Well, quite a lot, it would seem…
I was recently talking to a self-published author who said that she didn’t like the term “self-published”. To her, it reeked of the snobbery and disparagement that has often accompanied any debate about – er – self-publishing, and which accompanies it still. She’d heard it used as a put-down just a few times too many, and to her it had become almost a term of abuse. She preferred to be called an “indie” or “independent author and publisher”.
Well, that’s okay by me, but straight away things start to get slightly complicated. The problem is that there are others who object to self-publishers being called “indie”. By long association, they maintain, “indie” is used to denote small, independent publishing houses, which are quite distinct from self-publishers. Using the terms interchangeably, they argue, is incorrect, muddies the water, and is possibly even deliberately disingenuous.
Well, how on earth are we to navigate this semantic minefield? Personally, I’m quite happy to use both terms, but I don’t want to offend anyone. I also like the term “author-publisher”, which is increasingly common and, I think, uncontentious (though, God knows, even things that seem uncontentious can sometimes prove to be immensely controversial). I can certainly see the value of accuracy; definitions, after all, matter a great deal to writers. But, on the other hand…
It all has a habit of getting a bit murky, you see. Some would argue that if you are publishing anything (even if it’s only one or two books, and those books were authored by you) then you are, in effect, a micro-publisher – and, therefore, an indie. Besides, there are an increasing number of self-publishers who are officially publishers – in the sense that they have registered as such with HM Revenue and Customs, pay taxes on their earnings and, in essence, do everything that small business owners traditionally do. I suspect that, in the future, their numbers will grow. Are these authors indies, or not?
It gets murkier still. There are more and more instances of people using self-publishing platforms – Amazon KDP and the like, CreateSpace and Lulu, and small online bookstores – to publish works they did not author. (An example that springs to mind is Ayton Publishing, which specialises in the works of the Victorian author S.R. Crockett. Ayton Publishing’s founder, Cally Phillips, is herself a self-published author, but set up Ayton specifically to republish Crockett’s books.) Is this indie publishing, or not? Other authors, realising that there’s strength in numbers, are forming author collectives, which – I believe – function in much the same way as small publishing houses, except that the owners and executives are also the authors who are being published. Is this self-publishing, indie publishing, or something else entirely?
The word “indie” has already undergone something of a transition. I ran across this definition, which I rather like, here:
“The word ‘indie’ traditionally refers to independent art – music, film, literature or anything that fits under the broad banner of culture – created outside of the mainstream and without corporate financing.”
I find that pretty fair and inclusive. Others, no doubt, would beg to differ. The problem is that the usage of the word “indie”, like that of many others (“awesome” and “gay” spring to mind) – and like language itself – has evolved, and will no doubt continue to evolve. To many people, “self-published” and “indie” are now exchangeable terms. Any attempt to turn back the linguistic tide may be Canute-like, and probably destined to meet with about as much success. (I should know; I have to resign myself, much against my wishes, to living in a world in which “awesome”, to many people, means “very good”.) Once a given usage of a given word has gained sufficient momentum, there’s probably nothing that can be done to stop it.
Those blurred boundaries will probably become still more blurred in the future. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that self-publishing, of at least an occasional variety, will become more common even amongst traditionally-published authors, just as more self-publishers will cross over into traditional publishing. Author collectives, and authors who are also officially publishers, will probably become more common. Which will leave us with the little problem of how exactly they should be denoted…
What do people think?