I often have no idea if I’m reading an indie (independently or self-published book) or not – and you may not, either. Many of the old cues, like schlocky covers, aren’t giveaways anymore. Although a more expensive ebook (say, $7.99 USD and up) is usually traditionally published, the less expensive ones could go either way.
All right, you say, I’ll check the “publisher” data. Well, that may not help. A book published by Hodgkin and Blount is clearly the product of a small press, right? Nope! For tax and rights reasons, many indie authors have incorporated their own presses. Hodgkin and Blount is Gregory Ashe’s. Other authors in this model include Lucinda Brant (Sprigleaf Pty) and Mia Vincy (Inner Ballad Press). Simultaneously, books which seem to be indies can actually be reissues of books which were previously traditionally published but were republished by the author after the rights reverted to them. Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s Hometown Memories series and some of Stella Riley‘s earlier works fall into this category.
Many writers are what’s called hybrid authors. They produce traditional, publishing-house backed novels, but also intermittently self-pub (the author team Ilona Andrews has a great blog post exploring hybrid publishing). If you fall in love with someone through their more widely marketed and publicized trad books and follow them to their entire backlist, you’ll get a mix of trad and indie. Courtney Milan followed this model in her early career and in recent years has gone full indie (writing about it here). Major genre names like Kennedy Ryan and KJ Charles are actively publishing in this model.
Yes, you may say, those are indie WORKS. But those are not purely indie AUTHORS. How do I find a new indie author, one I’ve never seen in print? And more than that – how do I find a good one, especially without lots of hit-or-miss spending? Indies are widely reviewed on Goodreads but I have zero success getting useful information out of Goodreads. Since indies are less likely to be in library collections, I can’t experiment there.
Well, as a reviewer, I’m able to take some risks on ARCs I can obtain from Netgalley. Unfortunately, I’ve had a few Netgalley releases which were downright painful to read. Nowadays, when I try a new indie, I usually check if they have a freebie (or at least a Look Inside) on Amazon or an excerpt on their website. This helps me weed out authors who are honestly fundamentally illiterate. Also, even though I’m a romance reviewer at a dedicated romance site, I don’t always get approved for romance novels on Netgalley. Some indie authors have their own marketing and street teams, and don’t bother with anything else.
Anecdotally, the best indies I’ve discovered independently of AAR reviews tend to be from non-Goodreads lists with titles like “Best Asian American romance novels,” “Top diverse romance novels of 2020,” or “Historical romances with unusual settings.” In this interview with Shondaland, indie romance author Nia Forrester explained that due to the lack of diversity in publishing employees, it’s hard to pitch a diverse story to them: “You’re not only explaining the book, you’re simultaneously explaining to publishers — most of whom are white women of a certain class — the very existence of the people you’re writing about.” Some Indie authors of color with multiple strong reviews here are Jackie Lau, Melanie Ting, and Christina C. Jones.
It’s not just diversity in racial and ethnic terms. Publishing skews white and female, but it also skews cisgender and heterosexual. Much early queer romance publishing was indie, and many queer stories remain so. Top indie LGBTQ+ authors here include K.J. Charles and Jay Hogan.
Additionally, certain subgenres are more commonly found in indies. Erotic stories and stories featuring kink proliferate (for instance, Husky by Jessa Kane, or books by Sierra Simone). For indie SF/Fantasy, AAR has had good experiences with Michelle Diener, Grace Draven, and the steampunk paranormals of Bec McMaster.
Many indie authors lift each other up, so if you find someone you like, their recommendations may lead you to good new voices. One indie community I love and have found much success in is the #RomanceClass group of writers from the Philippines (Bianca Mori graciously did an interview with me here; and I have a separate DIK from Mina V. Esguerra).
I wish I had a better answer for to the “how do you find good indies?” question, but it would seem the best way is by word of mouth. Somewhere, a legitimate reviewer (not a squeeing five-star fangirl or a paid promoter) takes a risk, and then goes to bat for that book and its author – and hopefully it grows from there.
So in that spirit, in addition to the books and authors linked to above, all of whom we recommend, here are further indie books AAR has enjoyed!
The Fly Me to the Moon series by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner
The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by K.J. Charles
The Reckless Brides series by Elizabeth Essex (NB – originally traditionally published, but since re-published by the author).
The Lotus Palace Mysteries by Jeannie Lin
King’s Man by Sally Malcolm
The Gangster by C.S. Poe
One Night of Passion by Erica Ridley
Midwinter Magic by Stella Riley
The Love at Last Box Set by Adriana Anders
Cold, Cruel Kiss by Toni Anderson
Pinot and Pineapple Lumps by Jay Hogan
Bench Player by Julianna Keyes
The Quiet House by Lily Morton
Marriage and Murder by Penny Reid
His Compass by Con Riley
Grading Curves by Naima Simone
Crushing On You by Jen Trinh
Do you have any recommendations for ways to discover new indie authors? What indie authors should we be exploring here?
~ Caroline Russomanno