copies in his garage to sell by hand. Well, that doesn’t fit many of us. So what are we when we have our books edited on our own, format them on our own (or pay for that), do our own covers (or pay for that), but use a company to distribute and print? *shrug*

    Indie does mean independent. If you’re doing all of that, you are indie. I resent bands who call themselves indie when some company has signed them and is paying their expenses. That’s not independent. That’s traditional.

    However, I also grieve the fact that so many authors are putting out the same stories in iffy quality and touting themselves boldly as indie. It’s going to happen. So what? Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    My work is genre-bending. I write a cross between literary fiction and romance, which are two opposite sides of the novel spectrum. Some of my books are 280,000 words. Some are 100,000. I DID go indie out of protest to how the traditional publishing market works. I don’t like that they put out only what’s currently in vogue. I don’t like that they have secretaries scanning manuscripts and if there’s a lead name in there that reminds them of someone they don’t like, they throw it in the slush pile (yes, that happens). I don’t like that they can buy a manuscript and hold it forever, tying the author’s hands, while they think about publishing it (also happens).

    It is absolutely an anti-tradition movement. Some of us fully believe in that. Others are following on our skirt-tails. That always happens, with every movement. It doesn’t negate what we’re doing or who we are.

  • This argument and debate will never end.

    Indie isn’t derogatory. It’s not shameful. And so what if some indie authors put out exactly what the main stream puts out. The WHOLE point with indie is being able to do what YOU want. You want to write traditional? Fine, then do it. Maybe you just don’t want to wait 6 months to a year to get paid and get paid only twice a year. Ever think about that Henry?

    Look, if you want to be picky and knock things because they are “indie”, you can knock practically any part of the process.

    OR, you can quit complaining and join the bandwagon.

    • Pretty sure I’ve joined the bandwagon – I created this site.

      Everything you say is true – but then indie has a different meaning than it used to, and that’s what this post is about.

  • You are arguing the definition of “indie.” I hobnob with a bunch of “indies” and we do not call ourselves indie writers, rather independent publishers, meaning we arrange for all aspects of publishing by ourselves, and preferably do not use (self) publishing services (vanity) companies. Most book writers are indie unless you’re a ghost so the term indie writer seems meaningless. As several posted, indie just means you’re a DIY business. You’re assuming it means cutting edge, but there are plenty of garage bands and indie films that are not. The usual reasons for being indie anything is that your work isn’t quite professional enough, you want the freedom to make the decisions and/or you have a product that isn’t mainstream commercial. Don’t read too much into it. BTW, anyone who goes indie to make money is delusional. You go indie because you got drive.

  • Linda, in my opinion you said it, in a few words, just about as well as anybody could.

  • The title of this post was in the form of a question, and I think that question has been amply answered. As some have pointed out, I was interpreting the word ‘indie’ in an aesthetic sense, meaning ‘cutting edge’ or ‘unconventional’, whereas the more common interpretation is in the economic sense of ‘independent’, as it’s used for coffee shops that aren’t Starbucks, or bookstores that aren’t chains. I think that’s perfectly fine and now I’ll just shut up. Thanks for all the comments!

    • Tom, I hope you don’t “just shut up.” I enjoy reading your posts and comments, and I particularly appreciate that you and Henry Baum started this conversation. I agree with Linda Austin that our discussion is about definitions, but it also made me — and, I assume, many other visitors to SPR — think about what we’re attempting to do and whether we’re satisfied with that. I didn’t find what you and Henry wrote to be complaining or defensive.

  • The problem is, the original writer of this article appears to be defensive, not realizing that the article comes across as complaining. Those of us who have responded, have taken it, in general, as a complaint. When you get defensive because it seems as if you’re complaining, you should not retaliate against us. Rather, you should look in the mirror.

    You remind me of a guy on Kindle forums that has a sickness. He must constantly create controversy to keep attention on himself. If attention is cast elsewhere, he doesn’t feel whole. Then he complains when people show him the other side.

    If you’ve joined the bandwagon, don’t complain 😉

    • He’s not complaining, it’s a critical essay to spur discussion – which it did. The publishing industry is changing, so we’re talking about it. That’s all. It’s not even that controversial – unless you think having an opinion is controversial.

