Indie stigma and the true indie spirit: Let’s show the world what we’re really made of!

This is a guest post by Terri Giuliano Long

[jbox]For a week, the Blogosphere has been on fire over rants by conventional authors, railing against self-publishing . . . One traditionally published author went so far as to refer to self-publishing as “literary karaoke.” Here is Terri Giuliano Long's passionate response to this ongoing debate.[/jbox]

I've been working on a story about the self-publishing stigma for IndieReader. Does the stigma still exist? I've been asking. Is it warranted? Over the last few years, we've made tremendous headway, so I anticipated people saying no. In fact, all but one said yes.

If anything, the proliferation of inexpensive eBooks has cut into profits earned by traditional houses and, by extension, their authors. Traditionally published authors are infuriated; while their complaints may seem absurd—the big names still own the market, after all—I understand their frustration. No one likes a cut in income.

Literary karaoke? Please. Yet, despite my frustration toward the authors who cast these aspersions, I'm far more dismayed by the responses from the bloggers and industry leaders I interviewed for the article—our friends. Time and again, I heard, yes, there are terrific indie authors, but too many indies put out junk—books that are badly written or edited and poorly produced—e.g., with an amateurish cover. These perceptions are partly the fault of the hacks. And they're partly our fault.

Author in-fighting aside, we must do a better job of disseminating our message. The time has come—many authors are doing this already—for talented authors who care about quality, who work hard, hone our craft, and put quality books on the shelf to differentiate ourselves, to stand up and show the world what we've got.

We owe it to ourselves to continue raising the bar. Authors who write like they're in kindergarten, can barely string two coherent sentences together, don't bother to edit or proofread, treat bloggers rudely, and insult readers by offering anything less than a professional product—make indies easy targets and give all of us a bad name.

Before we can reach the next step, even hope to eradicate the indie stigma, we need to separate, prove to the world that we're different from and better than the hacks. This means, we must be vigilant, work hard, and behave in the (digital) world.

In the words of a blogger I spoke with, “authors need to produce the very best work they can. Be sure your book is ruthlessly edited, proofread, and copyedited – by a professional.” “Self-publishing shouldn't be an excuse to not do the hard work,” someone else told me. “For a lot of authors it is and that's keeping the ‘not good enough to get traditionally published' myth very much alive.”

Lest I overwhelm with bad news—I must say, I'm tremendously impressed with and humbled by the phenomenal work I see (and it's only getting better!) as well as the talented, caring, generous authors I've met. For many indie authors, self-publishing is no longer a last resort. It's a choice. What a wonderful, freeing notion that is!

I published In Leah's Wake in the hope of selling enough books—I was aiming high, hoping to hit 5,000—to attract the attention of a traditional publisher for my novel-in-progress, Nowhere to Run. Over the last year, I've worked hard—and thanks to many of you—surpassed my wildest dreams! It's been an amazing ride. All the angst, the hard work, every 16-hour day I've put in has shaped and in some way prepared me for this next step. Like many of you, I've heard from agents and a few major publishers have asked to see my next project. But I've decided to go indie instead.

I believe in the indie movement. I believe in indie authors. I believe in you.

I believe in us!

We can't change perceptions overnight and we won't convince anyone to buy into the notion that, across the board, indie and traditional authors are the same—because we're not. No question, the talented, hardworking authors are absolutely equal. I've seen your books. I've read your excerpts. I've seen your amazing reviews!

The bad indie authors blow even Snooki out of the water.

It's time to move away from the Snookis in our midst. When they shape up, we'll take them seriously. In the meantime, with our attitude, our hard work, our commitment to excellence, let's show the world what being indie is truly about!

Terri Giuliano LongAbout this post's author:

Terri Giuliano Long is a contributing writer for IndieReader and Her Circle eZine. She has written for numerous publications, including the Boston Globe and the Huffington Post. She lives with her family on the East Coast and teaches at Boston College. In Leah's Wake, her debut novel, began as her master's thesis. For more information, please visit her website or connect via Facebook, Twitter or her Blog. This week she is running Indie Week on her blog – a week-long celebration of indie authors, promoters and industry influencers. You can follow #indieweek on Twitter to stay informed or visit the event page.

Kendall Grey

I applaud you for this post. I just self-published my first novel yesterday. I wrote the best book I could, hired a professional editor and cover designer, and put it out there. I had a reviewer say that she was surprised to learn the book was self-published because the editing was so good. Well, yeah, the editing is good because I *paid* for quality. It’s not rocket science — it’s common sense. Anyone with half a brain should know that a book MUST be edited by a professional if you want it to sell.

