The Indie/Traditional Debate. Can’t We All Just Get Along?

You’re not the cool kid.

If you’re an indie author, I think you’ve figured out by now that we’re the underdogs, the gnats in traditional publishing’s ear, and the ones the traditionally published kids don’t want to sit with in the cafeteria.

I came in to the publishing game with rose colored glasses, a positive attitude, and a love for the supportive writing community I’d found. More than one year later the rose colored glasses are off, and I’m well aware that members of the “community” I loved so very much are often sneering at us behind our backs.

I don’t mean to say all traditional authors minimize the accomplishments of indie authors. There are many who genuinely cheer us on, showcase our books, congratulate us when we have success, and happily share the road with us.

But the judgment of indie authors is everywhere, and it’s getting harder to ignore.

I remember once seeing a tweet from an agent that said something like: Just sent a request and found out the author recently self-published. If only they’d been more patient.

People favorited this tweet and responded with euphemisms about patience, and persistence, when what they really meant was, “You idiot, you self-published when you should have waited for the right agent!”

My first thought when I saw that tweet was, “What if the author is happy with their decision?”

After I self-published The Darkness of Light I got requests from two agents. I had some discussions with these agents, exploring my options, but at no point during those interactions was I kicking myself for not waiting. When I made the decision to be an indie author, I did it wholeheartedly and without looking back. By then I’d already discovered the power I had over my career, the advantage I had over traditional publishing (mainly time and control), and the freedom to do exactly what I wanted.

There are bullies and if you speak up, they’ll target you.

If any of you follow me on twitter, you might recall the event I refer to as “Twittergate”, the day twitter FREAKED out on me. This was the day I realized our writing community was full of piranhas, and trust me—I got chewed up! During a twitter contest I’d observed some things that, I felt, came across as arrogant. I was reacting to the way some authors were criticizing entries with such detail the entrants were sure to know it was their entry being discussed. My reaction came from a place of empathy, not weakness. I wasn’t suggesting they sugarcoat things for authors in their (private) feedback. I wasn’t under the impression that this business is easy. What bothered me was the attitude with which these authors judged their peers.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” –Abraham Lincoln.

I tweeted my opinion and within one minute my timeline blew up! I couldn’t keep up with the tweets coming at me. Some agreed with me (I got a lot of supportive DMs because people were afraid of the backlash), some respectfully disagreed with me, and many others were downright nasty. I even got a DM from a very well known tweeter who had some particularly offensive things to say to me. She’s lucky I have enough restraint not to out her. Maybe I should have, but I’d rather let her dig her own grave.

Anyway, during the flurry of tweets aimed at me that day, it became clear that the general assumption was that I was a bitter author who’d been rejected by the traditional world and was now taking shots at traditional authors whenever I could.

I have a pretty thick skin. I can take rejection, bad reviews, and harsh critiques. What really got to me that day, and what really made me sad, was the realization that I was an outsider. It didn’t matter that I had a book published and was part of the same community. With The Darkness of Light I worked hard to make sure my book went through the same filters and received the same care as a traditionally published book. But that day, when twitter lost its mind on me, none of that mattered. Because I was an indie author, I wasn’t an author, and my opinion—my voice—was insignificant.

If books are fishes, and Amazon is the ocean, we’re all swimming in it together.

It sometimes seems the traditionally published world is unhappy they have to share space with lowly self-publishers. It must be frustrating to see your book—your edited, beautifully covered, extensively marketed baby— sitting next to something your neighbor’s cousin wrote on a Thursday and uploaded to Amazon on a Friday.

It must drive you insane that all the self-published dino porn books, or books that got rejected so many times the author had no other choice but to self-publish, are sitting in the same waters as your perfect novel. After all, self-published authors are destroying literature, right?


There were crappy books long before indie authors stepped onto the scene, and if we all disappeared tomorrow, there would still be crappy books published every single day.

But here’s the thing— indie doesn’t mean crappy. Many of us take a lot of pride in our work. We nurture our books the same way a publishing house would. Sure, we often price our books lower, but that doesn’t mean our work is less valuable. It simply means there are no publishers or agents taking a cut of our work, giving us the ability to price our books competitively.

Let’s face it, while we all want to see our books in bookstores, Amazon is the largest online bookseller in the world. If bookstores are the streams, Amazon is the ocean, and guess what—we’re all swimming in it.

