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What IS An Indie Author?

What IS An Indie Author?

what is an indie author

Indie Authors Get Books To Readers in Many Ways Including Trade Publishers

Novelist and Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, Orna Ross, considers the sometimes confusing question of what exactly distinguishes an indie author from a self-publisher.

This post was prompted by an ALLi member who thought she had to leave our alliance because she wanted to sign a deal with a trade publisher.

“It's ironic,” she wrote. “All the great tips I got from you guys at ALLi is how I sold so many books and that's why the publisher approached me. Do I have to leave now? I don't want to.”

“Of course you don't,” we wrote back. “Lots of our members use trade publishers to reach readers, especially through bookstores, or for foreign and other rights, while still self-publishing other projects.”

Many people call this “hybrid”. At ALLi, it's just part of being indie.

Being an indie author is primarily an approach to writing and publishing, a matter of self-definition.

If you see yourself as the creative director of your books, from concept to completion and beyond, then you're indie. You don't approach publishers with a longing for validation: “publish me please”. (Please, please, I beg you, ple-e-e-e-ase!)

An indie author makes partnerships that help deliver the best possible book to the most possible readers, trade publishers included. Sometimes that might well involve working with an agent to sell certain rights, or directly with a trade publisher.

I sent her the definition of an indie author from the FAQ page of our website:

At ALLi, “independent” is an inclusive description and always relative (everyone needs help to write and publish well). Some of our members are fiercely indie-spirited, as DIY as it's possible to be. Others are happy to collaborate with a publisher where that seems advantageous, some working with paid publishing services, others with trade publishers.

So what marks out an indie from other authors? The Alliance allows that you are an independent author if:

  • You have self-published at least one book.
  • You recognize that ‘indie' does not necessarily mean ‘self-publishing only' and acknowledge that even the most indie-spirited self-publisher works in collaboration with other publishing professionals (editors, designers, distributors) to produce a good book and reach readers. You are open to mutual beneficial partnerships, including trade publishing deals where appropriate for you, so long as the author's status as creative director of the book is acknowledged.
  • You expect your status in the partnership to be reflected in contracts and terms, not just lip service.
  • You recognise that you are central to a revolutionary shift in publishing which is moving from seeing the author as resource (in the new parlance ‘content provider') to respecting the author as creative director.
  • You are proud of your indie status, which you carry into all your ventures, negotiations and collaborations for your own benefit and to the benefit of all writers.

See also this article about the indie spirit and why every author should self-publish (at least once)

What do you think? Does the definition of indie as creative director of the book make sense to you? What's your definition? Let us know in the comment box below.

And if you'd like to be part of our growing non-profit, to connect with other authors who have walked this path before you and are incredibly knowledgeable and generous, as well as having access to a great many other benefits, you can join the Alliance of Independent Authors here. Together, we're stronger.

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. 


This Post Has 98 Comments
  1. It is hard to find someone who has so many skills that he can do everything by himself. Aside from that, you cannot do everything by yourself. Life is not just about one person. It takes a team. So, you should always try to get in touch with the best people in the field to make things better.

  2. Indie is anything outside the mainstream and/or not associated with a major company. So an indie author would have unusual stories or writing styles, and/or not have a major publishing company.

  3. I need help with finding something online or someone to help me with my book cover. I have been writing this vampire book for about 3 or 4 years, but i never thought about the cover of the book. Can someone give me any ideas on what to do?

    1. I am a retired managing art director for an international educational publisher. Since you are writing about vampires, which requires illustration help, I suggest you contact an artist rep agency. They have hundreds of illustrators available who can help you. You can ask the rep for style recommendations as well. A directory of illustration is helpful too. Try these 2 sites to get your feet wet. lemonadeillustration.com/childrensbook.aspx and mbartists.com/cgi-bin/iowa/index.html. Good luck!

  4. you are prepared to recognize where your constraints are and comprehend the significance of getting proficient assistance to guarantee that you produce a top quality book.

    1. A content creator can surely upgrade your content but do research and note some main points. A content writer must be a professional researcher as well. I haven’t read this author’s post but looking great so hopefully he is a good research or creative one as well.

