Indie Author: Vanity or Cutting Edge?

Early on in my college career, I paid to include my poem in some anthology which I believed (or at least pretended to believe) held some great significance.

OK. All college kids aren’t smart. If I have to pay to get my poem published, what does that say about my poem?  But I thought it was good and you can’t convince me otherwise.

I received a copy of that book in the mail, and I turned to the designated page and there was my poem by Mark W. Sasse. I was in print. I was a published author.

OK. OK. I understand. That, my friends, is what we call vanity press. Pay to publish. In the past, it was the only way for unsigned authors to get their books in print. (And then those books would sit in cardboard boxes in ones attic. After all, if you can’t buy someone’s book in your local bookstore, it must not be good.)

Vanity press carries such a negative connotation like the work is not good enough to be published by the mainstream publishers or not quality enough to be commercially successful.  And so for decades on end, the mainstream publishers have stood as the gatekeepers of the publishing industry – only letting in what they think will sell or what they think is good enough.

It doesn’t seem like it was long ago when the term “indie music” popped on the scene. Now I’ll admit that I am no expert on indie music, but I do know a whole generation and industry of musicians has popped on the scene – often times creating “non-pop” – the type of music that you wouldn’t necessarily hear on your Top 40 station.  It can be music that is daring, creative, and wildly experimental.  I never brushed off a band because they went “indie” – I merely listened to their music. That’s where the proof is. Now many previously signed bands have forsaken deals on the table and have gone independent themselves so they can have ultimate artistic freedom and and sometimes generate higher profits. Many bands have turned to their fans and have asked their fans to help them record their next record by using Kickstarter or other sites like that. I’m a fan of Seabird and can’t wait until their self-produced album – funded through Kickstarter – comes out.

So what about the writing industry? It seems to me, though I am still a new arrival in this arena, that the vanity press days are somewhat over and that a new generation of indie writers – both new and those who formerly had publishing deals – are writing their own way and marketing directly to the readers who will ultimately decide if their writing is good enough to put food on their table or not. No longer do writers have to wait until the gatekeepers say ‘yes’. No longer do writers have to conform to popular genres or formulaic fiction which the big publishers believe the public will buy.  No longer do writers have to bow to whims of fantasy, vampires, or werewolves if their heart isn’t in it. No longer do writers have to fork out large amounts of money to publish if groveling to the big six publishers didn’t work. Amazon and the Kindle format have a lot to do with this. Each month in their newsletter they give another example of an author who has found his or her niche as an indie author, able to publish their works when and how they see fit and able to find enough audience to forsake their day job for a new day job.

Does being an indie author have a negative connotation? I don’t think so. I think it just depends on the quality of the author’s work – and that all depends on whether readers enjoy it or not. It’s actually quite simple when you think of it that way. It also kind of takes the pressure off or at least for me it does. I just need to write what I’m passionate about, market it to the best of my ability, and let the readers tell me if I’ve done a good enough job or not. Then I need to learn from the lessons of the previous book and move on to the next, all the while keeping my day job! (which I love, by the way)

This is the age of the indie author. It’s pretty exciting to be writing now. I know I’m enjoying it.

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