I recently saw an agented (but yet to be published) author call a fellow author’s decision to self-publish “puzzling.” I’ll bet that when the agented author’s book comes out in 2018, there will be even more successful indie authors, and even more hybrid authors swimming in the same ocean with him.

Don’t let them make you feel inferior.

“It matters not what you are thought to be, but what you are.” – Publilius Syrus

As I said earlier, there are many traditional authors who support indie authors and believe in their achievements. As indie authors we are marketing experts, have a network of editors, cover artists, formatters, and bloggers willing to help us create a product we can be proud of. It’s a lot of work to be an indie author, and our traditionally published friends know and respect our efforts.

There will always be the naysayers; the ones who tell you you’re not good enough because you didn’t take the same path that they did. It’s frustrating, and oftentimes, it hurts. But when you come across one of these cynics, don’t take their judgments to heart. Just because they say you’ve settled by becoming indie, doesn’t make it true. If you have readers, your book sells, and you feel good about the career path you’ve chosen, take the high road, because there are plenty of people willing to take the low road.


10 responses to “The Indie/Traditional Debate. Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

  1. There’s room for everyone. I’ve seen traditional authors get really cliquish about their group and still turn their noses up at anything put out by authors or presses outside the Big Five. Most influential venues still only promote traditionally published books.

    But I’ve also seen indie authors literally celebrate the loss of jobs for editors at New York publishing houses (a good number of the comments over at The Passive Guy reek of loathing for anything traditional publishing, and I long stopped following Joe Konrath). I’ve seen self-published vs. traditionally published author “wars” described in revolutionary terms. Head, meet desk.

    I used to self-pub books but decided to go the small press route because I couldn’t afford good editors, and I’m perfectly happy with that decision. Half of the books in my Kindle are self-published. Some suck, some are fantastic reads. Books sink or swim for a variety of reasons, traditional presses or indie efforts notwithstanding.

    But it’s always, always the authors from both sides who screw things up for everyone. Publishing’s never a zero-sum game. Too bad they’re too wrapped up in their own self-interest to think beyond themselves.

  2. Fabulous post! I know a few authors who love to self-pub and wouldn’t have it any other way. I think it’s brave and a lot of hard work! Yea to all of us who write words and get them out there.

  3. It’s really sad that authors and agents look down so harshly on self-publishing. I had a friend who just self-published her debut novel, and all the work she put into releasing it – the editing, the cover design, purchasing an ISBN number, registering the book with online booksellers (and wrangling with Amazon when she found out a scarf had the same ISBN number as her novel – and scarves aren’t supposed to have ISBN numbers…). Just because someone chooses to self-publish doesn’t mean, among other things, that they’re lazy. Personally, I would prefer to have mine traditionally published… but I’m not opposed to self-publishing if that doesn’t work out, AND it’s important to celebrate all writers who get their works out there, no matter how they do it. In the end, it means more books for everyone to read. 🙂

  4. Agreed. :). Unfortunately, some didn’t get the tone of this blog and took it as an attack on traditional publishing or those involved in the twitter issue. I’m glad some people get the real message. <3. I want to empower indie authors.

  5. I agree with the sentiments here, it’s really sad that we have to deal with this, I don’t care if your traditional or indie, as long as it’s a good book, that’s all I care about. I have been to many book events/signings (mostly featuring a few indies with the traditional authors) and the separation was outrageous–RT in NoLA is a perfect example. A big reason I love indie authors is because the big 5 will only print what they think is “popular” or “trending” —-honestly I’ve found very few books from traditional publishers that I like because so much is contemporary and that’s not my preferred read. Got nothing against contemporary, it’s just not my cup of tea. It’s MUCH easier for me to find my preferred reads among indies because they don’t publish to trends.
    I also find that a few bloggers will hop on the traditional vs. indie war train too. Most bloggers are amazing and supportive of all authors, but there’s always that very small percentage that just think “If you’re books aren’t traditional they’re not worth it. I won’t waste time on sub-par books” Yes I actually heard a pretty popular YA blogger say that to me and the group we were with at an RT party………………….
    I think we should be empowering ALL authors regardless of if your indie or traditional. Many authors now, including several very big bestselling authors are now “hybrid” authors– with traditional and indie books to their names.

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