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Question of the Week: Independent Press

by Susan Henderson on April 9, 2007

Have an opinion about indie press? Doesn’t matter to me whether it’s based on experience or myth – let’s hear it!

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Wednesday, indie publisher Kevin Sampsell will be here, and we’ll talk the ups and downs of being outside of The Machine. Don’t you dare miss it!

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Henderson April 9, 2007 at 8:58 am

Hey guys, I’m in D.C. and about to head back to NY so if your comments don’t go through right away, be patient (or bug Terry). I’m looking forward to a good conversation about indie press, and I’m excited about this week’s guest. I’m able to read my email but not able to send it. No idea why. So again, be patient while I get myself back home. Okay, have a great day and a great discussion, and I’ll see you soon.

(P.S. Lance and Alex – Did you know Fasika’s is GONE?)

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Suzanne April 9, 2007 at 9:13 am

I love independent presses. I love the quirky, edgy books that come from indie publishers, and the way that they care about books and their writers. My first book, an anthology, was published over ten years ago by Stone Bridge Press, an indie press in Berkeley, and they still send me New Year’s cards every year. It makes me feel like family.

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lance reynald April 9, 2007 at 11:00 am

lol.
I think my feelings about indies are no suprise to anyone.

I think they’re great. in some respects the foundation of great literature. Grove Atlatic’s beginnings always come to mind, as does City Lights…and currently rounded out by Soft Skull Press.

Not just myth, but indies seem to have better insights into the world of “whats next”, while certainly the big houses do take chances now and then and bring groundbreaking stuff to the market they also flood the market with plenty of formulaic drivel. As a rule, the indies can’t really fill the shelves with drivel…they just don’t have the budgets to take the loss when they’re found out.

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lance reynald April 9, 2007 at 11:07 am

(Wondertwin- that news was as devastating as Au Pied de Cochon being replaced with a Five Guys.
Though it isn’t Ethiopian, Bistro Francaise is still there and is still damn reliable; I’d recommend the Oeufs Norvegiens. Swing by Afterwords and have a few glasses of Red while you’re at it.)

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Nicole April 9, 2007 at 11:32 am

Well, I definitely have thoughts on Indie presses.

I am published with an indie, so obviously my first thought is … Yeah for indie presses.

I think they open doors for people who are unwilling to self-publish for whatever reason and it gives them a literary community. People to bounce ideas off of and share frustrations with.

There are many resources for getting reviews, and I think that it’s going to be a way for the non-blockbuster titles to find their way into the world.

The challenges:

Trying to get into bookstores is a joke, so getting the cyber word out is a challenge. My motto is “one book at a time” and I jab a victory fist up into the air every time I Amazon sales ranking bumps up enough that I see I sold one.

Self-promotion takes a lot of time, and doing it in a way that doesn’t irritate people is critical.

I think there can be a lack of professionalism in the indies. Just because you are indie, doesn’t mean the product shouldn’t be presented to the world in the same fashion as a big house. Editing and covers, and typeset and all those things need be a strong area of focus.

My experience has been mixed. I’ve definitely had some issues, but overall, I’m happy I did it and I would do it again.

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Aurelio April 9, 2007 at 2:35 pm

I’m not sure I understand all the terms tossed around regarding this topic: self-publishing is pretty obvious, but indie, small press, vanity press, etc., confuse me as to what exactly they are and what they do that is different from self-publishing.

This week should prove informative!

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted April 9, 2007 at 3:17 pm

Aurelio, an independent press would be one not owned by a larger company and I don’t really see there is a difference between that ans a small press, witness: The Small Press Center for Independent Publishing. Vanity, sometimes called subsidy, is when uu pay someone else to publish your book.

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Juliet April 9, 2007 at 3:53 pm

You mean other than Indie being a place for perverts and ne-erdowells who are determined to get their words into the brains of unsuspecting kids? (muhahahaha… believe it or not, I was told that when I said I was publishing non-traditionally.)

I think Indie is great. Like anything, it’s subject to those who govern and parent it… but hip hip hooray for Indie!

