Indie Publishing versus Self-publishing: The rise of the indie author

Updated April 14, 2020

The terms “indie publishing” and “indie publishers” were until recently associated with small presses, to identify them as separate from larger, traditional book publishers. Over time, authors who wanted to maintain complete creative control over their books began to create their own small presses, which really only involves starting a business and little else. Being a small press or an independent book publisher does not mean having a printing press in your basement! The rising popularity and ease of access to print-on-demand (POD) through IngramSpark and Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing have served to increase the number of indie publishers.

As authors moved towards avoiding traditional publishers or small presses who require that the author’s book be accepted in order to be published in return for royalties, we saw the advent of vanity presses and other assorted self-publishing opportunists. These companies sometimes masquerade as traditional publishers by having authors go through an elaborate process to make them think or at least feel as if they are being accepted to be published. Typically the author pays to have the book published or sacrifices an inordinate percentage of their royalties for the privilege.

More recently, a new term has emerged: indie author. What is an indie author?

The Indie Author

Like an indie publisher, the indie author maintains complete creative control over his or her book. The two terms are being used interchangeably, and perhaps being an “indie author” sounds less scary and confusing than being an “indie publisher.” One definition I read said that an indie author is an author who has self-published at least one book—and I suppose that means self-publishing by any means available.

The real definition lies somewhere in between, and it’s not just semantics.

An indie author maintains complete creative control over their book by self-publishing through companies such as Book Baby, which offers editing and proofreading services-for-hire, along with cover and page design services or do-it-yourself templates. Here’s a key point: in addition to paying for these services, the indie author uses one of the company’s ISBNs and therefore is not the publisher of record. The indie author usually earns a lower royalty as the self-publishing company acts as the middle person to sell the book and holds back a portion of the author’s royalties.

An indie author who takes the route of working with a self-publishing company might be someone who self-publishes a book as a hobby, or they may have the goal of earning money. Either way, the indie author usually attempts to self-publish by the cheapest, fastest and least painful route possible. An indie author does not take the time to learn how to maximize royalties, compare service options, or do the research necessary to ensure the book has the best chances out there in a ferocious marketplace. An indie author will most likely set an arbitrary budget based on “this is all I can afford,” and then find the editing and book design options that fall within that budget, even if the result is a terrible book. In short, the indie author does not treat the book as a business, and wrongly believes that the market will accept and reward a shoddy book. Yes, the indie author maintains creative control, but over what exactly? (If you’re not sure this is an accurate description, read the article on Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Vanity Presses, published on the Alliance of Independent Authors website.)

Indie Publishing

An indie publisher, on the other hand, is an author who treats the book publishing project as a serious business and not just a hobby. The author is the CEO of their own indie publishing company, with the book as the product. The indie publisher does the research into the book market and the genre in which the book will compete, setting the book up to compete successfully in the marketplace. Indie publishers know their name is their brand, and they want their name associated with a quality product. They know that consumers will not accept shoddy product design.

The indie publisher:

  • researches service options, creates a budget.
  • knows that Amazon KDP and IngramSpark are the only legitimate ways to print on demand and thus are the only routes to wide book distribution despite the claims of other self-publishing companies and vanity presses.
  • knows that by setting up their own titles and files with either of these two companies, they will maximize their per book revenues.
  • understands the ramifications of not using one’s own ISBN. Learn more about where to purchase your own ISBN here.
  • asks, “What are my options, which option achieves my desired outcome, and how much does that option cost?” Budget constraints are a reality for indie publishers as well, but rather than releasing a bad book, the indie publisher may shelve the book project until sufficient money is raised.

Which category do you fit in: indie author or indie publisher? Either is completely legitimate and yes, some indie authors make it big by hitting upon the right combination of fabulous writing, great design and savvy book marketing. However, if your intent is to create a book that will help you build towards a franchise of books from which you could one day make a living, or to create a book that takes your career to new heights or is a marketing tool for your business, then think about becoming an indie publisher and not an indie author.


1106 Design provides publishing services to authors, but we don’t pretend to publish the book, nor do we lay claim to any percentage of the royalties! Once we have completed the services for which the author has hired us (e.g., editing, cover design, interior design, author coaching), the author owns their book, files, imprint and royalties. We appeal to authors who run their publishing enterprise like the business it is. For more information on our services, contact Michele DeFilippo.

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