Indie vs Traditional Publishing Snobbery

I didn’t go to the big RT* convention. But apparently there were two rooms for book signings. One room was for all the established authors with traditionally published books. Readers could pick a book, have it signed, and pay for it as they left the room. I gather that Barnes and Noble was handling the sales for this event. I’m going to assume this saves the individual authors from handling money.

Then some idiot said the other room was for aspiring authors. Not true. The other room was for independent authors. Their books were not handled the same way because… It’s complicated. But it all has to do with why indies aren’t sitting on many bookseller shelves next to other print books.

But all the authors there “bought” table space. They were supposed to get three feet of table space. Indies wound up with half that and were crammed together in a smaller ballroom.

So the whole thing is being blown out of proportion, but at the bottom of it is still the snobbery between traditional and indie authors. Many indie authors are acquiring their backlists** from traditional publishers and small epublishers who use POD** paper books or very short print runs. Those traditional authors are now indie pubbing those books. So obviously traditionally published authors are running to indie publishing in droves! But there is still something “special” about being able to say I write for (insert big publishing house name). And the traditional houses still hold the majority of the big names in the industry.

The truth is the big publishers have money and they can spend it. If you are a fair-haired child of theirs, they will spend it on advertising. And where do they advertise? Places like RT magazine. So whom is RT going to cater to? The big publishers. This is not rocket science. Money talks.

Today, small and indie publishers make up the brunt of the books available. It’s been a wonderful thing for both the authors and the readers. Never before has there been so much available and in every possible genre. But there is still the lingering snobbery of being traditionally published. Why? I have no clue. Many an indie has turned down a publishing deal with one of the big publishers because they can make more money without them.

If a big publisher came to me with a deal, I’m not sure what I’d do. I’d have to look at the contract very carefully. So often contracts tend to own characters, etc. and I don’t want to give up what I have. It’s all very tempting. And who wouldn’t be tempted by the idea of having a big publisher shove an author into the limelight? Why wouldn’t I be tempted to be wrapped in that protective blanket?

The truth is most indies work harder than traditionally published authors because we’re responsible for more. But the snobbery is there and it’s not going to go away anytime soon. Do you want a pair of jeans from that superstore down the street or the pair with the big name on your backside? And what if that pair from the superstore cost much less, fit better, and wore longer? But people like that big name!

And being those big publishers are the money behind so many book conventions and they have the advertising budgets to toss at magazines dedicated to readers, indies will be shunned. The playing field is changing, and it won’t happen overnight. It might take another twenty years before there are serious changes. But until then, readers shouldn’t have to worry about the politics of this business. Readers only need to be able to find the kinds of books that they love to read and at a price that fits their budget.

So RT made some mistakes. I think they know that by now and someone is probably in trouble.  We don’t have the money of the big publishers, but we’re too big to be ignored. Changes need to be made. But I doubt they will happen between now and next year’s convention. Why? Because the big publishers still hold the keys to the money.

Are you a snob? Does it matter who published the book you are reading? Do you love going to big conventions or do the small town ones capture your attention? Have you ever met your favorite author?


*RT:  Romantic Times, a magazine dedicated to romance readers

**Backlists: books previous published and the rights to those books have been returned to the author

***POD and short print runs: Print on Demand, books printed at the time of purchase. Short print runs, 300-500 books printed at one time and sent to booksellers.


20 Responses to Indie vs Traditional Publishing Snobbery

  1. Jane Leopold Quinn says:

    Agree with you big time, E. I’ve recently ended my subscription to RT for reasons I won’t mention, but the biggies are the biggies and haven’t changed even though the publishing industry has.


    • E. Ayers says:

      Keep writing from your heart. Your books are smart, sexy, and they’ve had excellent reviews by those who don’t care who published them. And I promise, the readers don’t care who published them. You’re a hybrid author between indie and small pub. And the readers go to those small pubs looking for books like yours. Besides, most of the authors who write in your genre, don’t write nearly as well. They’d also give their first born to be published with those (not-so-small) small presses that welcome your books. And maybe there is a little snobbery when it comes to small presses?


  2. PJ Sharon says:

    I love your name brand jeans analogy, E. As much as I love being an Indie, there is still that part of me that cringes every time someone asks me who my publisher is and wishes I could throw a big name out. I’m thinking their facial expressions would look very different and that I’d get more than an “Oh, you’re self-published”. I would also love the PR perks, the in with book stores, and a hefty advance, but I’m not willing to sell my soul to get it.

