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More from Sue Grafton on Publishing & Indie Writers

15 August 2012

From LouisvilleKY.com, a follow-up by reporter and author Leslea Tash on Sue Grafton’s statements about self-publishing:


Ms. Grafton approached me for advice about responding to the ire, and what followed was a lengthy back-and-forth via email.  I hope that if you were one of the many authors who took offense to her remarks you will read her clarification, which follows:

I’d appreciate a chance to clarify the remark I made in the recent interview you posted.  I meant absolutely no disrespect for e-publishing and indie authors.  I came into the business in the 1960′s with the publication of Keziah Dane…1967 and The Lolly-Madonna War in 1969.   In those days, a writer’s only hope for a writing career was to be accepted by a traditional New York publisher.  I wrote three novels that were routinely rejected before I stuck them in a drawer.  The fourth full-length novel I wrote, I submitted to what was then called The Anglo-American Book Award contest, which I did not win.  I did receive an offer from a British  publisher for 375 pounds (roughly 375 dollars in those days) for the publication of Keziah Dane.  On the advice of an old war horse screen writer in Santa Barbara, I used that offer to acquire an American agent who then found me an American publisher.  The subsequent novel I wrote was deemed too violent for American audiences and it was published in England only.  The sixth and seventh full-length novels I wrote were never published and the eighth was ‘A’ IS FOR ALIBI.

I report this in some detail because as a result I have five unpublished novels still packed away in cardboard boxes, assuming I could lay hands on them which I’m not sure I can. 

. . . .

I don’t understand the mechanics of e-publishing and I still don’t understand how you can earn money thereby but I realize now that many indie writers are doing well financially and netting themselves greater visibility than I had any reason to believe.

My remark about self-publishing was meant as a caution, which I think some of you finally understood when we exchanged notes on the subject. When I’m asked for advice I warn many writers about the charlatans lurking out there. I warn about the risk of being taken in by those who promise more than they actually deliver and do so at a writers expense. My other point, which I didn’t delineate in that interview, was that the struggle is what teaches us. Learning to be resilient, learning to have courage, learning to take rejection in stride…these are some of the ways the system schools us as painful as it is. It’s clear to me now 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.

Link to the rest at LouisvilleKY.com


109 Comments to “More from Sue Grafton on Publishing & Indie Writers”

  1. P.G.

    Well, good on Sue Grafton for at least attempting to cool the brouhaha a bit.

    Her knowledge of exchange rates back in 1967 is way out. £375 would have been closer to $1100 at that time. I know, I was there, and travelling regularly to NY and Jamaica.


  2. I’m glad she clarified her remarks. Maybe we’ll see some of those boxed up manuscripts of hers finally be published.

  3. “I don’t understand the mechanics of e-publishing”

    This reminds me of a video about nature that my daughter made last year. At one point she said to the camera “I don’t know much about plants, but I’m going to tell you about them.” You can forgive an 8 year old for that, but not an adult giving professional advice. If you don’t know anything about it, shut up and don’t give advice about it.

    • Sarah, if that were true, the internet would be nothing but blank pages.

    • Self publishing has been around for a long time, so Sue Grafton *did* know about it. What she didn’t know was that it had changed and her knowledge was incomplete. That’s a forgivable error, IMHO.

      • Yep. I only met her once, but it was clear she is a classy lady and extremely generous to young writers. Her knowledge is vast and useful — just not all-encompassing.

        • The fact that self-publishing has been around for a long time is the problem. The information Sue Grafton apparently used was antiquated, just simply out-dated. I was one who took offense at her remarks, and I very much appreciate her willingness to reexamine the issue. I, for one, have said stupid things on the ‘net so I know how easy it is and how badly one can regret hasty words. I’m willing to take her olive branch.

      • And calling other authors “lazy” was acceptable? That was the real issue for most of us. I forgive her rather ignorant remarks, but most successful authors are a bit more gracious than that whether they’re knowledgeable or not.,

        • EXACTLY. I couldn’t care less about her ignorance of the self-pub industry. What I did care about was her extensive, mean-spirited beatdown of authors who choose to go that route.

          And of authors who choose to write in public places. They’re evil bastards, too.

          • Dan, don’t you know writing in public is sort of like jerking off in an alleyway? It’s deviant.

          • Actually, what concerned me most about her statements in her original interview was not the lazyness (though that stung), nor her out-of-date knowledge about self-publishing, but rather that she doesn’t have a clue as to what it takes to break in to trade publishing. For her to say all you have to do is write a great book and the Universe will find you, presumably through the query-go-round, is ridiculous. Great books are rejected all the time because of the sequential gatekeeper system in trade publishing.

            She broke into trade publishing in the 1960s. How people have to break in now is different. More hurdles, longer timeframes, less openess to outsiders, less payment, more gatekeepers.

