Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Indie Author Manifesto

Over the last six years since founding Smashwords, I've witnessed a dramatic change in attitudes regarding self publishing.  I'm pleased that much of this transformation has been led by the professional example of Smashwords authors.

Where once self publishing was viewed as the option of last resort - the option for failed writers and an option marked by stigma and shame - self publishing is increasingly viewed as the option of first choice for many writers.  Over the next couple years I think we'll reach a point where more first-time writers aspire to indie-publish than traditionally publish.  Indie authors are the cool kids club.

All writers possess unrealized potential, and indie authors understand that.  Ebook self publishing provides the mechanism by which every writer's true potential can be realized.

At writers conferences I've met numerous Smashwords authors who are moved to happy tears when they describe how self publishing has transformed their lives.  I've lost track of the number of times I've felt a lump grow in my throat as I hear their inspiring stories.  These encounters are deeply moving to me, and I trust that you too have experienced the same.

Outside observers might counter that of course the bestsellers feel this way.  Yes, that's true, but as any indie author will tell you, the joy of self publishing cannot be distilled to dollar metrics alone.  How does one describe the importance of independence, freedom and self-determination? 

Critics say self publishing is causing a tsunami of drek that will destroy book culture and render the best books undiscoverable.  Not true.  Yes, self publishing will enable more horrible books to be published than ever before, but it will also enable more better books to be published, discoverable and enjoyable than ever before.  There's a yin and yang to this.

It's not an exaggeration to describe the indie author revolution as a global cultural movement.   I think we're witnessing something profound here as we transition from a publisher-centric world to an author-centric world.  The rise of indie authorship as a global cultural movement is driven by profound changes in social norms, ethical values, customs, belief systems, technology and business practices.

With this radical change in mind, today I attempt to describe the movement and motivations of its drivers - the indie authors - in the form of my Indie Author Manifesto.

I attempt to answer a simple question:  What does it mean to be an indie author?  I've distilled the movement down to ten principles that I think capture the mindset of indie authors.

I tip my hat to the many great manifestos that have come before my own meager attempt, including the  US Declaration of Independence, the 10 Commandments and Martin Luther's 95 Thesis among others.


We indie authors believe all writers are created equal, that all writers are endowed with natural creative potential, and that writers have an unalienable right to exercise, explore and realize their potential through the freedom of publication.

I hold these truths to be self-evident:
  1. I am an indie author
  2. I have experienced the pleasure and satisfaction that comes from self-publishing
  3. I have a right to publish
  4. My creative control is important to me.  I decide when, where and how my writing graduates to become a published book. 
  5. Indie does not mean “alone.”  I choose my partners.
  6. I shall not bow beholden or subservient to any publisher. In my business relationships, I seek partnership, fairness, equity and mutually aligned interests.
  7. We indie authors comprise diverse writers unified by a common purpose to advance, empower and celebrate writers everywhere. 
  8. I am a professional.  I take pride in my work, and I strive to improve my craft to better serve my readers, myself, my fellow indie authors and the culture of books
  9. My writing is valuable and important.  This value and importance cannot be measured by commercial sales alone.
  10. I celebrate the success of my fellow indie authors, for their success is mine, and mine theirs. Together we are pioneering a better future for books marked by greater quality, creativity, diversity, choice, availability, affordability and accessibility.

Derek Murphy (@creativindie  / graciously created this infographic of the manifesto.  Click to download, print or share!

I also wrote a version of the Indie Author Manifesto over at the Huffington Post.


  1. Loved this Mark.

    Somebody's "horrible book" might be another person's literary masterpiece, and who is anyone to deprive him/her of that?

  2. Thanks, Kelly, and yes. Literary masterpieces are often not recognized as such by all contemporaries, and reader taste is as diverse as author creativity.

  3. A perfect 10. Oh, and #10 is my favorite.

  4. Yet another excellent piece Mark

  5. Ha ha ha! Thanks Mark, I'm a happy Smashwords author and wrote about this on my blog--I guess maybe I was a little bit harsh... Big Publishing Kiss Your Ass Goodbye!