    I didn’t go to RT this year and I won’t be going to RWA National either. Since I had nothing to pitch, it didn’t make sense to spend the money. Although at least at Nationals last year , they had a ton of workshops in the “SP Track”. It was geared toward newbies interested in the ins and outs of SP. I could have taught most of the workshops at that point, but I did have the pleasure of chatting with Bella Andre who gave me some excellent advice…worth the whole trip!

    I think for me, the contacts I meet at conventions and the camaraderie is what I go for. Having said that, the cost does not outweigh the benefit…at least this year. I’d rather spend the thousand bucks on promoting my books and updating my covers! I might try for next year’s Nationals, but RT is off my list. I had several bad experiences with them last year.


    • E. Ayers says:

      The truth is the perks aren’t there anymore. Some have almost quit giving out signing bonuses and advancements. They expect the book to come to them already edited and print ready.

      I venture to guess there are probably only about 100 authors, and that number is stretching it, who really are getting any benefit by being with a big publisher. I don’t see them leaving their cozy nest anytime soon.


  3. carolynmat says:

    Great post. You captured the essence of what’s happening now. I love indie publishing and haven’t decided if ‘ll submit to a publisher again. But having said that, I was a guest at a book club last December. The members, I felt, had a built-in prejudice against indie authors. So when they asked if I was completely self-published, I was glad to tell them that I’ve been with publishers so am more of a “hybrid” author. I hated to buy into that prejudice against indies, but I understand it’ll take awhile for indies to be completely accepted in some circles. I personally don’t care who the publisher is or if a book is self-published. A good book is a good book. Period.


  4. carolynmat says:

    PS-to above Carolynmat is Cara Marsi, author


    • E. Ayers says:

      Nail on the head! “A good book is a good book. Period.”

      I’m sorry that you’ve faced that prejudice by a book club. They obviously are behind the times and still falling into that good ole boys trap of thinking that only legacy published authors are worth reading. That’s a shame because they are missing a lot of good books by indies that are better written and better edited than what is being fed to us by the big pubs!


      • Barb Caffrey says:

        You aren’t kidding, E. I recently read a book where the author (a very well-known one, who’s sold a ton of books) “smiled” dialogue, “sighed” dialogue (instead of “He smiled,” period, as an attribution phrase, it went something like this — “Tom’s an idiot,” she smiled. And that’s flat wrong. Because it’s supposed to be “Tom’s an idiot.” She smiled. And the “sighed” phrase was even worse than that one), comma-splices, lack of commas (I recently gave a major mass-market release a lower grade because I saw _zero_ commas for much of the book)…the list goes on and on.

        Yet if you’re working for a small press or are indie publishing, you’re working much, much harder. You don’t make those types of mistakes, because they’re not tolerated. And you also do your own promotion, which is incredibly difficult and challenging for most of us…we’re not like the BNAs (Big Name Authors) who have assistants and publicists and all sorts of helpers to get one book out, much less help promote the rest of them, talk to their fans for them, and even keep up a Web presence for them.

        I do all of my own promo, just as you do. In a lot of ways, it’s difficult. But I’m passionate about what I’m doing, and that’s what counts.


        • Barb Caffrey says:

          BTW, that was a lower grade at Shiny Book Review (where I review books). I have started to hold the big name authors (BNAs) to the same standard I hold indie and small press authors…it’s only fair.


  5. Lily Bishop says:

    Thank you for this well-written, insightful post. I think a lot of the RT hullabaloo had to do with the non-returnable issue of POD books. Brick and mortar bookstores live and die by their ability to return books they don’t sell, which is why they won’t stock authors who are using a POD service like CreateSpace. The fact that Amazon and CreateSpace are partners doesn’t help much either, considering bookstores blame Amazon for their demise. (And before Amazon really took off, indie stores blamed the big bookstores, so it’s a shell game.) Like you, I don’t know what I would do if a big-6 came calling with a deal. I know I’m not interested in going with a small press. I’m not ready to give up control.


    • E. Ayers says:

      And maybe TR and the other big venues would be smart and hire Amazon to handle the sales! Put a few POD machines right there and let them print! Because quite a few of the big publishers are also using POD. That’s much better than having a big warehouse and all that “dead” overhead.


  6. lyndilamont says:

    Not the first time this kind of thing has happened at RT. Small press authors were banished to a Wed. evening signing some years ago. I quit attending RT and let my magazine subscribe years. ago. But it’s true that money talks in situations like this.


    • E. Ayers says:

      I remember when that happened. Oh-h-h boy-y-y!

      But readers are still the driving force and they want to go and meet their favorite authors including those really big names. But what if there were smaller venues in various cities that would allow a reader to meet with authors. I’m sure some authors would follow the circuit no matter where it was. Even if it contained fewer big names, the readers still would have the chance not just to meet an author but maybe spend a few minutes talking or listening to them?

