Grafton Apologizes to Indies. Will They Accept?

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Author at work

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.

Details in Self-published authors react with anger to ‘laziness’ charge

Richard Curtis

12 thoughts on “Grafton Apologizes to Indies. Will They Accept?

  1. Bob MayerBob Mayer

    I read her original comment and thought it was pretty much on target. I thought the outcry was out of place and disrespectful to someone who has earned her “bones” over the years in publishing.

    Frankly, most indie authors will fall out of the race because too many view it as a sprint rather than a marathon. It’s a ton of work, requiring great persistence and effort, much like getting traditionally publishing.

  2. J.N. Duncan

    Grafton was sincere because there is some truth in her words. Too many indie authors ignore a lot of those things they should be doing, that Mr. Croft pointed out. Of course, the industry is quick to point out the indie books that fail and are terrible, but we see far less about the ones who do it well, and there are a fair number of those too. Kudos to those who do the work. To those who don’t: get with the program! You make everyone else look bad.

  3. Jonathan C. Gillespie

    Okay, yes, she spoke a little too hastily, but the apology seems sincere, so I think it’s fair to let it go. Nor does the indie community deserve any bad blood for their response. But: fellow indie authors take note — in many ways we have to double-prove ourselces with quality of product. So definitely don’t skip your prep work.

  4. J. R. Tomlin

    Bob, I have to disagree with you on this one. 1. Having earned her bones doesn’t mean she is always right and 2. it was hardly graceful for someone who has her success to refer to other authors as lazy, etc. The apology seems sincere and I really don’t see that any more needs to be made of the matter. She hadn’t followed changes in the industry. While I consider that a mistake. It’s the industry where she makes a living, but it’s hardly a moral fault.

  5. Klint

    I’d only self-publish if I were desperate. It’s a tacit admission that you couldn’t find an editor who thought your work was worth a damn. Writing a book is hard. Getting it published through the traditional system is even harder. But that’s why it’s respected.

    1. Spencer Fleury

      “you couldn’t find an editor who thought your work was worth a damn”

      No, that’s not actually it. It’s more like, you couldn’t find an editor who a) was looking for the kind of book you wrote, and b) had room in their upcoming schedule to work on it, and c) was passionate enough about it to be enthusiastic about working on it for the next year.

      Note that there is a LOT of space between “worth a damn” and “passionate.” Finding an agent or an editor is not an easy task – but that doesn’t mean I haven’t worked on my craft for years, or written a book that can hold its own in a crowd of Big Five titles (and by the way, I’ve read some absolutely awful books that went through the gatekeeping process – it’s no guarantee of quality).

  6. Marie-Anne Mancio

    Yes, an apology should be accepted graciously. Though perhaps those of us who feel unfairly maligned by the lazy tag should respond by sending Sue Grafton a free copy of our books. She will have an indie library in no time!

  7. Penny Sansevieri

    I do see both sides of this. I’ve worked with indie authors for years and I can see why someone might call them “lazy” but it’s not a term that describes them as a whole. Are there authors who just want to publish and get famous? You bet. Are there indie authors who don’t want to do their homework to publish a great book. Sure. But over the years I’ve seen independent authors work tirelessly to promote their books. We’ve worked with many great folks who fought the self-publishing stigma by putting out a book that could easily compete with any of its traditionally published counterparts. It’s not an easy battle. I’m an indie author, too. I speak from experience.

    Indie authors now is your time to get it right. Garbage in, garbage out. Do your homework, research and remember, your book is your resume. Get it right!

  8. Russell Brooks

    Oh please. Sue Grafton’s attack on Indie Authors is unjustified. Although it’s true that many self-published authors don’t put out quality work because they do not invest the time and effort into properly researching their subject matter, hiring a professional editor, etc., there are many legacy authors who’ve also written poor novels. Ever notice how some bestselling authors lose their touch after their 4th or 5th novel? That’s because many are under less pressure to write a good book because their platform is so large that it’ll sell anyways. For someone who is a so-called expert on Indie authors, why is it that she hasn’t equally criticized all of the celebrities who hire ghost writers for their books? Isn’t that also being lazy? Grafton’s doing exactly what Dr Laura did after she was blasted for her N-Word tirade, apologizing. And this is because she’s most likely under pressure from her publisher to do so. I don’t accept her apology.