I could be totally delusional, but I *think* my book is just as good, if not better than, a LOT of traditionally published novels out there. If the book takes off (cross your fingers!), I will write many more and publish them myself. I have no interest in selling my soul to New York, no matter how much money they might wave in my face. If my writing is that strong, then surely I can keep doing the work myself and not have to share my profits with the gate-keeping vultures of NY.

    Terri Giuliano Long

    Congratulations, Kendall!! Exciting news! With more and more of us walk alongside you or follow in your footsteps, things are going to change. Thank you for leading the way!

Amelia James

I just got signed by an indie publisher who demands high quality from their writers and their editors. I was kinda intimidated at first, but now I’m relieved, especially after reading some of the poor quality, poorly edited books other publishers produced.

We must hold ourselves to higher standards if we’re going to overcome the indie karaoke stigma.

    Terri Giuliano Long

    I could not agree more, Amelia! We will get there! And writers like you and Kendall are leading the way! Congratulations and all the very best to you!

Julie Korzenko

Excellent article. I especially connect with your comment regarding indie publishing being a “choice.” There are many of us that strive for the perfect balance of traditional and independent publishing. The greatest bonus of taking the indie road is the control, and the ability to bring our stories to the readers faster than any traditional publishing company could.

    Terri Giuliano Long

    Thanks so much for your kind words, Julie! Today’s indie authors are strong, savvy, and smart – and they’re making a difference. There’s only one way to make that final leap, to get traditional media to pay attention, so that people know who we are and when our books get into stores they’re placed on shelves where people can find them – and that’s to put our best foot forward and show the world who we are!

    Kudos to you for taking control! Let’s show the world that you can’t keep a good indie down! 🙂


Wonderful article. I love indies. A good story is a good story and I have read some really rough indies where EVERYTHING was thrown out the window. I overlooked the spelling and grammar because the story was that good. However, I agree with investing at least some money into editing and cover art. My friend is a graphic artist and is very reasonable so I know reasonable prices exist. Look for English majors…SOMETHING! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shelled out $10-$20 on a majorly published book that got me because of the hype and it was a piece of crap. So published doesn’t equal gold. Ms. Kendall your book IS a lot better than most traditionally published books! You keep doing your thing because you do it well!

    Terri Giuliano Long

    Excellent points, Mirely! So happy you like the post. Thank you so much for your kind words!

R. E. Hunter

Valid points. Unfortunately, I think that for the most part, the indie authors who are putting out the unedited books with bad DIY covers are not the ones that are reading writing blogs and seeing posts like this. The ones reading are the ones who are trying to do their best.

Rather than literary karaoke I would say it’s like the literary equivalent of Youtube. There are people with real musical talent on there, some of whom get discovered and become famous. But for every one of those there are thousands who might as well have not bothered putting their videos up there.

But nothing is going to stop either the self-publishing of bad videos or bad books. The only solution is finding efficient ways to filter out the noise, whether it’s recommendations we trust, reviews or other curation mechanisms.

    Terri Giuliano Long

    You’re right, of course, R.E. I have tremendous respect for NP writers, readers, bloggers and affiliates. This post is not intended as a slap on the wrist to anyone here. As I mention in the post, I just finished a piece about the indie stigma. The comments, from people I absolutely thought were in the indie camp, were disheartening. We can, and will, rise about the noise by producing our best work.

    Nevertheless, as you say, a lot of people do put out bad work. Like it or not, everyone else gets lumped in with them. Traditional media is not motivated to cover us. John Locke, who has sold millions of e-books, recently struck a deal with S&S to distribute two of his paperbacks. He’s one of the first – and only – indie authors to have national distribution. And you know what? Despite monster e-book sales, his books are languishing; no one outside the digital world knows who he is and his books are hidden at the back of stores.

    No doubt, some indies don’t care about distributing paperbacks. They’re writing for the love of it, not looking to make a lot of money. All the power to them! There’s wonderful something to be said for people who follow their passions! But some of us do want to get to that next step, And unless we eradicate the stigma once and for all we are not going to get there. That’s the challenge.

    Yes, there are ways to find great indie books. But if serious authors stick together, make a pact to only produce quality work, if we work together to show the world we’re good – then we can make it happen!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post. I appreciate and value your comments!

Terri Giuliano Long

Oops – so sorry about all the typos. The hands are going faster than the brain, I’m afraid!

Linzé Brandon

One can only hope that many people will see the light when it comes to indie publishing. I loved the process and is hard at work on book number two, and planning ongoing self-publishing again. Professional cover designer, photographer and editor already hard at work with me. I think the thrill is much higher, since you are responsible for everything – and the end result is just that … mine (and yours)

Congratulations to all of you and keep the books coming!


    Terri Giuliano Long

    Fantastic, Linze!! I wish you all the success in the world! You deserve it!