  5. Hi there. I am en route to becoming an Indie writer. My first book, a memoir of childhood in a British colony in the 1950s s complete. Now for the book cover, ( being designed by my daughter who is a freelance designer) and then the formatting etc.
    I am a complete novice and now in my seventies! Glad to have found your website and the Alliance!
    NB: my website : still choosing the theme etc. Bare at the moment. I will let you know when I have got it truly going.

  6. I am an Indie. I retired October 2018 from 42 years as a full-time Pastor to go into full-time writing. In June 2019 I published 4 books. I enjoyed learning how to write, format, edit, set up my book covers, and self publish. Doing the traditional publishing scene was not even a thought. In fact, I have to quote one of my favorite TV show personalities, Mr. MONK when asked if he had thought about it. He said, “I didn’t even think about thinking about it.” Now I have 3 more books almost finished to publish and will be on the market by Dec. 2019. My goal is to publish 40 books. I was contacted last week by a traditional publishing company and asked if I would submit a manuscript of what I believed to be my strongest book, of which I kindly thanked them and then said “no thank you.” I am currently learning my way around the marketing and promotion side of things. I also plan to achieve this hurdle and cross the finish line.

  7. Good explanation, I will be to think about an indie author, with different gain according theirs character who reach the specific readers, there are many genre with an absolutely interesting for unique costumer because this is we create an absolutely state of art with high risk out of the commercial system, and I am dare to do it, I will be Glad to get help with yours; the warrior of writing an art, like group of symphony music, they are many different skills from each other members of musician for beautiful sound had ever produce on earth, we are not music, we need eyes to thought the art when reading a text but we still need the community in together with rich of color

  8. Being an indie author is important approach for writing and publishing the content, this is the matter of self-definition. If you think & consider yourself as the creative director of your books, then you’re indie.

    1. Your definition of Indie is incomplete. I had no idea where the word came from and it is so simple originating from the word independent and was originally used in the music industry for artists that were not affiliated with a record company…

      Just thought I would bring that up because that small definition is too important to leave out of your article.

  9. On the left side of the screen there is a pop-out column of 5 social media links (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) Unfortunately, it covers part of the text one is reading. I can click at the bottom to make it disappear, but it keeps coming back as I scroll down the article. It’s extremely annoying. Can’t you put it somewhere that is less intrusive?

  10. Hi,I may be naive regarding being an indie or what it entails… I have interest in writing and would like my work to be read..How do I really start?..would love love if you can put me through

  11. To all self-publishing and Indie authors:

    No, I am not an author, but I am an avid reader, and I’d like to say here that yes, spelling, grammar and punctuation ARE important! Learning and enjoyment are experienced from reading – how did we all learn to read in the first place? From books! Where is the integrity in authors who don’t care about commas and apostrophes in their writing?
    I wish authors everywhere well, and hope they will avail themselves of any help necessary to publish an excellent piece of work.
    May I say also that “cliff hangers” are not welcomed by any readers I know. I personally will not order a series book or one that has a “book number” in the description.

  12. I’m an Indie soon to be author and very proud of it. Only steps away from self publishing with Ingram Spark. In this long process I considered traditional publishing but was turned off by the ideal and thought of having to follow all the publisher rules and steps and possible rejections. Groveling at there feet to except me except my work. And the real killer was the standard 10% pay to the author. Anyone who thinks that is fair needs to take a hard second look.Sell your book your work for $10 and you get $1. I don’t think so.That’s not going to work.Long live the Indie author!!!

    1. In order to connect you with a publisher, you should tell me a bit about your non.-fiction. In case you still havn’t solved your problem, pls reply. I am sure we find a solution for your script.

  13. Hi

    I am an indie author with one book published, “Flamenco Stories”.

    When my new book is shortly published by the current publisher with my IBSN number and an artist designed Cover can i send this in PDF form to Amazon for printing with the same cover??

    Please let me know what I must do to make my book and current cover available to Amazon for sale and distribution

  14. […] I have been questioning myself and my abilities (particularly as a writer) for some time now, and have recently been seeing a lot of hashtags on twitter about ‘Indie publishers’ and wondered what it meant. Surely it’s just self-publishing in disguise? Apparently not! and one article in particular clearly explained the difference. The first thing that I read when I googled Indie Authors is this: […]

  15. It is very hard to have a person with so many qualities that he can do all the stuff by himself. Apart from that, it is a fact that you can’t do everything by yourself. Life is not a one man show. It is teamwork. So, what you always try to do is to reach out the best people in the field for the betterment of the outcome.