(six coffee and the basket of easter eggs as a matter of fact, and yes, no sleep)

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Robin Slick April 9, 2007 at 5:10 pm

I think it depends on the company. I’m with Phaze, the erotic/chicklit branch of Mundania Press, and if you look at their authors — Piers Anthony, for one (though he’s with Mundania, not Phaze har har) — you’ll see that many of them had traditional publishing houses but opted for a more personal, less controlled atmosphere and switched to us. So the first thing you want to do if you decide to submit to an indie press is to do some research. How long have they been in business? If they are brand new, which is fine, do a thorough check on their owners and editors. With any indie company, you also want to look at which authors they publish. Would you be proud to be associated with them? Are their books sold in conventional bookstores or only on their website? Because publishing is expensive, many indie companies will publish you first as an ebook; then, when you demonstrate you are working hard at promo and you reach a certain benchmark, your book will go into print. If we are talking about my publisher, that would be sales of 100 ebooks before you reach print. Being with an indie publisher who only sells your work on their site is problematic and you really have to kill yourself promo wise to get people to buy. Some sites don’t even take pay pal. Here. I lifted this from my publisher:

“We register your book with Books-in-Print US and Books-in-Print UK, along with registering it with the Library of Congress.

All of Phaze print titles are available through Ingram’s, both US and UK. If your book goes to print, it will appear in Ingram’s catalogs, which are distributed to 20,000 bookstores and libraries throughout the US and Canada, and is always available in the Ingram’s database.

All of the online booksellers, such as Amazon.com, Borders.com, B&N.com, Alibris.com, BooksAMillion.com and many more purchase copies for resale through Ingram’s. In addition, Baker & Taylor, the largest book wholesaler in the US distributes our print books.

Our books may be found at:

* Amazon (US)
* Amazon (UK)
* Amazon (Canada)
* Amazon (France)
* Amazon (Germany)
* Amazon (Japan)
* Books-A-Million
* Blackwells (UK)
* Barnes & Noble
* Buy.com
* Alibris
* Half.com
* Powells
* PickaBook (UK)
* FictionWise
* Joseph Beth Books
* FetchBook.Info
* TextbookX.com
* BiggerBooks.com
* eCampus.com
* Collins Booksellers (Australia)
* Chapters.Indigo.ca (Canada)
* Wal-Mart.com
* VarsityBooks.com
* Books.OnTheWeb.com
* SuperBookDeals.com

Our print books are returnable, so they automatically qualify for ordering by any of the thousands of brick-and-mortar bookstores.

At this time, we have also successfully placed some of our print titles at Border’s “brick and mortar” stores and with a few select independent sellers. We will continue to submit new print titles to Borders Group and other brick and mortar chains.

Readers can also purchase your print book directly through the Phaze website. We generally discount books purchased directly from us by about 10-20%. We reserve the right to offer any discount on any of our titles.”

Indie companies rarely offer much in terms of an advance but I will say this — in the case of Phaze, I get a monthly royalty check. Some months, when Three Days was a best seller, I got several hundred dollars. Other months, $32.00.

In case you are interested, here’s what a legitimate indie contract looks like. Again, I’m lifting this link from Phaze:

Contract.

One thing I’m realizing about being a writer…it doesn’t matter who publishes you, as long as they are reputable. Book sales are up to you (and the quality of your work, of course). If you sit back and do nothing promo wise, even if you are a genius and wrote the next American Gods (ha), you probably aren’t going to sell many books whether your publisher is Random House or Phaze. I force myself to go into chat rooms, join forums, make up goodie bags to give out…and bleh…in 2 weeks I’m attending a huge convention in Houston where the first night I have to dress as a faery and the following night a vampire…all so I can sell books that Saturday in a huge room where fans will come up to me and say: Oh yeah, you were that crazy lady in the black faery dress…sure, I’ll buy your book and by the way, do you have any more of that chocolate you handed out at the vampire party?” And naturally, I will have a huge tub of candy ready as well as Robin Slick magnets, bookmarks…gah…see what I’m saying here?

It will be interesting to see if this week’s guest agrees with me.

But err…having said all of that, am I looking to go indie with my new book? No. I’ve now spent close to two years writing it, in fact, I’ve waited my entire life to write this particular book, and I want to try the mainstream route first because I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written and extremely marketable.

Damn ego.

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Aurelio April 9, 2007 at 5:26 pm

Thanks, Lauren.

So “Vanity” is to self-publishing as “Pre-Owned” is to used car lots.

And Mundania would be considered an indie.

Am I getting this right?

(BTW, Robin – one of my short stories is coming out later this year in a antho from Mundania called “Grimm & Grimmer” – but I’ll wait to push that in everyone’s face when it happens.)

I did EVE through AuthorHouse, which is “Vanity,” translate “self-published,” but AuthorHouse did get EVE listed with Ingram even though it is POD.

