Monday 30 January 2017

What Is Indie Publishing?

By Iola Goulton

Over the last few weeks, we've looked at vanity publishing (and why it's a bad idea), and at self-publishing (and how the term has been misappropriated by vanity publishers). 

As I've mentioned, self-publishing has soared in popularity since the release of the Amazon Kindle and competing ereaders. The introduction of ereader devices, along with affordable print-on-demand (POD) services means anyone can publish their book at little or no upfront cost—no author needs to get stuck with hundreds of copies of unsold paperbacks.

Indie Publishing

Indie publishing is a term which has risen in popularity over the last few years as vanity presses have appropriated the term 'self-publishing'. The term is a reference to the indie film industry, where indie filmmaking is making and distributing a film independently of the major film studios.

In the same way, indie publishing is publishing and distributing a book independently of the trade publishers.

At least, that's what most articles on the subject teach. It seems some authors believe indie publishing includes being published by a small press that's independent of the major trade publishers. I disagree: some of the biggest names in Christian publishing are church-owned publishers—by definition, publishers who are independent of the major general market publishers.

However, self-publishing is also somewhat of a misnomer, as it implies the writer is publishing alone. This isn’t true: there are many tasks which have to be completed in order to publish a book, and the savvy self-publishing author knows they will need to outsource some of those tasks.

The main tasks which need outsourcing are:


Someone (who isn’t related to you) needs to go through your manuscript and suggest how it can be improved. This can be a critique partner or beta-reader (in which case they help for free on the understanding you will return the favour) or a developmental or structural editor (paid, and costs vary from hundreds to thousands of dollars).

All authors need to take this step, regardless of how they plan to publish. The first person to read your manuscript shouldn't be your dream publisher. It should be someone you trust to tell you what's good, and what needs to be improved.

Editing and Proofreading:

Even the best editor can’t proofread their own work. We read the words we intended to write … which might not be the words which actually end up on the screen.

A trade publisher will edit your book, but I've observed the quality of editing is related to the size of the publisher: small presses often can't afford as many levels of editing as trade publishers, and this shows in their books.

Authors planning to self-publish will need to hire their own editors. The manuscript will need at least two rounds of editing and proofreading (more if it hasn't been through beta readers and/or a critique group).

Cover design:

This is best outsourced unless you are a trained graphic designer with experience in book cover design.

Other Tasks

Then there is a range of tasks which a savvy author can learn to do themselves, or can outsource as time and money permit.

These include: interior formatting, uploading the final version to distributors for printing and epublishing, marketing, claiming online author profiles, website development and maintenance, mailing list maintenance, marketing, writing newsletters, social media management, more marketing, organising a blog tour, organising book reviewers, yet more marketing, organising sales promotions, ensuring books are categorised correctly, even more marketing …

The essence of self-publishing isn’t that the author does everything themselves.

But they are in control of the process and contract out those parts of the process they can’t do themselves (like editing) or that could be done better by a professional (e.g. cover design). Some contract tasks like social media updates or website maintenance out to a virtual assistant.

Those who choose to self-publish will be responsible for everything. You will either have to do it yourself, or pay (or bribe or beg) someone else to do it for you. This involves a lot of decisions, and you would be wise to get advice from someone who has been through the process before (and recently – things can change very quickly, particularly when it comes to e-books).

There's a lot to be done, and some of it will cost money. But make sure you invest your money in services which are going to add value to your book (e.g. editing and cover design), not activities that feed your ego and a vanity press's coffers (like pitching your book to a supposed Hollywood script agent).

That's the end of this series. I'll be back next week to introduce something new: our theme for our joint posts with Christian Writers Downunder.

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction. Visit my website at to download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction. 

I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more at

You can also find me on:
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1 comment:

  1. Iola, great post! Thanks for your comprehensive explanation of indie publishing.


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