By necessity, big publishers can’t provide a platform for every writer whose voice is worth hearing. They simply have a limited number of books they can publish. Also, over time, big publishing has been reduced to five media companies with an obligation to their stock holders to maximize profits. This limits the number of risks they can and should take. These two facts limit the number of new and diverse voices that can share their creativity.
Indie publishing allows an outlet for those voices. The term “indie publishing” has evolved over the last few years to incorporate self-published authors, authors with boutique presses, and small press authors. It’s a little misleading because they’re not all the same. However, they all provide the opportunity for more voices to be heard.
Self-publishing literally allows anyone to publish a book in print or electronically. That said, it probably still favors voices of privilege since they’ll be the ones who have money for the best covers, editing, and advertising, plus potentially more free time to do the work of getting the word out. Small presses vary greatly but there are a lot of them out there. The best will provide editing, covers, and at least some marketing.
Indie publishing keeps authors from being forced to accept the publication terms of the big publishing houses. While it’s true the big publishing houses pay advances up front, and arguably pay more per book than small presses, the pay can still be surprisingly small. At least anecdotally, I know writers who stick with the big five and yet sometimes barely make ends meet. Indie publishing provides a possible alternative outlet for authors to supplement their pay. When authors do well with indie publishing, it provides some pressure for the big five to offer better pay to compete.
The limited number of publishing venues is a small problem compared to the tiny number of retail outlets for books. By far, most people discover books by visiting bookstores and we only have one major brick-and-mortar retailer in the United States, Barnes and Noble. Shelf space at Barnes and Nobles is limited. It’s not uncommon for me to go into Barnes and Noble and have difficulty finding even current, big name authors with big publishers.
The challenge is how can readers find and support good authors, working through small presses and who self-publish. The usual recommendation is to leave reviews in places like Goodreads and Amazon. This is good, and it’s incredibly helpful.
Some public libraries and local, indie bookstores will host events for authors. I have attended wonderful events at the Branigan Library in Las Cruces and at stores such as Bookmans in Tucson, COAS in Las Cruces, and Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans. If your library or bookstore hosts such events, please go and meet the authors. Talk to them, find out if what they write is to your taste. If it is, give their work a try and then follow them online. If it’s not to your taste, please don’t write off small press or self-published authors because of one or two bad experiences. Go to the next event and meet different authors until you find someone you like.
In the genre world, there are science fiction, steampunk and comic conventions. Some of these provide venues for indie authors, either on panels or in the dealer’s room. If you like hearing from indie authors, make sure to send your feedback to the convention committees. If they hear that people like hearing from indie voices as well as the most popular authors, they will often make room for those indie authors.
Indie publishing provides a platform for new and diverse voices. I won’t try to convince you that all those voices will be ones you want to hear or even great voices, which is true of any media. But if you look, you will find the gems. I encourage you to seek out the gems. Leave reviews and visit authors at stores and events. There’s some great stuff out there, just waiting for you to find it.