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted April 9, 2007 at 6:11 pm

Aurelio, I guess I wasn’t clear – my bad! With vanity/subsidy, you pay someone else to publish your book under their imprint and for that one price they take care of cover design etc and sometimes editing; before the days of POD this was all very expensive. For true self-publishing, you essentially create your own publishing company and arrange for everything on your own.

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Carolyn Burns Bass April 9, 2007 at 8:10 pm

I love indie presses and and their authors. I think of them as the beautiful, but misunderstood girl who wears amazing, distinctive clothes because she wants to create her own style.

I confess, though, I will exhaust every opportunity to publish through a large “name brand” house. I guess I’m more of a Gap girl than an indie boutique girl.

Robin said: …in 2 weeks I’m attending a huge convention in Houston where the first night I have to dress as a faery and the following night a vampire…

Fun! I want to go…

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Susan Henderson April 9, 2007 at 10:33 pm

Wow. These definitions. These opinions. This is better than I imagined. I’m exhausted from traveling, Steve the greyhound is asleep on my feet, and I’m going to come back and comment tomorrow. (Lance, tell me you’re just kidding about Au Pied de Cochon…)

‘Night.

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mikel k April 10, 2007 at 2:02 am

I’m too independent, even for the independents…(but I do appreciate
Ms. Slicks insites.)

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Simon Haynes April 10, 2007 at 3:13 am

My publisher is an independent, and the experience has been great. They have a national distribution agreement with the biggest publisher in this country (Australia) which has seen my books stocked everywhere.

Actually, I’d have to say I’m enjoying the best of both worlds: Lots of individual care and attention at the creative stage, but massive big-business reach when it comes to the commercial side.

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Simon Haynes April 10, 2007 at 3:14 am

Addition to my previous post: my publisher recently celebrated their 30th year in business.

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Betsy April 10, 2007 at 9:14 am

I’m all up in the indie now, for many of the reasons cited here – and I’d say more but I have to go to work.

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Kimberly April 10, 2007 at 9:31 am

…and I thought “indie” in the film world was hard to define! oof!

Carolyn, you can always make GAP clothes more exotic! Just think of them as a solid fountation upon which to build!

What is that line from STEEL MAGNOLIAS?

“The thing that separates us from the animal kingdom is our ability to accessorize.”

(a wild tangent, I know, but otherwise, I can’t really contribute this week…)

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Richard April 10, 2007 at 11:55 am

“Indie” is a relatively new term, I think, a crossover from the film and music industries. Back in the early 80s, when I published two books with small presses (after one commercially-published books), the term was always “small press,” presumably on the analogy of “little magazine” (that’s now a term that seems quaint, “little” having been replaced by “literary”).

Even in 2000, when my book was published by Red Hen Press in L.A., they and others were still calling themselves “small presses.” I did (admittedly casual) searches for “indie press” on Nexis/Lexis, the New York Times, L.A. Times and Washinton Post and don’t find any twentieth-century references to the term.

Whatever you call them, they’re necessary.

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Richard April 10, 2007 at 11:59 am

Especially in the West Indies.

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Gail Siegel April 10, 2007 at 12:21 pm

I know so little about different publishers, be they Soft Skull or Knopf, I have nothing to say. But since I rarely publish anything to my blog (every few months at most) and blogging is the most indie publishing of all, I am going to plug myself today:
http://wishitwerefiction.blogspot.com/

Beyond that, I’m eager to read everyone’s thoughts on this topic, and get educated.

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Julie Ann Shapiro April 10, 2007 at 2:12 pm

Back at the Park…
I said I’d take a break from blog posting – but hey – I missed you folks and feel I have something to add to the dialogue.

In the summer I took a chance with the indie publisher, Pulp Bits. They had approached me about publishing my story collection. I said, yes. It was a good experience. It didn’t cost me a thing – although some may have viewed them as a layer above self-publishing. And maybe they were – I liked their authors and their editoris. I was happy with them – so happy we started to serialize my first novel and then they went out of business.

After five years of funding the publishing of their books mostly themeselves they called it quits. They could only self-fund so long.

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Carolyn Burns Bass April 10, 2007 at 3:08 pm

Kimberly said: …you can always make GAP clothes more exotic! Just think of them as a solid fountation upon which to build!

So true. Accessorizing–making oneself stand out–is key to publicity, whether in book sales, word of mouth buzz, reviews, or guerilla marketing. This can be said for indie pubs and the big name houses. Staying in print is as much the author’s responsibility these days as it is the publisher’s.

