What is Indie? My Lifelong Quest
In the autumn of 1982, at the dawn of a conformist decade, I began my senior year of high school as the new kid in a conformist suburb of Detroit. On Day One, I set one foot into the cafeteria at lunchtime, surveyed the social minefield, tossed my lunch bag into the garbage, and wandered instead to the library. There, I discovered Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote and that was it. I was gone. I never set foot in that school cafeteria again.
From then on, I’d spend every lunch hour in a library cubicle reading—never anything I was assigned for class, but books I discovered on my own and read for the pure joy of it. On many levels, this one rejection of cafeteria culture set the tone for the rest of my life and career as a writer up until today, executive editor of Foreword Reviews, a publication that is fiercely independent. This rebooted website is devoted to telling stories about independent thought, independent people, independent books.
But what does “indie” really mean? To find an answer to that, I think of my 17-year-old self. It wasn’t that I could not play with the mainstream, it’s that I did not buy into the game in the first place, with its arbitrary rules of who’s “in” and “out.” I chose not to participate at all.
Much to the annoyance of employers and loved ones, this indie spirit has stayed with me to this day, nearly thirty-two years later. That’s why I was delighted when, a little more than a year ago, the publisher of Foreword Reviews asked me to join her on a mission to bring indie books, authors, and publishers to the widest possible audience. I’ve been preparing for this job my entire life.
After school, I became a journalist, working my way through smaller, then larger newspapers, wire services, and magazines. By the turn of the millennium, I was a founding editor at a magazine that covered the emerging science and business of nanotechnology. And, as I learned in my career the previous two decades writing about everything from local zoning issues to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, often the most interesting news appears on the outskirts of mainstream thought. What is not being said? What has been left on the cutting-room floor of the official narrative? I launched an early blog that covered the “minority opinion” on the feasibility and implications of long-term nanotech and discovered some amazing people—a motley crew of independent thinkers, monomaniacs, hucksters, and absolute geniuses. Yes, it sounds a great deal like today’s self- and indie-publishing landscape.
I love how messy it is. Every new self-published book I receive here at Foreword Reviews reminds me of those days. Many of these books are rough around the edges, could use the services of an editor, a designer, a marketing/PR machine. But these deficiencies indicate an absence of money and not necessarily an absence of talent, voice, or worthwhile idea.
Just because editors and marketers from a giant corporate publishing entity devote their resources to a book does not necessarily mean these are the best books, or best ideas, on offer. It only means they are deemed marketable by arbitrary rules invented by only a handful of gatekeepers. So the public never hears many worthy ideas, diverse voices, in the first place. But technology has progressed to the point where it is not necessary to play by these established nonsensical rules. Independent-minded authors, or those who wish to retain control over their own work and ability to earn from it, can choose not to play by the cafeteria rules at all. Like I did early in life, they can choose not to play the game.
As editor of a publication that covers indie books, it’s part of my job to give all these marginalized authors a seat at the table, the ability to be seen by the widest possible audience and judged by their merits.
So, on this, our rebooted Foreword Reviews website, don’t look for us to follow the herd or to hang with the popular kids. That’s not what we do. We will focus on what others are missing, and find people, publishers, books, authors, stories that reflect the indie spirit. You’ll see us launch blogs on indie science, religion, romance, children’s books, and the craft of writing, among others. We’ll write about that mad genius whose ideas are so out-of-the-mainstream that no peer-reviewed publication will touch it. We’ll tell you about indie authors who are so fed up with playing corporate games that they founded their own indie publishing companies and now produce quality books that the big houses won’t touch.
Unlike my old hero Don Quixote, we will not bother tilting at windmills. Let the giant machinery click and whir on. We will ignore them. But, like our man from La Mancha, we are idealistic almost to the point of madness. Indie authors have a mad fire in them. They have something to prove. But no need to prove it to the popular kids. No need to enter the cafeteria at all. Instead, come with me to the edge, the shadows, and peer into something more interesting. It’s chaotic, it’s noisy, but don’t worry, we’ll help guide you through.
Howard Lovy is executive editor at Foreword Reviews. You can follow him on Twitter @howard_lovy