skip to Main Content
We Need To Talk About… Indie Author Independence With ALLi Director Orna Ross

We Need to Talk About… Indie Author Independence with ALLi Director Orna Ross

Orna Ross, ALLi Director

This week in our regular Alliance of Independent Authors opinion post, ‘We Need to Talk About…”, we're discussing what it really means to be independent as a self-published author. What motivates us to go it alone, what are the real benefits and challenges of creative control, and how could our indie author independence evolve in the future?

Read on for thoughts from ALLi Director Orna Ross and our author member community.

We Need to Talk About… Indie Author Independence

What does being indie mean to you?  It's going to be a different answer for every author but too often “indie” is just used as a synonym for “self-publishing”. I'd argue it's so much more than that.

“Indie” is a shorthand for independent, but to fully embrace independence, we first have to explore what it means and then examine how we display it in our writing and publishing.

Copyright laws in most Western countries gives us automatic, exclusive, legally-secured rights to reproduce and distribute our own works. To publish, perform, or record them. To profit from them and to authorize others to also. Authors have this power, but every day at ALLi we watch authors disempower themselves by naively signing away rights, by choosing poor self-publishing services, distribution or marketing methods, or by working from assumptions about publishing that are outdated, or just plain wrong.

We all start somewhere, and we all make mistakes, but if we're not proactively taking the next step towards being more independent, we're likely reactively slipping into dependence.

Then there is the question of interdependence. The paradox of being an indie author is we develop our independence within a context of interdependence.

We all rely on services, tools and technology to do our work. From editorial to marketing, a good book that reaches its readers has had many helping hands in its making. And of course many indie authors find immense value in communities of writers, readers, and industry professionals–not to mention the support of our families and friends.

Independence is not just a business choice. It's an attitude that permeates all aspects of our work, from how we write to the ways we connect with readers.

When it's our highest value, we do well.

At ALLi, we spot when authors adopt an attitude of creative independence. We call it “going indie”. They begin to explore where their books fit in the marketplace and the value they're bringing to readers. They begin to set creative intentions for their marketing, to assemble a team of publishing professionals, to adopt new techniques and tools, to claim autonomy and responsibility, to accept that they are the captain of their own commercial and creative fate.

And to understand that the primary relationship, between them and their readers, is the most important one to nurture. This leads them to new technologies, tools and techniques, and to finding a personal creative routine that can fulfil their ambitions. 

They move beyond thinking like a writer and start thinking like a publisher too. Soon they are up and running, on the creative ride of their life: making mistakes and enjoying successes, reaching more readers, selling more books, moving into profit. 

An independent mindset develops in different ways for different authors.

To distort Shakespeare’s fine line in Twelfth Night, some authors are born independent, some choose independence, and some have independence thrust upon them.

The born indies come straight into writing and self-publishing, together. For them, it’s the obvious and only choice. Most of these are younger writers who have grown up sharing their writing on Wattpad, social media, or blogs. Publishing a book is just their logical next step. Their followers are keen for them to produce a book, follow their journey through writing and production, and buy the book as soon as it’s released. It soars to success and though it all seems to happen organically, from a publishing perspective what’s happened is that the marketing work has been done upfront. 

Then there are those who consciously choose self-publishing for its creative and commercial rewards: the speed, the control, the freedom, the direct relationship with readers. With time and dedication, they also do well. 

It’s those who come to self-publishing reluctantly, because they’ve repeatedly tried and failed to get a trade publisher, who have the hardest time. Most indie authors need support when starting out, as there’s a lot to learn, change and implement, but an author who is dreaming of a publishing contract from a third party is rarely in the right mind mode to do the work of becoming a good publisher themselves. 

They are the ones most likely to fall away, defeated not so much by the job of self-publishing as the mindset they’ve brought to it.

What do you think?

We asked ALLi members in our selfpubconnect forum to share their thoughts on the theme of indie author independence. A wide range of views and ideas were discussed, demonstrating just how varied our experience of indie author independence can be.

Anna Sayburn Lane finds freedom in making informed decisions:

Independence becomes more of a blessing with growing experience and confidence. At first, it's the independence to make all the mistakes everyone warns you about… and learn in your own way. Eventually it's the freedom to make informed decisions, do your research using the amazing resources out there and decide on your own priorities. You get to decide what success looks like, you get to set priorities that are meaningful for you.

PJ Skinner shares the three reasons they chose to go ‘indie':

I chose being indie for three reasons. Firstly, control over my work, being able to edit after publishing, choosing my own cover and license separately. Secondly, impatience. I can't wait years for an agent to chose me, and then months for a publisher, and then years to publish. Thirdly, financial. I am quite good at maths and 10% is much much smaller than 70-90%.

Jackie Watson raises questions about indie authorship in relation to AI:

I went down the self publishing route because I wanted to keep the rights to my work. I’ve had total control over the story, editing, cover and marketing. However, it’s a two edged sword. Trad publishing has immense power and I find lots of hurdles and road blocks you have to negotiate.

