Labels mean a lot to writers. The differences between “writer,” “author,” “published,” “unpublished,” and “bestseller” all consume parts of our writers’ brains (usually late at night and costing us valuable dream time.

It extends to places where I didn’t even realize there was a label issue. I make no secret that I’m interested in exploring new and different ways of publishing. Electronic media has opened up ways to deliver content, tell stories, reach people, in ways that we’ve barely even begun to imagine. And that’s not all–the same old ways of telling stories will still be around, too, but we’ll be able to reach people differently. Deliver the stories differently. And people will want to receive stories differently.

Publishing fiction has been a “one way” thing for a very long time, until very recently. (For those of you following along with the drinking game, get your shotglasses ready, because here they come) Amanda Hocking, JA Konrath, Barry Eisler, Bob Mayer, and a host of other authors without as much name recognition cachet have all shown us that there is another way, and it’s becoming more viable. No, that way’s not for everybody, and it’s really nothing new at the roots and bones of it, but the paradigm has changed.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it is, because I don’t know what to call it. “Indie publishing” and “self publishing” are currently duking it out all over the writer’s internets, and I can’t tell which side is winning. Are you confused yet? I am, and I’m the one writing the post.

Much of the kerfluffle comes from the perception of what, exactly, is what in publishing. For the past several decades, self-publishing has carried a stigma in certain circles that comes from the removal of the “gatekeeper” entity–a publisher–that presumably vets the work published under its brand, assuring the public that the story is enjoyable and readable, at the most basic sense (there are other branding issues as well, having to do with story content and type of entertainment you can expect from a publisher’s imprint line). Publishers pay the author for the rights to publish the work and distribute it; the author accepts a percentage of the sales in return for the granting of the rights and the publisher’s far more vast ability to distribute.

Piggybacking on self-publishing’s attempt to “cut out the middleman” there exists the vanity press–a publishing entity that will publish an author’s work when paid by the author to do so. Vanity presses don’t provide any “gatekeeping” services to the reading public–their value to the end user is negligible, and IMNSHO, their value to the author is negligible because they claim far more ability to distribute than the true measure of their ability. If you are paying someone to perform author services for you, then follow Dean Wesley Smith’s guideline and pay them a straight-up, one-time fee. Do not pay them a percentage of your sales in perpetuity, and don’t let them pay you a royalty. An author named Ruth Ann Nordin has a very good blog post about vanity presses from a self publishing perspective. It’s worth the read.

Self publishing skirts the line, and you discover that the line itself is more of a DMZ than a razor’s edge. Self versus indie is mostly semantics. Authors seek out the narrowly forged path of self publishing or publishing independent of an established publisher for many reasons–many seek to retain more control over their work, many do not produce works that an established publisher finds attractive enough to stake capital upon for a number of reasons (including, but not limited to, lack of skill or polish in prose, un-marketability of subject, story length, or lack of demand for a particular style of story, aka “niche market”). These authors self-publish to market their work to readers independent of a publisher. Other people see “independent publisher” as a publisher independent of a media conglomerate, so the distinction needs to be made between “indie publisher” and “indie author.”

To be honest, I don’t see that it matters what you call it. To be honest, most readers don’t care, either.

But the argument goes that since self-publishing has had a reputation of the place authors or books go when they’ve washed out of establishment publishing, some critics have said that calling it “indie publishing” masks the “self” aspect in a bid for legitimacy. Predatory publishing entities have sought to lend legitimacy to their efforts by lumping themselves in with more respectable venues of reaching readers, so this is indeed a valid argument. However, no matter what semantic backflips we do, if they have any traction at all, the parasite entities will seek to capitalize on them.

We either let our fear of the swindlers drive our decisions, or we decide for ourselves, and work in other ways to make other writers and readers aware of predatory practices.

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