  16. I’m published by a small (indie?) press outside of the U.K. Does that still qualify me as an indie author/writer? This is my first book.

    I feel like an indie author even though I’m published by a publisher.

    The publisher and I have discussed selling rights to other publishers so that the book (children’s fiction) can be brought further from Singapore, where it is published. Any tips on how to do this?

  17. I self published a book in 2014. I was at the time 73 years old and have written poetry and many articles for anyone and everyone over the years because that is what I love to do. When I wrote my book, “Do You Really Think I Want To Annoy You?” all of my friends said, “It’s you Pat” and “it’s about time Pat.” I suppose my self publishing company was above board? All I know is I did what I could with the means that I have. I exhausted everything I knew to do and found that there are very few people in the publishing business that someone like me can trust. So, here I am at 77 yrs old everyone wants me to write another book and I can’t possibly consider that in this day a nd age of corruption and mistrust. Thanks for listening.

    1. Am 82 next week! When I started writing , i think 8 year ago, i was told I was too old and no publisher would be interested in me. So I never bothered. Found a cutting in an old diary re lulu press and published via them. Am not good with promotion but as I edit my 3rd book I am looking to change. If you enjoy Greece then look me up. Am i allowed to list my books here?

  18. G’day Debbie
    Please forgive my naivete as I am very new to this game.
    I have written a book (a sort of collection of anecdotes) about my life as a policeman in an English City.
    I then looked for ways to publish it and contacted one of the mainstream publishers who will not now leave me alone, trying to sell me one of their “plans”.
    Is your method something different, or are there other choices?

    Kind regards

    John Carey

  19. Every progressive writer is partially indie. After all, to achieve success we all have to be. Being an independent writer means being responsible for what you write and the final outcome. However, you have to realize that you can’t know everything and be always right in everything, so it’s always better to use the help of other professionals.

  20. I’ve been writing for twenty years and my eighth book will be on line at Christmas. Although I’m self-published, I do have a friend who proofreads for me and a professional illustrator in London, plus my son does the technical stuff for me. I do all my own marketing on Goodreads and Twitter. Does that make me an Indie author? And I’d also like to know if being an Indie author means I can join some sort of club or society. I would love to join like-minded authors and learn more about my art.

  21. Brava – you are exactly on point – and I love that term, “creative director.” Lets an author know you don’t have to take the creativity out of the equation to be biz-professional as well.

    Have big fun at LBF – Safe travels and see you next week in Charleston!

  22. I’ve recently heard the term Indie Author but wasn’t sure of the definition so I did a quick search and found this page. I am new to the self publishing business and trying to get my start. I have learned so much over the last year and look forward to picking up more information here. I currently have two books on Amazon but haven’t marketed them yet as I keep making improvements.



    1. Hi Charles, so glad you find this blog so helpful. I’m sure you’d also really benefit from joining ALLi – lots more benefits available to members, who also have access to our invaluable private Facebook forum (ask any self-publishing question there and you’ll get a pretty instant response from current successful self-publishers) plus lots of great benefits such as discounts on various author services. For more information, hop over to the ALLi website – http://www.allianceindependentauthors.org. Best wishes, Debbie Young (ALLi Blog Editor)

  23. I think control is an important element in being independent. Traditional publishing surrenders most of the control to the publisher. Self-publishing without an author services company keeps all the control with the author. Using a self-publishing company to help you hands over some but not all of the control.

  24. After a discussion between myself and Niamh Clune recently, we decided to change the Awesome Indies definition from one that talked about the how, to one that focused on the why and what. This was because there are so many small publishers around that have the spirit of independence & treat their authors differently to the old school – a partnership or co-operative relationship, not an employer/employee one & we didn’t want to cut them out. Our new definition is …

    An independent author does not depend on someone else to decide whether, or not, they can express their voice in the world. We create the new trends, offer the new adventures. We make you think, feel and wonder anew. Independent authors listed on the Awesome Indies site have exacting standards, and the creation of a quality product is central to their aims. They choose this path, not because they have no other choice, but because they choose independence.

    I would like to think that all Independent authors have the same exacting standards as those whose books are listed on our site, but unfortunately we all know that isn’t so. I came across an author in a Google+ group boasting about how he didn’t care about grammar & punctuation. Sigh! But if you remove the sentence about quality, the definition is pretty much the same.