      • Mirror, mirror, on the wall.

        Don’t look at how YOU think you’re coming across. Look at how OTHERS perceive how you come across.

        You’ll never grow as a person until you do.

        • You’re the only person making this complaint. I’ll take my chances.

          At this point you’re sort of trolling, but this is kind of fascinating What you’re saying is that because some people who come to this site might disagree with me, I should change my opinion to cater to them. And what about those people who agree with me – won’t I be disappointing them? It’s well within my right to wish indie publishing had more of a punk rock spirit. I wish everything had more of a punk rock spirit.

          I’m glad that self-publishing has grown and people are successful. But the reason I got into self-publishing is so I could have full freedom of expression. What you’re advocating is the opposite.

          • You don’t actually read anything except your own words, do you?

            If you did, it’s blatantly obvious I’m not the “only one complaining” about your “complaint.” Yet, I’m trolling.

            Yes, I’m advocating the opposite of self-expression. Right. That’s why I said, “A person gets into self-publishing to publish (wait for it) what THEY WANT, even if it is the same as a big 6 would publish.” Yes, I’m advocating taking away self-expression. Sure.

            You’re blind.

            No, you’re not blind. And you’re not stupid. You’re wanting to create controversy, and you are, so congrats. I’m done. Done having my words twisted into lies.

            • OK, granted. And like I said above: I agree with that. I’ve got my own take on self-publishing, which is hardly controversial – it’s actually pretty common. But, man, you said I had a “sickness” which is way more controversial than anything anyone has written here. And then you talk about mirrors.

  • There are as many different ways to see this issue as there are ways to write. In the end, as an ‘indie’ I write what I want to write – for me, that’s the point. Then, I publish it. Point two. I’ll keep doing that because I can, whether it rains or shines or punk kills this or that or whatever.

  • Tricia Dupew

    I think what you’re referring to here is more a question of available means of publication than it is of the inability of “indie” writers to stray from established norms. When looking at the traditional mode of publishing books – that is, publication in print form – all that has changed is the ability for anyone to upload and publish a book on the Amazon Kindle (or other like devices) rather than having to either 1) make it past the “big business” gatekeepers, or 2) provide a large outlay of their own money to self-publish and self-promote. This, in and of itself, is progress from the previously established paradigm, but it’s nothing more than a baby step.

    The change that is currently in progress in literature today will eventually lead to an entirely new way for people to experience reading, but it’s not going to happen all at once. Books as digital media are in a stage of transition in which we cling to what’s established even while we look forward to what is coming. The Kindle Fire, with the kf8 protocol based upon HTML-5 will give “indie” authors a better chance to play with the available tools and, in this experimental play, will begin producing works that stay within the established paradigms of story arc and form. In addition to this, I think we will see a shift in the nature of print or digital authorship itself – as we move into a realm of literature in which the physical page and the two covers of a print book are no longer the boundaries of authorial creativity, we are going to see more collaborative and networked literary creations in which the author of the text itself is not going to be the only person responsible for its creation.

    Summarized…it’s going to be a hell of a ride for authors and bibliophiles alike. Great blog!

    • Tricia Dupew

      I should have said that in experimental play, more and more “indie” authors will begin producing works that do NOT stay within the established paradigms of story arc and form. Sorry!

  • Fiction writers are by definition “independent.” Books aren’t written by committee, after all, but in solitary efforts. The fact that the product may conform more or less to genre conventions makes the writer no less independent; conventions evolve over time, and are nudged or shoved by certain writers in new directions (Mark Twain with Huck Finn, for example). Writers who have allowed the gatekeepers of traditional publishing to control them are substantially LESS independent. So, the term “indie writer” is adequate in expressing those who break dependence on traditional publishers, editors & agents. And, occasionally, an indie writer breaks conventions enough to start new trends–new trends that traditional publishers would never have accepted until the trends were “safe.”

  • Henry is probably right, the term indie writer is probably misleading and inappropriate.

    A more appropriate (but a far bigger mouthful) would be Disintermediated Writer.