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Jason Boog April 10, 2007 at 3:40 pm

I’ll tell you what–indie presses throw the best parties.

I’ve attended lots of small and big press sponsored readings in New York, but small-press writers are always feel more approachable.

These small press writers give quirky readings that are usually packed with obsessive, dedicated readers. I love that.

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Robin Slick April 10, 2007 at 4:42 pm

Jason, talk to me in two weeks after I run around in George Bush’s illustrious state for five days dressed as a freaking faery.

But yeah…some of the events include chocolate strawberry and champagne networking; an urban rock and roll immortal party (oh don’t I wish rock stars were immortal — except for Bono, Sting, and all members of Aerosmith, that is)…and, as you say, obsessive, dedicated readers with huge hearts.

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Noria April 11, 2007 at 1:26 am

I’m not a big fan of the Gap, I’m more of an indie-spirited gal. My story collection wouldn’t have been published if an independent publisher hadn’t taken a chance on me. The big houses were willing to take that risk. That said, independents can’t necessarily provide the kind of advance that allows writers to make a living solely from their writing. I wonder if this will change, as more and more independents have break-out successes along the lines of The Time Traveler’s Wife (MacAdam/Cage), The Sleeping Father (Soft Skull), or Clown Girl (Hawthorne Books). Anything’s possible: The Gap (short for generation gap) was once a hippie clothing store in San Francisco, and Simon & Schuster was once an independent publisher.

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Noria April 11, 2007 at 1:27 am

correction: The big houses WEREN’T…

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n.l. belardes April 11, 2007 at 3:32 am

We at Noveltown have a ways to go before we get the respect, credibility and support we deserve. It’s all baby steps. Thursday night is our business/mixer event for our new magazine, The Noveltown Review in shich Susan has a story titled, Ladybug.

Support takes hard work, networking, and vision.

I like what Ray Bradbury said when I saw him speak a few months ago. He said that people should do what they believe in. Naysayers, just knock them out of the way.

When you have a tiny budget like us, it takes a lot more patience than most people have.

But we’re having fun, we’re growing and that’s what matters. We’re the only local literary magazine and book publisher within more than a hundred miles in our area. We may be small, but we have a big foothold.

And the beauty is that anyone can have such a vision and make it work through commitment.

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patry April 11, 2007 at 2:25 pm

Robin makes a great point when she says that no matter who publishes your book, it’s up to YOU to promote it. The difference is that if you’re with a trade publisher, you can easily fall under the illusion that your publicist or someone else is going to do it. In fact, you may even be encouraged to believe that. BIG mistake. Very big mistake.

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dennis mahagin April 11, 2007 at 5:36 pm

I’m going to take a page from Gail’s book, and plug myself:

Not that I have anything against Indie Presses.

I LOVE Indie Presses.

It’s just that today I’m drawing a blank, when it comes to saying anything constructive about Indie Presses.

So, I think I’m gonna plug myself.

I’m pretty sure that the “promotional socket” is properly grounded, & I won’t get electrocuted,

…plus, I’m wearing the Latex, and the oven mitts, and the welder’s helmet, and all that. So,

OK. Ya ready?

Here goes! :

No wait…

Gimme a minute…

Gotta gear up for dangerous stunts like this. Coupla deep breaths.

I mean, gah:

Plugging yourself?

But see, the thing is, I know I’m gonna feel so much better when it’s all over,

even if I do get hit with a little jolt of the ol’ juice, there.

CAUSTIC VOICE OF INNER CRITIC:

(Robbie Knievel’s from Butte, too–just like you, and he never, ever stalls this much. Gah)… C’mon, man!

http://fourhourhardon.blogspot.com

ZZZZZZZZTTTTTTT!!!!!

Ouch. Ah.

Nothing like taking one, for the Indie Press.

Luv,

DM

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Bruce Hoppe April 12, 2007 at 8:54 am

Since I have an abiding reverence for the entertainment value of anarchy, the small press/Indie in all its manifestations is near and dear. Our own variation is the self-created imprint. (see http://www.backtoonebooks.com) Not exactly the classic small press model, perhaps, but still another way to get to the business of connecting readers and writers, which can’t be all bad.

In another note: Goodbye Kurt Vonnegut. And so it goes.

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Gail Siegel April 12, 2007 at 11:12 am

Dennis, your post cracked me up.

But reading about Kurt Vonnegut (I always thought he was the reincarnation of Mark Twain) was made me so sad this morning. Yes, so it goes.

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