  6. I started self-publishing in 1969 and wrote The Self-Publishing Manual in 1979.
    I self published, as you say, not because it was the option of last resort, the option for failed writers, or an option marked by stigma and shame. I elected to go on my own because my book was a 590-page, 2,000 illustration 8.5 x 11 technical treatise on parachutes selling for $19.95--a lot of money back then. It was not a bookstore-type book. Not a book any publisher would understand. Not a book a publisher would know where to sell.
    But I knew: Parachute catalogs, skydiving schools, parachute shops, skydiving clubs--you get the idea. I learned that self-publishing allowed me to make more money, get to press sooner, and to keep control of my product.

    Why would anyone want to sell out to a publisher when they can self-publish?

  7. Thank you for this, Mark. I've been writing for 40 years, and it wasn't until Smashwords came along that I finally realized my life-long dream of being a published author. And I have a masters from Stanford University. I thought I had something of value to say, and now my readers have validated it. Instructors are now using a couple of my books to teach young people and adults how to write fiction. That one statement you made (Critics say self publishing is causing a tsunami of drek that will destroy book culture and render the best books undiscoverable.) is so telling. Most works published by major publishing houses never pay out. They haven't for decades. It's the few big names that pay for the others getting published, and yet, publishers act as if they never got it wrong. Robert Persig, who wrote "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" says that he went through 121 publishers before he got published. If he'd quit at 120, one of the biggest bestsellers of the 20th Century would have never made to bookshelves. How many masterpieces have been denied publication by a publishing industry was incestuous and corrupt to its core? All you have done is expose it for what it is and show all of us who were locked out a way around them. I can't thank you enough.

  8. It's great to see you pushing the edge of the envelope and we're very grateful. But we're keen to see a major improvement of the 'discovery' engine at Smashwords. With the vast numbers of new books coming onstream, discovery tools are paramount. We've found a book totally wrongly categorized or lacking a key category that Amazon added back in 2013, (International Mystery and Crime.) Smashwords staff say they can't fix book by book and that the tech people aren't on board for that category yet.
    Poor discovery is going to slow down the overall success story and it's time to doubledown and beat Amazon, not trail them in making this work.
    We hear from your staff that big fixes are on the way and we hope that means soon.
    Many thanks for all your hard work.

  9. The biggest problem with indie authors (and I am one of them) is a large majority think a professional editor is totally unnecessary. That is what gives self-publishing a bad name. The number of indie books out there that need a professional eye is overwhelming the good, the great, the literary gems. Your editor should cost you more than any other part of your book. If that's the only thing you spend money on, trust me, it is very well worth it and can get your book not just noticed, but booming!

  10. Hey Mark, great post. You might also one day remind Smashwords authors (and others) that what we today call "traditional" publishing only came about in the 1940s or so. Before that, everything was small indie publishers called "pulps." In fact, paperbacks weren't known until 1939, and they "exploded" in the post-WWII years, around 1950, in much the same way digital publishing and ebooks are exploding now. The pendulum swings, and this one won't be swinging back anytime soon.

  11. All good and I agree. It wouldn't have bothered me to lob in a few "George III" cracks at trad-pub and how their outrages helped lead to this- but you've never been confrontational with the Big Houses (you save it up for the Zon!! and rightly so).

    I want to add an emphasis on the COMPLETE independence of the two principles of satisfaction and joy on the one hand, and fame and fortune on the other. I know very few who would object to the latter! But to be able to get it done, to publish and receive even a minim of feedback- this is irreplaceable and literally priceless to me. Mainly due to Smashwords, so just plain "thanks Mark".

  12. I agree with this in a big way! I'm so thankful to be self-published. I've been traditionally published and this is better by far. I'm also grateful for Smashwords and the opportunities provided here. Bravo, Mark!

  13. Thank you for all you've done to empower us, Mark. I'm sharing the manifesto.

  14. Love it Mark, especially #8...good job and sharing this wherever I can!

  15. Thanks for the comments, everyone. I updated the the post with an infographic (thanks Derek Murphy of !)

  16. I just shared the link to this manifesto on my blog as well.
    It deserves to be widely read.

  17. Thanks, Mark! You may be interested in a comment I made in the Foreword to the 3rd Edition of my Novel, OF STAVES AND SIGMAS:

    And although I would never deign for one second to liken myself to any of the... literary greats, it is nonetheless my desire to produce rich and complex literature that demands more than one sitting to kill. The beauty of it is that if you find something that’s too difficult for your taste — and it’s not requisite that you read it — drop-kick it to the local book exchange and pick out something more suited to your palate. There are a gazillion other authors in print just waiting for you to discover their work. Someone out there has something for you. And sure, I might mope a bit that you let a little verbosity thwart you from an enjoyable tale; but the fact that people still want to pick up a book these days — anyone’s book, not only mine — gives me the greater pleasure. For, you see, other writers may at times be my rivals, but they’re also my comrades. And comrades have to stick together.