  9. Stephen Back

    Dear Guardian. Hello. Please hire Ms. Grafton to write a review of at least one of the many, many outstanding self-published ebooks that can be found online. Or, commission her to write, publish and find an income-generating readership for an ebook written under a name other than her own. Ms. Grafton, you are certainly forgiven and thank you very much for making it clear that gatekeepers/book curators and editors will be the rock stars of the future.

  10. Julia Hidy

    I believe that Grafton was being contrite, but she’s not being as sincere as her written words have conveyed. I’m quite intuitive and have negotiated a few billion dollars worth of deals, and I can always smell who the liars were at the deal table. Always. Plus, remember, that she is a fiction writer, after all.

    As we see the online booksellers’ platforms increase and Amazon has to compete even more than it is now with iTunes, Google and others, quality content will become an even larger issue. Last year and earlier this year, Amazon finally began to punt writers who had the audacity to publish PLR a.k.a. private label content (purchase a $5 book from here and sell it over there for $5 for each sale). Duplicate content is no longer tolerated by Amazon or Google. That’s one industry improvement, and I’m sure there will be others.

    I agree with Bob Mayer’s remark that self-publishing and being a professional writer is much more of a marathon than a sprint. The challenge is that so many people think they can write books. I heard yesterday about a few authors who have posted books on amazon and have yet to make a sale after 5-6 months online. It goes to show that consumers will find ways to find the content that they’d like to read. Amazon Kindle readers can also return a book if it’s not up to their expectations. I have have also heard about Amazon demanding that certain authors revise or pull their books until editorial and formatting quality control issues are resolved. iBookstore won’t even list you until you can pass their quality controls.

    I laud Adam Croft and all the other authors who hauled Grafton up. Let’s take it one step further: simply because she’s published a few million books does not give her the right to insult anyone for any reason at any time. Especially when it’s unprovoked! It’s not only undignified on her part, it is deplorable behavior.

    Grafton’s obviously so far out of touch that it’s a sad statement about someone who could have done good for her fellow writers – indie, published or impending. Instead, I will now cringe every time I hear her name, or the titles of one of her books. She can feign an apology, and even have her publishers’ PR, marketing and legal folks check it before she releases her response. But the woman is likely still rude and arrogant. Somehow I doubt that this latest apology has done much other then dent her ego a bit. What a waste of someone who could have used her voice and platform to do good. Instead, she disparaged others and then tries to backtrack and revise the mess she’s created. To quote Amelia Earhart: Forgive but never forget.

  11. Red Tash

    Hi. I wouldn’t say that Grafton apologized under any sort of bombardment. The truth is she’s far too busy to get deeply into that kind of fray–she’s just not really into the internet. Rather, she listened to the voices of a few fans who spoke up to ask her why she felt the way she did, and she reached out to me right away to ask for advice for how to retract what she said. Since I didn’t want to put words in her mouth or tell her how to feel or what to think, what happened next was a lengthy email discussion which eventually culminated in her decision to send in a statement. I was surprised she cared that much, honestly–but I credit her that she did, and I respect her even more so, not just for being honest and being real to begin with, but for being human enough to continue the discussion when she could have just as easily dismissed it and walk away.

    People call it a retraction or apology, but I don’t think it exactly qualifies. Not really. She just tried to reiterate her support for young writers/new writers/all writers that are working on their craft, and honestly, I think everyone who assumes it had to do with a lot of pressure is making up fantasies. She was under no pressure at all. She’s Sue Freaking Grafton, for Pete’s sake. She said something inflammatory, she amended her statement, she moved on.

    The indies who have spoken to me about their reaction to the interview have been mostly relieved that their hero isn’t actually trying to denigrate their burgeoning careers. Also, they’re concerned on her behalf that she doesn’t understand ebook royalties–which is saying something about their fondness for her, considering they know she doesn’t \need\ the money.



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