Indie and legacy authors both write. The difference in how that writing comes to market isn't particularly relevant for the vast majority of readers. Does it matter (to the reader) if I pay my artist, editor etc £x up front while you give up your intellectual property rights in return for a royalty? No.
The thing that matters is the quality of the end result. This is where indies often fall down. Don't get me wrong, there are some awful legacy books that make you think 'How the hell did this get published?' but the variance in quality with indie books is even greater.
At one end of the scale we have those indies who write to the best of the ability, and then take the time (and the financial investment) to hire professional assistance to bring the product to market. They hire quality cover artists (and negotiate licence terms as appropriate). They being in editors, critique partners, proof readers, beta readers. They plan and execute their own marketing using social media, blogging, their own website, readers forums, free shorts, ad campaigns, book blog submissions and all the other stuff that gets their work in front of potential readers (No one can make a book sell, but we can increase the number of eyeballs on the cover & blurb).
For these authors, this isn't just a hobby but a profession. They take the output seriously, and price at a level that reflects the increased investment. Putting out eBooks isn't as cheap as you might imagine. The costs do become amortized over time due to the low delivery price point on kindle coupled with generous royalties, but the professional services for an eBook cost almost as much as for a print setup. Indeed, with the advent of Print on Demand getting printed books out is a doddle compared to offset runs (We're currently going through this process - so will blog about this in the next few days).
There are some things that we mess up on though, and this screams indie:
· Cheap professional services. Quality editors don't work for peanuts. It's a false economy to under invest here as it will mark the work out as unprofessional.
· Homemade covers, or budget artists. Sometimes a student artists produces something incredible, but getting a cover just right for print, thumbnail and advertising is an art that required practice.
· No blogger reviews. Legacy publishers submit all over the place to book blogger. Not all of them will review, but that's no excuse not to try. Some only take print copies, and this can be a pain if you are an ebook only indie.
· No print copy available. A poor print copy screams indie, but there are very few e-only legacy authors.
· No ISBN, Library of Congress number of British Library record. Real books get their own ISBN under proper imprints. It's expensive, and not everyone cares about a few random digits, but if readers are looking for a telltale sign to help them avoid indies this is one of the obvious ones.
· No publisher listed
· Stock fonts
· Low prices (that aren't a special offer) - Legacy publishers have high costs to cover.
· Small font for author names. Legacy publishers know it's name recognition that shifts books. They therefore make the author name prominent on the cover.
I'm sure by now several of you are yelling at the screen "But I don't make any of those mistakes!" which is fantastic. The problem is other indies do, and by calling ourselves indies we get associated with the sum total of all indie work. This sum total, on average, simply doesn't measure up. There are too many junk documents, poorly edited stories or just plain crap that people stick up with a 'It cost me nothing to upload so every sale is a win' philosophy. I can't even say I blame them. Better to have a crap story on the store selling every now and again than it is to have it doing nothing on your hard drive. I'm sure someone out there even uploads vast quantities of crap under pen names. Then it's all profit, and no risk to your reputation.
We will get pegged as being indie by some. We don't have all have huge budgets for the best editors and artists, and even if we do invest heavily we can't match international corporations with dedicated teams. Their best trumps our best almost every time. We have to accept that.
What we shouldn't do is label ourselves as indies. It's easy to do in a twitter profile, or on a facebook page but on the whole it isn't a badge of honour in the minds of our readers. We personally might be doing nothing wrong, but it's guilt by association. Once someone has been stung by poor quality work they become reticent to try it again. This makes everything an uphill struggle early on as you need the sales to establish credibility, but can't get the sales without credibility. It's a vicious circle, and the only way to break it is for someone to take a chance on your work and like it. Hopefully, they'll tell their friends too.