  18. Smashwords is publishing a poetry anthology for my 9th grader's Honors English class. This is very exciting for their class, our family and my budding author. What an amazing experience for these young writers!
    Thank you!

  19. I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole process... Moving one step at a time... Reading how-tos along the way... PAYING for an editor. Even before reading blogs about the importance of them, I KNEW I needed one... Notice my unique punctuation. Three dots whenever I stop to think.

    Publishers would never of ALLOWED me to Design my own cover. One which didn't look tatty and cheap... Although a stylised shabby chic was what I went for.

    The cover design process felt like, how I imagine olden times film making. Trying different colours and fonts. Loads of different layouts. Sourcing a free image. Had to be free after funding the Oxford Grad Editor.

    Then there is the promotion... This is a real HARD SLOG and this is where hopes are dashed. Being a hobby writer takes off a bit of pressure chasing sales.

    But I have to contend with all those negative preconceptions about cheap, inferior quality eBooks. I feel them scroll by scoffing when they see PAULYANNA INTERNATIONAL RENT-BOY.

    Still I have been allowed to play at being a writer, a designer and advertising geezer and now a dodgy 2nd hand car dealer.

    Now I really want my book to fly so I can begin the process all over again. PDL

  20. Several of those items fall short of being "self-evident truths." Rather, they're ideals to which we should all aspire. In particular, many indies don't take a professional attitude toward their output. The profusion of really bad grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors in so much indie fiction, including -- sorry, friends -- quite a lot at Smashwords, is a dead giveaway.

  21. Hi Francis, fair points, and yes, these are ideals to which indies should aspire. For authors who read this manifesto and react, "yes, this is me," the manifesto becomes a statement of purpose and commitment. In their mind, these are self-evident truths and personal aspirations. Whether a writer achieves these ideals of professionalism is completely up to the writer. The reader's will judge.

  22. I absolutely endorse this manifesto! I feel like it should be sent to all book reviewers who refuse to write reviews for indie authors. I am putting the link for this in my signature! Thanks for sharing, Mark...

  23. "Yes, self publishing will enable more horrible books to be published than ever before, but it will also enable more better books to be published, discoverable and enjoyable than ever before. There's a yin and yang to this." -

    definitely! i'd rather be able to publish, than not to

    the market of readers, whether through trad ebook channels, or the newer subscription models, can decide what will be read

  24. Thankyou for your quick reply Mark. The elderly couple you mention, remind me of myself. I am now 83 yrs. old. I must tell you though because Amazon did not seem to be as yet accepting the books,on the premium system.(during last year) I became adventurous and tried myself to get them on there through Kindle. I revamped all my books to meet their specifications and was successful first time around. I now use both Smashwords and Kindle, as a lot of my followers say they prefer a kindle book.Not to worry though.I will post yet more to Smashwords,as soon as my old brain remembers your rules for the TOC. I did have it off pat and it was perfect. The next one coming up will I hope be a great success. I write from the heart, and my subject matter changes. That prevents reader boredom.
    Will be in touch

    Many thanks

    Mary Helen Gill

  25. Whole-heartedly endorse this! Once again, Mark, you hit the nail on the head - people can't read what isn't out there, and despite the poor books there are so many good ones which wouldn't have seen the light of day with trad' publishers. It's frightening the amount of gate-keeping which still goes on in the publishing houses, and so much of it comes down to the personal choices of those same gate-keepers. But what of those folk who don't have the same taste? Why should they be deprived of books? Of reading something they do enjoy? Surely the reason many people don't engage with books is because they see the same authors on book shelves (even in supermarkets!) and aren't enamoured with them? It doesn't mean these are bad books - just that they don't tick everyone's boxes. So the only way around this is for us indie folk to find another way around the problem of getting our work out for readers to see, but still working to the same standards as anything which comes out the traditional route. I love this charter! It says everything I aspire to!

