Indie Authoring: Art or Business?

I’ve heard a few indie authors over the years claim they are artists. Be careful, because when an author makes a statement like that, the word “artist” may denote a few veiled meanings. For example:

I am an artist and therefore

 …I may break conventional rules.

Sometimes indie authors think poor editing and grammar make them an artist working outside of the box, thumbing their noses at the bleakness of conformity. Wrong! A lack of editing and grammar means that as a communicator, you’re only contributing to the dreaded “Indie Author Stigma” and nothing else.


Photo by Megan used under CC License

The craftsmanship of the product that bears your name must be as good (if not better) than what the traditional publishing industry can produce. It’s a fine standard and it should be adhered to and strived for at all times.

I love it when authors excuse their lack of standards by comparing themselves to Picasso. Well, I hate to break the news, but Picasso paid attention to many standards. He used paint and applied it to a canvas. If he wanted green paint, he had to mix yellow and blue. He followed formulas concerning composition and color schemes. If I’m not mistaken, Da Vinci did all of that as well.

…I am unsullied by the pursuit of profit.

Now that’s a big fat lie! Like any other artist, we all seek an audience. And the only way to reach an audience is to sell your material. Many blogs discuss Author Branding and similar marketing concepts. Let’s face it, we’re all business competitors in this new vibrant field.

This leads to another potential problem: free downloads. An absolutely foolish thing to do that gets right under my skin. The only thing achieved by a free download is that the author has just told the whole world that the value of his creation is zero. Now there are legitimate reasons for putting free material out there – fan fiction for one, since you can’t legally profit from it. Or perhaps you want to do a promotion for a period, or put out a short story to get your name known.  But for the most part, making your work free is not the best idea.

…my work is an honest reflection of my world view and wasn’t generated by a marketing computer.

Ding! Ding! Ding! This is where the world of indie publishing and traditional publishing (thankfully) split apart. An indie author can explore themes and characterizations that traditional publishers shy away from.

The world of traditional publishing is a business. They will only invest the cogs of their machine into something based on a proven formula. They’re only hedging their bets for a payoff, and why shouldn’t they operate from that standpoint? They’re a business, making business decisions for the sole purpose of generating sales and profit.

This is the reason why most mass produced entertainment is nothing but a huge steaming pile of banal nonsense churned out for maximum appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Therefore, if you’ve got a great story about a teenage prostitute who gets addicted to drugs, and is then saved by a store front group of revivalist Christians, and from that group of Christians she finds a boyfriend, and they don’t have sex until after they’re married, you won’t be published traditionally.

However, if you make your Main Character a vampire, give her a zombie boyfriend love interest, who she met at an illegal vampire / zombie orgy, and of course set the story in a future post-apocalyptic dystopian society, you’ll have a better shot at a publishing contract.

So yes, indie writing can offer a freedom of expression and creativity that is unmatched anywhere.  However, to be successful, one must also follow the established rules of the trade.  So in my view, it’s really a mix of art and science.  What are your thoughts?

18 thoughts on “Indie Authoring: Art or Business?

  1. I agree. Although my blog is beginning as a personal blog, I plan to move toward the use of words and style to professional blogs. I may or may not delete the two poems I began my blog with. They are very personal, and pieces that I really wanted to get out there. Still they are not designed to earn money. I believe the pieces I write in the future will be more business-like. Thank you for your advice.


  2. At first, when I read the title, I thought you were coming to the conclusion that ‘indie authoring’ isn’t art but more business. I’m glad i was wrong, because I do think it’s a combination of both.

    Of course it’s art. But when it comes to self publishing, you have to think like a business man/woman, especially when it comes to the marketing.


  3. It’s such a tough subject. I am an artist. I paint, play instruments, sing, compose and write. Writing is the only thing I’ve ever taken money for. So does that make it a business? For now, I take every penny I make and pour it back into the books. Most of the money goes to editors and artists and book covers. But some goes to advertising and websites and such. Still, Uncle Sam makes me report the income on a schedule C, so I guess it’s a business after all. I really wish I could just give the books away and find my audience without advertising. It somehow “feels” better to think of myself as only an artist. But I suppose I must accept the truth in your words. Being a “published author” must be a combination of both.


