On indie press: Jim C Hines

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press and gone on to become professionals in the field to write about their experiences. Today’s post comes to us from Jim C Hines, a US author who has experienced success professionally and is also experimenting with self-publishing. 

When Tehani e-mailed to ask if I’d be interested in doing a guest post about my experiences with indie press, I said I’d be happy to … but, um, what exactly did she mean by “indie”? Were we talking about indie as a deliberate alternative to the mainstream? The small presses who publish titles too different or risky for the big publishers? Or is this indie as it’s come to be used, where everyone from vanity presses to bestselling authors dabbling in e-books try to lay claim to indieness?

I admit I cringe a bit at the term “indie” these days. Often (but not always), the word signals that I’m about to be sold to. I’ve come to associate indie with authors who send multiple invites to be their fan on Facebook, daily messages asking me to retweet their contests, comments begging me to like and +1 their books, and so on. Not all self-identified indie authors are obnoxious self-promoters, but in recent years, it feels like most obnoxious self-promoters identify as indie.

To me, indie is more than a sales pitch. I’ve always appreciated the role of the small press in publishing works that were too risky for the big publishers. My first novel Goldfish Dreams was a mainstream book about an incest survivor. I don’t know that a book like that, written by a fantasy author, would have sold enough copies to justify the time and money most major presses invest in their titles. But this smaller, specialty publisher was able and willing to take that risk.

The same holds true of short fiction collections. How many single-author collections do you see from big vs. small publishers? These are important works, but not works that generally sell well enough to make it as major releases.

Following that logic, self-publishing could indeed be the culmination of indie. When Goldfish Dreams went out of print, I released it as a $2.99 e-book. I’ve also published two electronic collections of my short fiction, with a third on the way. I have the freedom and independence to publish anything I’d like, and no marketing group or sales committee or editor has any say in those choices.

Heck, I could post my grocery list for sale on Kindle and declare myself an indie author. (A bestselling indie author, even, if my book makes it into the top 100 list in the Kindle > Kindle E-books > Nonfiction > Produce > Contemporary Grocery Lists category.) But when people talk about wanting to read indie books, or to listen to indie music, the assumption is that they’re looking for something a) different and b) good.

Which makes me believe that self-publishing =/= indie. Some self-published titles would qualify as indie, but not all, and not by the mere virtue of being self-published. My suspicion is that most of the truly indie titles continue to be found in the small press, where editors can deliberately select those stories that are both different and good. (And if you believe “good” is in the eye of the beholder with no true meaning, then you’ve probably never been on slush reading duty.)

I’m pretty sure I’ve gone off on a tangent from Tehani’s original topic. Coming back to myself and my own career, I very much appreciate the small publishers who took a chance on my earliest books. Those first books provided a tremendous boost to my confidence. And while I don’t know that I’d describe Goblin Quest as indie, I do think Goldfish Dreams feels like an indie title, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have published something I feel was both different and important.

Long live the indies!

Jim C. Hines is the author of The Snow Queen’s Shadow, his seventh fantasy novel. This is in no way an indie title, but does feature Sleeping Beauty as a kick-ass ninja, so that’s pretty cool. He’s self-published two short collections, Goblin Tales and Kitemaster & Other Stories, and spends far too much time online at http://www.jimchines.com

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