  26. Mark
    thank you--I wish I knew how to thank you more. Like many writers, I've stuffed envelopes, mailboxes, submitted to agents, publishers, and it was like I didn't exist. I suppose, in the back of my mind was the voice saying--if the world only knew--do I have to be dead to enjoy this?
    Well, now that I've been able to publish books, under pen names such as John Blandly, B. Sting, Felicity Jones, and others, I have sold books, and have not sold books. It is a continuing learning experience to find out what people like.
    So, thank you again for making room for a broken down tiny comedy writer who only knows how to write stupid love stories.
    And I apologize for the covers I have had to create, just to attempt to break even--I just happen to like to look at beautiful women--it's like a weakness, man.

  27. I posted a link to the Manifesto yesterday, but it also inspired me to write an appreciation of Indie Readers today. They have new powers and responsibilities (and, I hope, joys) now that we're leapfrogging over all the old literary gatekeepers.

  28. Number 7 has a typo. Should be we "authors."

  29. Superb post and I love the manifesto! Thanks for making those of us who likely will never see the imprint of a big house on our publications continue dreaming our dreams.

  30. Thank you for this. I've also posted it to my blog.

  31. Excellent manifesto. Now if we can get a Smashwords for audio books, we'll be doing great! The audio world so needs an organization that recognizes the value of "partnership, fairness, equity and mutually aligned interests."

  32. Love it! Sharing it on my blog! Thank you, Mark. :-)

  33. Thank you for the Manifesto, Mark, and all that you and your team do for the Indie Author. I may only have a half-dozen readers, but at least they know where to find what I've written. If it wasn't for SW my work would be rotting away in a file folder, stuffed in a box that got shoved in a closet. I'll be getting the link out there. Thanks again!

  34. I would just like to reply to some who keep harping about self-published authors not having their books professionally edited. Yes, I realize this can be a problem, but I would also like to point out that it isn't just self-published authors who have errors in their books. I haven't read a book from a major publishing house in the last twenty years that didn't have errors in it. I found three errors in the Kindle version of J. K. Rowling's "The Cuckoo's Calling" (under the pen name Robert Galbraith) and found the last chapter or so such a tangled web of plot explanations it was bare readable. The fact is self-published authors are in many cases actually being held to a higher standard than are those traditionally published. The ones screaming the loudest are some of the traditionally published authors who see themselves in a class above those of us who are self-published. It makes you realize that traditional publishing is the real vanity publishing and always has been. Some welcome us with open arms, but others are afraid the world will see little difference in self-publishing and have their own vanity exposed. The aura of being a published author that has existed and been fostered by traditional publishers is crumbling, as it should. Hopefully, we are headed toward a time when a book is judged by its merits and not the stamp put on it by the publishing house, and the vanity of being in the stable of a major publisher will lose its allure.

  35. Love it, Mark! Thanks for taking the time to create that and express it all so well.

  36. I love this Manifesto, Mark, and I'm going to share it everywhere!!!
    Thanks so much!!

    Sharon Ricklin Jones

  37. pretty nice blog, following :)

  38. Excellent, Mark! And thank you for taking the initiative to give voice to the indie author community.

  39. Thanks, Mark. There’s no such thing as too much inspiration when you're self-publishing your heart and soul. I shared and linked and wrote about the Manifesto yesterday in my Laugh Riot Press blog. Like so many of these other brave indie authors, I follow you because you believe in me. I think that’s one of the very best things you and Smashwords do, Mark--believe in us. Many thanks for that. Keep it coming, man.

  40. YES, this is me! Thank you Mark & Derek! Am definitely downloading it! ;)

  41. I wish in the years I was in the record industry we had a true Indie paradigm such as this. So many talented men and women were ground down by the traditional label structure--it had little to do about talent and more to do with "connections" to the gatekeepers in the industry.

    Indie Publishing puts control back into the hands of the creative talent, spares them the indignity of the dreaded "slow no" of rejection, and enables them "to give it their best shot."

    Mark, thanks for reducing the mission down to so elegantly for all of us embracing this new platform.

  42. The manifesto is a great idea, I love the infograph and will be sharing it. I have never gone about my writing in a traditional way. I also firmly believe that writers should never be pigeon holed into writing a particular genre. I write for whatever genre I wish to write. It may not be of commercial value to trational publishers, but it is of value to me. David I too have seen many errors in tradionally published ebooks. I hope one day that the indie "stigma" will truly disappear.

  43. Wonderful! Thank you for this, Mark.

    Especially #8.

    That applies to traditional publishers too! Some of the worst formatted and most expensive eBooks I've purchased have been from Big 5 publishers.