  4. I agree with much of what you say! Especially your comment, “You have to be an artist to produce, and then a businessperson to sell it,” is spot-on.

    One point where I kinda differ is free days, which do have their use. For example, giving away a free novelette in order to entice people to buy a series. This can be an important part of our marketing arsenal.

    Second, I’d like to comment on your statement, “This is the reason why most mass produced entertainment is nothing but a huge steaming pile of banal nonsense churned out for maximum appeal to the lowest common denominator.” I agree, but need to point out that there is a reason why blockbusters are more successful than low-budget productions. That reason is technical superiority, thanks to the large budgets. Indie films simply can’t compete with that.

    However, when it comes to books, there’s nothing holding us back from producing an excellent (from a technical point of view) manuscript. This leads me back to your main argument, that we Indies need to work on our craft and produce error-free books, if we are to overcome the “Indie stigma”.

    BTW, I notice that stigma in a lot of the reviews I get. For example, some people complain about stylistic choices, mistakenly thinking them errors. A typical example: I once used the phrase, “trees spurted from the ground”, to indicate an anarchic growth. A reader commented that trees don’t spurt, and that I probably meant to use “sprouted” instead. I’m pretty certain they would never have made that comment, had the book been traditionally published. In any case, I rolled my eyes and changed it to the rather duller, “trees covered the ground.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Nicholas thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
    Guess I have to clarify a few things. “Giving away a free novelette…” I’m kind of o.k. with it as part of a larger strategy. But I’ve seen people just permanently offering a fee full-blown novel.
    I even have a free permanent short-story on Wattpad, because I just couldn’t bring myself to charge someone for a 5 page short.

    I’m surprised that the “spurt vs sprout” dilemma didn’t surface during critiques and beta reads.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Another take on the topic:
    Primarily a consumer with far too little time to read, I want to let you know that “free” – used judiciously – is one way to introduce readers to your style and content (especially when your format is not part of a reader’s regular “diet.”)

    On Amazon I tend to purchase books with “look inside” pages, for example. primarily because I don’t really trust the taste of reviewers to be anywhere close to my own (or, as you noted in another post, to represent “real” reviews). Even at a library, I thumb through the book or read a chapter or two before checking it out.

    I’d much rather see a free book supported by books that are priced a tad above the going range than a list of publications that might as well be promoted as seconds, judging by their dollar-store pricing. That strikes me more as “giving away” your work (tho’ I do realize that Amazon has rules and norms that make it tough for quality Indie-authors to be fairly compensated.)

    I’m with you on the intent of the post, however. There are a lot of new coaches, for example, flooding the market with “free tastes,” which are primarily [mis]leading the public to believe that coaching is a quick “tips and tricks” venue. It serves neither coach nor client to give away services.

    Beyond a quick 10-minute cold call, I strongly encourage my students to charge for a consultation, just like therapists, then to “rebate” the fee by discounting the first month’s coaching fees, should the caller decide to move forward with that particular coach. Either way, it seems fair to both parties and keeps pricing within the “free-taste” norms that coaches trained elsewhere seem to prefer. I’m not sure how that would translate in the book market, however.

    In any case, one takes a car off the lot for a test drive – not for a day of free transportation!

    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”


      • Well, you couldn’t do it ON Amazon, of course, but you could follow their lead re: reviewers on your own site, which you could reference. (i.e., free copy in exchange for unbiased review?)

        That’s sort-of the expectation of traditional publishers as well, when they mail out pre-pub copies. Even though they don’t ever actually SAY it (so I have been told), I do know that those who don’t review don’t stay on the list!

        I was once mailed an unexpected free copy of a book I might have RAVED about if it hadn’t arrived at a terrible time, personally. Never got another from that publisher!

        Had they contacted me first, I could have told them “not now – but let me know if I can help later” – because the author was a colleague and friend I respected greatly. The book, once I could finally read it, was excellent — so there’s another reason to state the exchange clearly and up front.

        But I agree: “free” is clearly a double-edged sword – and asking for reviews is tricky, tricky, tricky!


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