At this stage self publishing has not provided any financial independence, I still work and I’ll do for the foreseeable future. AI is clearly a big trend and people want books for free or very little.

James Richardson reflects on taking control and a removal of gatekeepers:

I like the way I can create a unique product with the characteristics I want. The world is full of tv, newspapers, software and books with a conventional style that I often don't like. With self publishing I can make a book with the content and style I think it needs. A publisher might say my travel book has to have restaurants, hotels, more history, etc or no-one will buy it. I can miss those things out and make it exactly the book I personally want to read.

I also like the lack of gatekeepers. I'm sure traditional publishers would say I do not have the qualifications or background for any of my books. Despite my limited experience, my books are based on my own need for the content so I think it offers something a better qualified expert might not supply as effectively.

Jamie Crawford takes pride in doing it ‘my way':

As an indie-publishing newbie, facing a steep learning curve and a lot of uncertainty in the coming months if not years, I recently took heart from the realisation that most of the successes I’ve enjoyed in my sixty odd years have been down to an independent and even downright eccentric cast of mind.

For me, being independent includes accepting guidance and engaging in collaboration but the salient point is that it’s me who gets to decide what, who and how, at least initially. At the same time, I value the complementing of pride in doing it my way with the humility and sensitivity to the needs of others that comes with embracing interdependence.

Janet Kaul reflects on the speed of indie publishing vs. the ‘approval' of traditional:

I’m over sixty, Alzheimer’s runs in the family, and I always knew I wanted my writing out there after I’m gone. So I didn’t have time for searching for agents and publishers and waiting years to publish.

Now retired, I’m lucky enough to have the funds to hire some assistance, at least for my first book. And that’s where I am! The independence is lovely for getting my own way, but sometimes I worry about not having the approval of a trad publishing contract.

Kevin Partner finds ‘the power to make choices' most important to true indie author independence:

Independence, to me, means the power to make choices. As an indie, I can choose what to write, how often to publish, where to publish, in which formats without needing to refer to a third party. Being independent means owning my mistakes as well as my successes. It's about embracing accountability.

Indie publishing has made it possible for me to earn a full-time income from writing since 2018. I've never been a superstar, but my family lives modestly and, so far, it's been enough. A stroke in 2022 threw a spanner in the works, but I'm exploring how AI can help me be as productive as before in the fewer hours my fatigue allows.

Indies will be at the forefront of the inevitable changes to the industry being driven by AI and selling direct. Unlike traditional publishing, we can adapt and pivot on a dime, which is essential when the rate of change is like it is at present. These are exciting times for authors who embrace the fact that being an indie means being more than just a writer.

Karen Drury finds the choose to set your own deadlines offers the flexibility to work alongside writing:

I'm still working at the day job, so independence to me means being able to choose my deadlines (within reason, we all need to book in editors, copy-editors, etc) and take my story anywhere I like. I got fed up of waiting for someone to spot my genius (:)) and decided to just give things a go. Six books and four novellas on, I can even swap genres if I feel like it and if I'm prepared to put in the work to build a new audience.

With ALLi, and many other self published authors, there's plenty of support around – you don't need a trad publisher for that. And as for marketing – so many trad publishers are pushing you to do your own marketing, you may as well do that for yourself – not for their percentage!

Thoughts or further questions on this indie author independence or any self-publishing issue?

Question mark in light bulbs

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

If you're an ALLi member, head over to the SelfPubConnect forum for support from our experienced community of indie authors, advisors, and our own ALLi team. Simply create an account (if you haven't already) to request to join the forum and get going.

Non-members looking for more information can search our extensive archive of blog posts and podcast episodes packed with tips and advice at ALLi's Self-Publishing Advice Centre.

Find out more:

If you aren't yet a member of ALLi, take a look at our website for all the details. Memberships range from Associates preparing your first book, right up to experienced Authorpeneurs running self-publishing and associated businesses. Each level offers benefits and support, and all members become part of the ALLi community. Find out more here: Join ALLi.

InterdependenceIf this post has got you thinking, take a listen to the Publishing for Profit ALLi podcast episode Independence and Interdependence with Orna Ross and Joanna Penn where they discuss why interdependence so important, and how can we be stronger together.

ALLi out and about London Book Fair 2024

The Future of Publishing

And you can hear more from Orna Ross, with this recent post on the future of publishing, including a video catch-up of the London Book Fair panel session The Rise and Rise of the Indie Author with Joanna Penn, Michael La Ronn and Orna Ross discussing the rise of the indie author and what may be coming next, including the impact of AI: The Future of Publishing

Author: Orna Ross

Orna Ross is a bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction and inspirational poetry, and a creativity facilitator. As founder-director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, she has been named one of The Bookseller’s Top 100 people in publishing. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest advice, news, ratings, tools and trends.

Back To Top
×Close search