      I think change is in the air and the indies are behind it.


  7. E. Ayers says:

    A SUPER, big thank you to all of you who have stopped by and given your thoughts on this subject. Right now there are songs floating through my mind… We all know them! We can picture them being sung. Money, money, money, it’s a rich man’s world and we all know that money makes the world go around, the world go around. Walk even further back in time to the days when the Music Man was a huge hit – it was all about money in a small town.

    Go ahead try suing me for using the words to those songs. Half the world knows those songs and I just implanted them in a bunch of heads that will now probably wonder whatever happened to those old records and will turn to someplace like Amazon or iTunes to find electronic versions of those albums. I’ll say you guys just got free advertising! You should be thanking me!

    And while I’m at it, I drink Coke. I’m a Puffs Plus fan. I eat Planter’s Peanuts. I have an HP computer that runs on Microsoft software. So what’s wrong with being human and a consumer? Nothing!

    Money does talk and to some extent we fear it, yet we want it. We want that multimillion dollar contract so that we can sink our toes into a tropical beach while we write that next book. Because if we had that contract, we wouldn’t have to worry about marketing, etc.

    Just remember there are indies out there making millions of dollars per year writing books and their numbers are growing. We are no longer a small group of renegades doing the unthinkable. We like consumers, they buy our books, too!


  8. Shirley Wine says:

    Thank you E. for the concise and thoughtful post.
    I had someone tell me the other day that it was time I wrote “real” books.
    They were a little taken aback when I responded, rather tartly, that I do write “real” books and I have readers to prove it. Probably not as many as those with big money budgets behind them, but consumers none-the-less.
    Writing and publishing e-books has been a conscious choice for me living as I do in the antipodes which makes shipping print books prohibitive and with our much smaller population base makes them difficult to sell.

    And as a consumer (reader) I just love the choice of books available from indie authors.


    • E. Ayers says:

      New Zealand and Australia have long had the reputation for being extremely expensive when it comes to books. I can remember friends coming to visit the USA back in the 1960’s and they’d take home half a suitcase of books from their favorite authors. Paper books were coveted!

      With today’s electronic press, I can buy your books and you can buy mine. No waiting, no expensive tax, no shipping fees, just instant enjoyment! And I love reading books set in “other” places. And maybe the little town you write about is like every other little town in NZ but it’s different in many ways and the same as our little towns in the USA. Because all people are really the same, but it’s been fun reading about Totara Park.


  9. Liz Crowe says:

    interesting post. I’m not a snob per se but I will admit that sometimes it feels like the only way to break through the HUGE amount of indie pubbed book noise (sheer volume of them) is to get an agent and a contract with a big house–mainly to lay my hands on some of their advertising money. However, I will say I don’t pay a single bit of attention to WHO published a book, I care more about who wrote it. If it’s an author I enjoy, I read them, period.


    • E. Ayers says:

      Thanks for stopping, Liz. You’ve brought up a good point about the advertising money, but they aren’t spending it on the “little” people anymore. They are spending it on the big folks, those who will sell or have the potential to sell a few million books out of the gate. Beyond that, a small author is lucky to get an ad in RT mag or some other place. Many indies are spending that kind of money themselves. The big companies aren’t going to spend the money to put you on an endcap or your own stand at a brick and mortar store unless your name is Stephen, James, or Nora. But if they think you have the potential…They will go all out and the only way you’ll ever know what they think is to have an agent who will submit a ms. It’s a huge Catch 22.

      As a reader, you’ve brought up a very valid point. You will read what and who you like! So becoming a recognized name is important. The question then becomes, how do we become recognized in a sea of millions of authors world-wide?


  10. fionamcgier says:

    “How do we become recognized in a sea of millions of authors world-wide?” That’s the billion dollar question, isn’t it? You need to be able to spend money to get attention from readers. But to have that budget you need to make good royalties…which you don’t make if no one has heard of you. It’s a vicious circle. I think I’d be afraid that with a “big 6” publisher I’d be their smallest “fry”, so they’d let me sink or swim on my own, which would lead to being even more ignored than I am now! So I’ll stick with my small publishers who provide professional services in return for publishing my books.


    • E. Ayers says:

      It’s a very difficult position. The small fry with the big publishers are discovering that they are responsible for much of their advertising. Word of mouth is excellent, but it’s so slow! Does anyone sit in a waiting room and announce to everything there that they’ve read the most fantastic author? Has anyone even bothered to tell a sister, best friend, or co-worker about a book that they loved?


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