Most authors/writers use these terms interchangeably but they actually mean completely different things. If you don’t know, here are the differences and why some people confuse them:
This means that you are doing it yourself. You’re the only person involved with your book, except for hiring editors or cover designers. Whether you do your own cover and formatting or hire someone, you are still self publishing.
For some people, there is still a stigma against this method of publication because since a writer can do it themselves, they might not have the skills to do it well.
When you’re an indie or independent author, that means you are publishing with a small press. You are still traditionally published! This is the biggest difference, because an indie author works with editors and cover designers of the publishing company instead of doing it on their own or hiring someone with their own money.
With most small presses, you don’t need an agent and it might be easier to get accepted because there isn’t as much competition as there is at the Big 5.
Why People Confuse These Types of Publishing
I think it has to do with the sense of what traditional publishing is in most writers’ minds. You expect a big company to pick up your book, have lots of editorial and design support, stellar marketing, and bookstore distribution. While that’s great, and some authors do get to live that experience, that is only a small part of traditional publishing.
For obvious reasons, there are only a handful of major companies (the Big 5) while there are hundreds, even thousands of smaller ones. It’s still traditional publishing if you have to be approved by a company or some kind of gatekeeper.
The confusion comes from other industries, I think, such as indie music. In the music world, that means bands without a record label behind them producing their music on their own. This is exactly what self publishers are doing, but not the same as indie/independent authors.
In a sense, the self publisher is becoming a publishing company of one, for their own books. The indie author is joining with an already established publishing house who has multiple clients besides you.
I hope this helps you guys – leave any questions in the comments and I’ll reply as soon as I can.