    Readers deserve books created with care and attention.

  44. Hungarian translation of the manifest to read:

  45. Great work, Mark, and I'm especially proud to have you at the helm! I'm sure this will become a foundational text in our field.

    Dan Brook

  46. I was at a writer's conference in 2011 where one of the speakers, a publishing house editor, stated in no uncertain terms that self-published authors were the dregs at the bottom of the writing pool with no talent.

    I sent her a letter afterward to let her know what I thought of her antiquated attitude. I'd love for her to read your manifesto today!

  47. Since I began writing for publication, I recognized that curation of some kind is needed to deal with the drek/discoverability problem. The problem obviously existed before technology enabled self-publishing and ebooks.

    As a wordsmith, my primary role in helping to deal with that problem is to write better. That requires feedback mechanisms, but many of the feedback mechanisms use limited metrics (like only dollars, SEO, social network statistics, genre categorizing and the like) which can be and have been and are shamelessly gamed. That has even produced a niche of wannabe professionals who will teach you how to game the system or do it for you for pay. That changes the population of sharks and parasites, but it doesn't solve the problem.

    I've been watching all this unfold for a number of years now. I am impressed by the role Smashwords has played in the evolution of publishing. It looks like movement in the right direction to me.

    However, I do think that indie (small but focused) publishers also have an important role to play. "Too Big" is a problem that appears in every realm of human endeavor these days. The manifesto does mention this, by referring to the partnerships we wish to form.

    All in all... another fine job from Smashwords.

  48. You were right - this is so me. Thanks for stating what we've all realized over the past several years. Our work is available because of wonderful platforms such as Smashwords. We're definitely riding the curve in publishing.

  49. I must agree with David Sheppard where he states that the indie author is being held to a higher standard than some traditional author. I would also suggest that although grammatical errors can be avoided sometimes the perfectionist in correcting such errors causes the script to become stilted and perhaps unreadable, after all the reader wants to enjoy the experience and the story. He/she is not interested in an English lesson.

  50. Grammar is certainly taking a backseat to good plot and gripping writing.I am now downloading e-books some of which keep me sitting in bed with my reading light on, riveted by the story and disregarding grammatical errors. Some of these books would not see the light of day but for indie publishing.


  51. personally, i'd be adding...
    not have found what i wanted..
    not having found what i wanted to say

    I wrote it. And for a reasonable price, you can look it over.

  52. Excellent. The indie community empowers readers to be the first and ultimate judge of a book

  53. I've had books published through a small publisher and they were very good to me, but I can honestly say that now I've tried self-pubbing, I love it - so much, in fact, that I pulled my books from the publisher and self-pubbed them all (except one still on contract).

    I have found many wonderful self-pubbed books that have been rejected by publishers, and I think - why? They lost an awesome author!

    If someone takes the time and effort to to follow their dreams and write, then good on them. Places such as Smashwords have given us a place to express ourselves and share our 'daydreams'. Not to mention the fact that they've distributed our books to so many places and are constantly looking for ways to promote us. It's so encouraging to know you're not alone in promoting yourself, and the satisfaction in being independant is just - I can't find the words, but trust me, it's wonderful!

    I've copied out the Indie Author Manifesto and intend to get it laminated and up on my wall near my computer for inspiration!

    Write on, fellow indie authors!

  54. Sorry, just have to add this...

    Destinoex mentioned a publishing house editor saying self-pubbed authors were the dregs and had no talent (I shortened this - see Destinoex's post for the full wording!)

    Interestingly enough, I was at a writers conference in Australia (where I live) and an editor for a publishing house who also free lances told us that if publishing houses knocked back our books, to consider having them self-pubbed. We also had traditionally published authors telling us how they self-pubbed the manuscripts their publishers didn't want.

    Yet another different POV! LOL

  55. We are the revolution through words.Onward!

  56. Thank you, Mark. I have this on the refrigerator, the bedroom mirror, and on the wall near my desk. I met you and heard you speak at the sub-pub boot camp, at the SF Writers Conference. I was excited by the prospects then, and find with my new motto, creed, manifesto in hand, I am once more focused and determined. I AM an Indie!

  57. OH! I just went into business formally for myself LadyKlea Publishing Co. = I publish MY BOOKS!! :>) (pls don't throw stones at me cause of that nasty "word". ha!) Thank you again.