Call me indie

We are living in a renaissance of creativity. A lot of people don’t appreciate it. But I think it’s fitting in the wake of what’s going on in North Africa and the Middle East that we think about the effect the internet really has on all aspects of our lives. And that got me thinking about what it does for creative people. Basically, it removes all our limitations. Well, the practical limitations, anyway.

All of the various media that have traditionally required corporations and established analog distribution channels are now available to anyone. Music, movies, comics, books, all can be produced by anyone with off the shelf equipment affordable by even modest incomes. And we’re seeing new mediums that never existed before, like stories played out in real time on Twitter that are something between a novel and a radio dramatization.

In the late 90s, early 00s, we saw the dawn of indie music, musicians recording albums that sounded professional, releasing them as MP3s and burning them to CDs to sell at their shows. A few years later, we saw the rise of tools like iMovie and cameras like the Flip Mino make it possible for indie film makers to release professional grade films on YouTube.

The last decade also saw a run at indie comics, and it’s here that “indie” became almost synonymous with “creator controlled.” Comics have seen a rebirth of diversity and creativity in the last ten years. Digital tools have made it possible to release directly to the web with levels of quality that would have been hard to come by on old bristol board. And with creators free to tell the stories they want to tell, superheroes have had to make room for comics about all sorts of things. It’s no wonder that these are turning out to be fertile ground for adaptation into other media, like how “The Walking Dead” was a comic long before a critically acclaimed TV series.

And yes, even indie TV is coming out of its shell, with series like Felicia Day’s “The Guild” garnering millions of viewers on the web, on game consoles, on set top boxes like Roku.

And yet, oddly, this revolution has taken a long time to make it to prose. There have been a few breakout stars like Amanda Hocking, and more traditionally published authors are coming to realize they can both make more money and retain more control over their if they go indie (see Joe Konrath for details). But for arguably the least technically complicated medium out there–ebooks can be reduced to ASCII text without losing much fidelity–prose authors are the last to make the jump to the digital age.

And a lot of that comes from the stigma still associated with the “self-published.”

While independent filmmakers like Kevin Smith, who maxed out all his credit cards to make “Clerks”, are lauded, authors who decide to bypass the corporate gatekeepers are still viewed with suspicion. If your book is so good, prospective readers wonder, why didn’t Random House want it?

Of course, the truth, increasingly, is that we didn’t bother to ask. Devices like the Kindle and iPad have made it not only possible, but practical for large masses of people to read books without the necessity of a printing press, paper and massive fleets of trucks for distribution. We finally have the means to reach our readers directly. And given that opportunity, I for one have no interest in asking permission to publish my book, and I’m certainly not willing to give up control over the cover, the title, sometimes even the name listed for the author in exchange for less than 20% of the cover price.

For years, the conventional wisdom was “money flows to the author.” The author never had to pay for anything, but also had to wait until everyone else in the process had taken their cut before they got what little was left over. Today, I’m both the author and the publisher of my work. Maybe I don’t pay anything as the author, but as the publisher, I hire an editor and graphic artist to help me make the book as good as it can be before I put it out there for readers to buy. It’s an investment, just like an independent businessperson in any other endeavor would be expected to make up front.

So I don’t call myself “self-published,” even though that’s literally true. Instead I’m joining with the musicians, filmmakers and artists and calling myself an indie author. This is my business as much as my art, and I’m proud to be in control of it, sink or swim. And hopefully, by the end of this decade, people will take indie authors as seriously as they take indie creative people in any other medium.

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