    We don’t have the first point because someone who has published in their own publishing company run with a partner, or in a cooperative set up with other authors, hasn’t, strictly speaking, self-published. They’ve published with an independent publisher that they have a share in. If we stick with the word, self published, you cut out everyone who created their own business name before publishing, because they published as a business,not as themselves. It may be cutting hairs but it is the difference between self publishing and indie publishing. No matter how an independent author chooses to publish from the wealth of options now available, the main point is that they (in Niamh’s words) do not depend on someone else to decide whether, or not, they can express their voice in the world.

    It’s a much wider definition than what we have been working with previously, but Andrew Jute suggested to me a long time ago, that anyone who considered themselves indie should be considered indie. He has a point. I don’t suggest that you make it your definition though!

    1. Very interesting Tahlia and thank you for sharing your thought processes with us — it’s not an easy one and this is a debate around definition that will run and run.

  25. I’m old enough to remember when there were ‘indie’ bands and their music was ranked in separate charts. They’re all considered mainstream now!

  26. To me indie means courage. Courage to barge in a door when the reception may be less than receptive. Courage to scream “I have something that WILL be voiced” whether it is industry invited, anointed…or not. I will continue to remind people of these self-publishers: Gertrude Stein, Walt Whitman, Virginia Wolff, Beatrix Potter, Edgar Allen Poe, Rudyard Kipling, Henry David Thoreau, Anais Nin, Deepak Chopra, Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, Zane Grey, William E. B. DuBois…Strunk and White for God’s sake! Nearly every writer worth their ink advises new writers to CONSULT STRUNK & WHITE before continuing…Indie means just that: Independent. Ballsy enough to push your art in the door. And that is damn hard for most artists to do.

    1. So if all these fantastic authors self published why do we even need a definition like ‘indie’? Why don’t we just call ourselves authors? We can’t see the wood for the trees!!!!

  27. I explain it these days based on something Alison Baverstock talks about – self-publishing can be something as personal as a photobook for your family, or your father’s war memoirs. But indie is about treating it seriously, as a business, as a professional quality product, as something you want to sell and distribute. That’s no judgment on inherent value – but more about the attitude to the details of the publishing process.

  28. You’re an Indie if you’re independent enough to publish your next book anytime, anywhere, with or without a publisher you’re already working together with. You’re Indie if it’s your call what’s in the book and what isn’t (not ruling out listening to good reason).
    If you’ve already sold your soul to write only what your agent/publisher tells you to write, so that all your future books belong to someone else, you’re no Indie.
    There are probably more than 50 shades of grey between those definitions…

  29. I’m not sure it’s either possible or necessary to go beyond “a matter of self-definition” as you put it.

    On the other hand – there’s always another hand it seems – that does make it confusing for readers, so I’m not sure how helpful it is to call oneself “indie” in a public-facing forum unless you go on to make that definition – and then even less helpful are umbrella sites that are public facing and about “indies” – what makes indie indie is the lack of fixed definition, which is great, but it must be confusing for readers when different sites mean different things. And that in itself raises questions about how helpful indie-only sites for readers are

    1. I think it’s useful that we keep having the discussion. There are never fixed answers in writing — or anything creative. That’s why we’re here, I guess!

  30. For a while I was a self-publishing snob. I even formed a short-lived group for _independent_ self-publishers who did not use self-pubcos.

    Then I realized that there may not be a heck of a lot of difference between true independents and those writers who prefer the “one-stop-shopping” convenience of using a self-pubco.

    I actually _enjoy_ formatting pages and designing covers — but that’s not a requirement for self-pubbing. Neither is binding books on the kitchen table and selling them from a table by the side of the road.

    There are many paths between writer and reader, and any of them can produce gems or crap. Results count, but little more.

    1. Completely agree, Michael. Many of our members use different pathways for different books. Some use intermediaries when starting out, because the learning curve to do direct feels too steep. Or a particular title is complex or requires a certain kind of marketing. There are no rules, each writer must decide depending on circumstances.

  31. An absolutely perfect definition – which very neatly encapsulates the notion that, whilst retaining ultimate control over your work, you are ready to acknowledge where your limitations are and understand the importance of getting professional help to ensure that you produce a top quality book.

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