Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Bestselling novelist Sue Grafton recently triggered a near-nuclear conflagration when she described self-published authors as “too lazy to do the hard work” She subsequently apologized to the community of independent authors who swamped her with righteous indignation, and admitted she had acted hastily and out of failure to appreciate how greatly the world had changed from the one in which she became a megastar.
Our response to this incident is – Good for Sue Grafton for saying it. And good for Sue Grafton for taking it back.
Good for Sue Grafton for Saying It
Grafton, author of the bestselling romantic suspense series with alphabetical titles (the first of which is A is for Alibi), “advised young writers not to self-publish, because ‘that’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work’,” reports Alison Flood in The Guardian. “The self-published books she has read are ‘often amateurish’, she said, comparing self-publishing ‘to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall'”.
The reason we’re glad she said it is that it highlighted a serious generational dissonance over the definitions of such fundamental processes as writing, publishing and work, and it opened the door to a constructive dialogue between old and new regimes.
Grafton’s orientation is the school of hard knocks of twentieth century print publishing. There was no alternate, digital business model at the time. Her success in overcoming that obstacle course is laudable and she deserves the wealth she has reaped.
That’s why she wrote with complete sincerity that “it seems disrespectful … that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. Learning to construct a narrative and create character, learning to balance pace, description, exposition, and dialogue takes a long time.”
These considerations are universally true, whatever era you write in. Unfortunately, Grafton’s success may have blinded her to a completely different kind of success enjoyed by twenty-first century authors using tools, business models and skill sets unheard of when she brought out A is for Alibi in 1982.
Thus when one denizen of that new world read her remarks he rose up in outrage. Indie author Adam Croft, who The Guardian says had 250,000 sales in 2011, wrote that “The complete opposite is true. Self-publishing means finding your own proofreader, finding your own editor, finding your own cover designer (or designing your own), doing all your own marketing and sales work, etc. Having a publisher is lazy as all you need to do is write a half-acceptable book and allow your publisher’s editor to make it sales-worthy. Self-publishers must do it all – we have no one else to pick up the slack.”
Good for Sue Grafton for Taking It Back
Under bombardment by other self-published authors Grafton issued a genuinely humble apology and a confession that she had not been fully aware of the extent digital technology had revolutionized the publishing business. “It’s clear to me now,” she admitted, “that indie writers have taken more than their fair share of hard knocks and that you are actually changing the face of publishing. Who knew?! This is a whole new thrust for publication that apparently everyone has been aware of except yours truly. I still don’t understand how it works, but I can see that a hole has been blasted in the wall, allowing writers to be heard in a new way and on a number of new fronts. I will take responsibility for my gaffe and I hope you will understand the spirit in which it was meant. I have always championed both aspiring writers and working professionals. I have been insulated, I grant you, but I am not arrogant or indifferent to the challenges we all face. I am still learning and I hope to keep on learning for as long as I write.”
Grafton’s thrust, the independents’ parry, and her recognition of a new publishing world order offer a learning opportunity for old-timers and new-worlders to exchange wisdom and experience from which both can vastly benefit and even forge an amalgam of the best of both worlds. Grafton has listened to her critics. Her critics would be well served by listening to Grafton in return.