Otherwise known as Indie. This is a broad term that defines indie literature as any book published outside mainstream publishing (especially the Big Houses). Small presses are considered indie publishers if they make under $50 million in annual sales.
While small presses are different from vanity presses and self-publishing could be considered entirely different, it also could be said that all three are under the umbrella of independent work.
Self-publishing is incredibly independent, if not “indie”. Ebook self-publishing isn’t a rarity or an off-chance anymore, not with works like The Martian and Fifty Shades of Grey. As Wikipedia says, “the key distinguishing characteristic of self-publishing is that the author has decided to publish independently of a publishing house.”
In 2015, indie-published sales surpassed the “big five” sales.
Times have changed. With the history of self-publishing, one has to wonder if all the assumptions about the act of self-publishing might be false narratives spread by the Big Five to keep control over the means of production when it comes to literature. PR damage control, so to speak.
Self-publishing is now nearly mainstream with many professional services catering to the different aspects of the process (Reedsy, Pronoun, Self-Pub Book Covers, etc.) and it is entirely up to the author how polished or rough their e-book will be.
With unlimited money, an author could outsource every aspect of the book except for the actual writing part (unless they get a ghost-writer, then they really are just an independent publisher!). This can result in an extremely high quality book.
I chose the indie/self-publishing route for a number of personal reasons. It seems the way to go. I’ve never had much of a dream of being published by major houses, though I used to think that was the only way to actually get a book out there. With Amazon and Smashwords and the like, that isn’t the case anymore.
While I don’t have unlimited money, thus forced to performing most of the tasks myself or finding helpers for free; I don’t want to stay that way forever. I plan to have budgets for my novels as soon as possible and spend those budgets accordingly on a team of creatives to bring my work to the highest quality and polish that I can coordinate.
Elements like illustrated book covers and advanced formatting with superior editing, that is my dream.
For now, I have to do what I can with the resources I have… and isn’t that the essence of being independent?