Indie author's can come from a lot of different places.
For some people, being an indie author means you do everything on your own, from writing the book to editing, to creating the cover and formatting the book for publication. It even means building up your own marketing strategy and running advertisements for your own product.
For most people, this is too much to ask. It isn't often someone will have all of the skills needed to do this on their own, but that doesn't mean they aren't an indie author. Indie includes community, and often it means outsourcing the pieces you can't handle alone to friends or other professional who also do their job in an indie fashion.
You're still indie. You're just indie with a community. There are a lot of us out there struggling to get by without having the market powers and pressure that comes with being a traditionally published author. We do it because we love to do it, not because we're trying to get rich (it would be nice, of course, but isn't likely).
Being an indie author is primarily an approach to writing and publishing, a matter of self-definition.
If you are the creative force behind your books, from conceptualization to the finishing product and beyond, then you’re indie. If you don't allow other people to guide your book and force you into a corner (no one puts baby in the corner) then you are an indie author.
An indie author develops partnerships that deliver the best product to the most number of possible readers, trade publishers included. Sometimes that might well involve working with an agent to sell your rights, or directly with a publisher.
So, don't be afraid to call yourself an indie author, even if you've been published before. As long as you love your product and the act of making the book, then you are indie.
Why do you write?
This is a really important question to ask yourself. It will help frame the future of your career in its entirety, because there are some dramatic differences in ambitions and long-term aspirations at play here.
Are you writing just for yourself, or is this something you hope to turn into a career one day? Are you a hobbyist or a career writer?
This will frame literally everything that happens from this moment forward, including taxes, systems you use, process, and speed with which you need to accomplish things.
This is someone who enjoys writing, but isn’t ready to quit her/his day job and do this full time. With this aspiration, you can write whatever you want, publish whatever you want, and do as much or as little with your career as you want. You are, in a sense, your own boss and this is just something you do in your free time.
This is where most authors (especially self-published ones) will fall, and it is incredibly difficult to make it out of this bracket. And that is perfectly fine, because you can still have a lot of fun and make good money doing it. It is where I fall, and I do most of my writing for fun and because I want to. I wouldn’t want to be in a position where I had to sell books to survive, because then it stops being fun.
Many people start here before turning into a career writer later on, and a lot of such people lament that this was the most fun they had in their career. Being a full-time writer means the pressure is on to write salable content and make money just to survive.
This is someone who writes to support herself and family, which means that there is a lot more pressure in doing things the right way and actually selling books. A misstep in publishing, or a delay in releasing new content, can cause serious problems that a hobbyist writer wouldn’t feel.
There is also less room for experimentation to try new things because the focus of this path is on making an income to support at the very least oneself. Often, career writers will be forced into one category or genre and have to release books fairly rapidly to keep up with demand.
I will warn you right now that if this is your goal, you might need to temper your expectations a little bit. This prospect takes a lot of hard work and dedication and still might never become a reality. People have quit their jobs and taken up writing full time only to find out that it is a difficult vocation to break into, and often they end up spending so much more time doing things they hate (editing, marketing, self-promotion) than actually writing that it becomes a worse venture than simply working a day job.
Not to mention that you will also have to handle your own taxes and bookkeeping. All in all, it can cause some serious heartache and headaches if this is the route you want to go right off the bat. You will probably need to work up to this as an indie.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the market fluctuates wildly and you might not always be as successful as you like or need to be. For example, you might make a lot of money one year and then almost nothing the next, so you should build up a nest egg for those dry spells.
Which should you choose?
You don’t have to choose right away, and often people float between these two categories throughout their career, depending on how things go. You might start out as a hobbyist, get successful for a few years and write full time, and then gradually transition back to it being a hobby to make some added income to have fun with.
If you are only doing this for yourself as a hobbyist, then it isn’t something you have to take very seriously…but, on the other hand, you also shouldn’t expect tremendous and world-changing results. Lightning can strike even if you don’t invest, sure, but it’s much more likely that your book won’t sell a lot of copies.
There is nothing wrong with that. Just know what you are getting into before choosing which kind of author you want to be and starting down the path.