    Disintermediation was a term we coined in the 80s in the financial services industry when we bypassed middlemen on financial products, eliminating brokers in every facet from securities transactions to mortgages.

    In the 90s iTunes did the same thing with music. Artists write and record their own music and release it on iTunes or any of the dozen or so other delivery vehicles directly to the consuming public.

    And now the process has reached the written word.

    Every middleman between the author and the newsstand/bookstore is being made irrelevant and can be viewed by the author as someone who takes a share of revenue and by the reader as someone who adds cost.

    As with music and financial products in the last century and products of all kinds in this century, the middleman had better add value to both sides of the equation or they will be history.

  • Tyler

    Most people don’t care or aren’t aware of where the book was published or how. If the subject interests them then they’re going to buy it.

  • “Indie” means the same thing in music, film, or writing: created without commercial backing. Artists go independent when they can’t get profit-driven media companies to financially sponsor the type of work they wish to create. Whether that’s because the work is too avant garde or too pedestrian is irrelevant. Genius and hack alike have equal right to lay claim to the term “indie.” The second you have a contract, you cease to be indie.

  • Jennifer, Tricia, David, Hugh, and Tyler, I enjoyed reading your contributions to this interesting discussion.

    Hugh, I was vaguely aware of what the term “disintermediation” meant in the financial world. I think you’ve astutely connected it with what’s going on in the world of the “written word.”

    Tricia, I agree with you entirely. The new paradigm in publishing allows some of us to claim to call ourselves “indie” as well as “independent.” Surely, “more and more ‘indie’ authors will begin producing works that do NOT stay within the established paradigms of story arc and form.”

    Some of us, though, who are deeply in love with the apparently ageless story arc and form we’ve inherited, might still claim “indie” status by giving the arc and form twists and turns nobody had previously imagined.

  • Jo Atherton

    ‘Indie’ is just a word. Storytelling seems to be the last bastion of conventionalism in occidental culture. All other forms of art, from music to theatre to sculpture, seems to have evolved and developed over the centuries, whereas books have become extremely standardised. That doesn’t mean to say things haven’t changed, ever. They simply change slower.
    I joined the legions of writers who have self-published this year and have never called myself an ‘indie’ writer, but it sounds so cool that I may just start doing so.
    In terms of ‘indie’ writing, I think the definition would be more about people working independently, following their own rythmn and publishing in a format they are most content with, and less about those who are bucking the trend or bringing out a new form. Remember that a story uses only words to paint a image, convey an emotion and build tension. The differences you will see will be much more subtle than those which can be shown in a film.
    I welcome the changes. For me, e-publishing is the future. I welcome a world in which everyone reads most of thier books via a smartphone, Kindle or tablet. Indie or not, I love the new publishing revolution.

  • Jo, you included a number of interesting points in your comment. I often wonder if storytelling, from Homer down to the latest gossip concerning some easily forgettable celebrity, is a significant part of what it means to be human. Even religion and science are collections of stories. In any event, I, like you, welcome the changes and love the revolution. We’re in this story.

  • Someone once asked Ralph Stella to describe his work and he said, “I’m a painter, man.” And that was it. No labels.I think writers and musicians, photographers, whatever, should do the same. Write your books, play your music. If other people want to label you, that’s their problem. If you’re intent on labeling yourself, that’s your problem. And I think you have to be careful, too — you might get what you wish for and someday regret it.

  • Indie musicians use the same notes as commercial pop musicians. Indie filmmakers use essentially the same gear, framing techniques, and narratives as Hollywood. Indie writing draws from the same dictionary that Ernest Hemingway and Stephenie Meyer used.

    Some people use “indie” as a genre. It’s not. It’s an adjective.

  • I’m a true Indie author, baby. I publish things you do not see, guaranteed. I’m 100 percent original. Check me out and give this struggling artist a shot!

    I’ve got a free story up at Smashwords.com called “Bit** Gone Crazy in The Attic.” You can also go to Amazon and get my novella “Bad Billy” (99 cents), my short story collection “Yo A$$ Is GRA$$” (only 99 cents) and my poetry collection “From My Cracked Out Heart” (only 99 cents).

    If you want to read a truly original Indie writer and see something unique, read me today.