    I think people will see the light – we may just have to shine it in their eyes first. 🙂

Grace Peterson

Since certain writers won’t change their microwave tactics–(instant book with no thought to hiring an editor) I think having a multitude of reviewers showcasing self-pubbed books of exceptional merit will help, at least to some extent, kill the self-pub stigma. Perhaps we need a few more Kirkus or NY Times reviewers out there helping spread the word. Even Oprah. Maybe I’m aiming too high but why not? 🙂 But you’re right, Terri. It starts with crafting a great product.

I love your enthusiasm, Terri. Best wishes in your publishing endeavors!

    Terri Giuliano Long

    Thank you so much, Grace! You’re so kind! I really appreciate your generous words!

    I really do believe the future is bright – these things are on the horizon. As I see it, we’re at a crossroads; the industry has reached or is close to reaching a tipping point. People are noticing. Now I think we need to get our message out. We, in the industry, know who and what we are. It’s time to spread the good news!


Thanks for the thoughtful article. It all boils down to the writer’s attention to detail. There are a growing number of indie books that meet a high standard, just as in the past few years many traditionally published authors have slipped down the slope of greatness due to lack of editing and proofreading. We are responsible for the quality of the work we produce, no matter how we publish. I agree with R.E., Linze, and Grace that we will have to find some way to filter the bad and promote the excellent.

    Terri Giuliano Long

    Thank you so much, Suzanne! I agree. That’s absolutely the first step – promoting the excellent. We need to let people outside our insular world know who and what we are. With social media we have the power to spread ideas like never before. I think we need to harness that power to show the world that we’re serious!

D. Robert Pease

Terri, I’ll add to the preaching that’s going out to the choir. I get so sad when I see authors putting out work that isn’t up to even the standard my fifth grade daughter can achieve. I learned so much from working with a professional editor, and my book is significantly better. I know it costs money. But somehow every author MUST find a competent editor. The question is, can we do anything about it? We make friends with other authors online. We read each others writing, but do we have the guts to point out when something has obviously not been edited? I know I don’t. But should I? I would seriously hope people would tell me if my writing needed more work. So shouldn’t I be willing to offer that to other writers? I don’t know if there are any easy answers.

    Terri Giuliano Long

    I agree, D.R., there are no easy answers. I don’t mean to preach to the choir. 🙂 Really, even to be preaching at all. My hope is that serious authors, like you, come together, speak up, spread the word. Until now, iIMHO, we – indies in general – have been splintered. Many groups are doing wonderful with promotions and so on, but we’re not getting our message beyond the community. In interviews, agents and others have said to me, “indie? Don’t you mean self-publishing?” I’ve been accused of living in a bubble, told that we are the only ones who call us indies. In the minds of many people, indie means small press. So we need to do a better job of marketing our brand, so to speak.

    On a recent cross-country trip, I sat beside a young film director. Of course indie films started in a much the same way. Today major studios like Fox Starlight have “indie” brands. In film, indie has a certain meaning – i.e., the term conjures a specific image or idea. When people say indie film, we know exactly what that means: character-driven stories. Right now- please forgive me; this is not my opinion; it’s what I’m told by others – indie author essentially means, not good enough to be published.

    I think we all want to change that. So, in essence, my intent, my rallying call is – let’s create an INDIE BRAND that people associate with quality. I know the industry is full of quality authors! That’s why I believe we can do it! So I’m really saying, let’s continue to differentiate ourselves by keeping quality high, and let’s let the world know it. In other words, again, together let’s create a new indie brand!

    I hope this makes sense!


Ah, the stigma of self -publishing. I once joined in that bandwagon, but no more.

Being Indie has granted us the freedom traditional publishing just would have never given. This isn’t throwing in the towel for us and trying to push ourselves on everyone. This is us realizing that we now have the opportunity to embrace full creative control over our products. Even if we never see John Locke success, it doesn’t matter. This is us, doing the thing we love and live to do. We may never even consider traditional publishing again, even if we’re offered a pretty sweet deal.

Suzie Louis

Indie publishing is an emerging industry and, as was said on the West Wing, markets are messy and upset the establishment. The traditional houses aren’t alone in their fear and suspicion of the indie phenomenon. If you follow literary agents on Twitter, it doesn’t take long to find out they too are terrified. Well that’s as may be because the reading public is lapping up ebooks which are giving them a variety of reading material they haven’t enjoyed for years. There is good original fiction being produced and published by authors who couldn’t get through the door of publishers and people are buying it. That’s a market at work. Indie authors will become more professional as their support and expertise grows. Your piece helps in highlighting the need for improvement but indies shouldn’t despair, they’re here to stay and are being joined by more than one traditionally published author fed up with the bean counters running the publishing houses.

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