This month we published Kirkus’ fifth annual Indie Issue. Consider it a State of the Union address on the condition of independently published literature in 2024. Our coverage includes interviews with Lillian Colón and Martin Duberman, whose independently published books are some of our recent favorites, and an appreciation of the unexpected teachings you can find in Indie literature. To kick things off, I checked in with Chaya Schechner, president of Kirkus Indie, and editors David Rapp and Arthur Smith.

Chaya, you’ve been at Kirkus since 2012. What’s the single biggest change you’ve noticed in Indie books during those years?

CHAYA SCHECHNER:The caliber of the books. When I first started, we received a manuscript that was stacks of paper in boxes of Tupperware. Now, Indie submissions are often indistinguishable from traditionally published books in look and feel. The percentage of well-written, well-designed, carefully edited books has probably doubled in the past decade. Indie books have evolved from DIY projects that were occasionally excellent but more often a little messy to independently published, professionally edited works.

Arthur, you came to Kirkus in 2023—a relative newbie. What has surprised you the most about Indie books?

ARTHUR SMITH: The sheer variety of Indie titles, from fluffy romances and escapist fantasy epics to serious academic scholarship and investigative journalism. The vitality, creativity, and individuality on offer are inspiring—and make me feel guilty for not writing more myself!

What popular misconception about Indie books do you wish you could dispel?

DAVID RAPP: The idea that self-publishing is only for first-time authors. Some big names have found success as well. The mystery author Lawrence Block has self-published several books, including The Night and the Music, a collection of previously published short stories featuring private eye Matthew Scudder. The late Gael Greene, famed restaurant critic for New York magazine, made her out-of-print 1976 erotic novel, Blue Skies, No Candy, and other works available as e-books. It’s a trend that benefits both writers and readers.

At Indie, you see a lot of novels, a lot of memoirs. What do you wish you saw more of?

A.S.: I love to see reviews of graphic novels come through—the comics industry can feel like a very monolithic gatekeeper. One of my favorite books of last year (All Tomorrow’s Parties) was a biography of the Velvet Underground in comics form. As a movie and music obsessive, I’d also like to see more pop-culture/arts criticism and commentary.

Is there a book we reviewed that has really stayed with you through the years?

D.R.:One book I think about often is the 2014 SF novel Bulletin of ZOMBIE Research: Volume 1 by Christy J. Leppanen. It features eight fictitious scholarly articles documenting people infected with “Zooanthroponotic Occult MetaBiomimetic Infectious Encephalitis” [ZOMBIES], related in dead-on academic prose with graphs, charts, and even photos. It’s horror storytelling of a high order.

What’s one thing you wish authors knew before they entered the self-publishing game?

CS: I’m sort of glad many authors don’t realize how difficult the whole process is until they’re in too deep. Writing a manuscript is daunting enough. But even if you’ve written, say, a story collection that Kelly Link would envy, your work isn’t half done. Authors might want to work with an editor, cover designer, book designer, copyeditor, and/or publicist. And the book won’t promote itself—now it’s time for marketing. But once the book is written, you can’t give up on your baby. And we all benefit from having more books, more ideas, more stories in the universe.

Tom Beer is the editor-in-chief.