  4. Good for Sue Grafton. I like a person who admits when she is in error and corrects it.

  5. The only thing that puzzles me is how many people misread what she said. You really had to take it out of context, or add in all sorts of things between the lines, to read anything but what she explained it as.

    I think it’s getting to be a knee jerk reaction, reading hostility in people with traditional attitudes (or for traditional writers, reading hostility in indies).

    Maybe it’s because this conversation has been going on so intensely for so long, that we are no longer reacting to individuals, but hearing each person as a representative of the whole of the other side — to be branded with all the sins of that side.

    And it’s all so unnecessary and wasteful of our time and energy.

    • Think she was very clear in her earlier post that she though self-publishing was terrible, but it was also evident that she was equating the new self-publishing opportunities to vanity publishing. I am glad she has realized that this assumption was incorrect.

    • I think we, as Indie writers, have a bad case of PTSD.

      We’ve been beaten up and kicked around by the Media and Trade Publishing until we overreact and come out fighting at the slightest excuse.

      • Not to undercut what you say at all — not trying to say you’re wrong — but I do have a different perspective on that.

        I’ve been thinking all day of how to express this, and I haven’t really found a good one, but I’ll try:

        I have been in both cultures for quite a while, and I honestly think that there is a major cultural gulf, particularly in the area of shared experience. Because of this, indies take offense at a perceived subtext that isn’t there… or they miss a subtext that IS there that they would otherwise agree with.

        It reminds me of this comment a friend made about his experiences in France. He was upper class, from Boston, where, apparently, you don’t talk about food. At most you thank the host or hostess or cook for a lovely meal. He experience great culture shock in France, where he discovered that everybody talks constantly about food. Not just talk about it, they critique it. Before, during and after the meal. They talk about the appearance, the aroma, how well cooked or not, are things sliced evenly.

        He was horrified. Not only did he think it was crude, he thought they were being extremely rude to he host or cook. Except… the host or cook was right the in the conversation critiquing the meal too! “Yes, I did leave it in a little long, but I like the way the flavor turned out, even though it’s tough.”

        And everybody would agree about the flavor, and discuss ways to get the flavor without risking the toughness.

        The two of us who were talking with this guy, both looked at each other in shock at what he was saying. (She was Creole, I’m of French Canadian extraction.) And we both said: “You mean there are places where you DON’T critique the meal as you eat it?”

        The idea of not discussing the food in depth as you ate was unimaginable to both of us.

        And I feel that kind of difference when I go into places with a heavy Indie presence. People take offense at things which aren’t even insulting. Honestly, it’s not even a matter of being tough or sensitive. It’s just not negative to someone who has been knocking around traditional publishing.

        The reason I left Kindleboards was because this king of misunderstanding prevented serious useful discussion from getting off the ground.

        And I’ll have to admit, after years of watching, if there is PTSD, the other side’s behavior simply hasn’t risen to the level of triggering an auto-response. Sure, there are abusive individuals, but the pattern comes from misunderstanding, not abuse. IMHO, only.

        • Some of it might be hyper-sensitivity on the part of the indie crowd. However, perhaps traditional writers should pause to think before they speak about it. It sounds very much like an ingrained prejudice now, one that they don’t even realize they have.

        • People don’t have to be offended to challenge ideas. I’d say a comparison of her initial remarks to her clarification indicates people didn’t misread either.

          • Nobody’s saying you shouldn’t challenge her ideas. Those who simply disagree with her are not the problem. She was wrong.

            The problem is when people do take offense, and then fill the airwaves with it to be sure that everybody else hears about it. And keep piling on with innuendos and outright personal attacks on her character.

            That’s just plain unnecessary.

            • Yes. There is an attitude, pretty much everywhere on the internet, that once you take offense at someone’s remarks, if that person does not grovel abjectly (and sufficiently) for having the temerity to have made them, you will make their lives miserable forever.

              Note that I am not saying that’s what’s happening here. But the internet is awfully full of unforgiving people.

              Life is too short to be so angry, so often.

            • OK. That’s an important distinction. But I think we have to step through it. First we have to look at remarks in a dispassionate manner to determine what was said. Only then can we judge if the reaction is appropriate. However, in judging a reaction to be inappropriate, we don’t have to soft-pedal the remarks to make the point.

            • I was just at a writers conference and there was no mistaking the vehement and dismissive tone against self-publishing, both from pros and beginning writers (though there were plenty of others who were quite supportive of it.)

              Too many pros are still stuck where Ms. Grafton admits she is, mistaking indie publishing as the old vanity publishing. The old model works for them (as one pro said, “I write a book, I send it in, I get a check. I like this”) and they don’t get how it’s not that way anymore (or, more frightening, they might not get how much worse the old model has become and how much of their rights they might be signing away with each new contract).

            • (*beth giggles* I like the new model. I write a book. I get the book edited to the best of my ability. I get a cover for the book (BEST PART EVER!). I send the book in. I get a direct deposit in 2 months/next quarter. I LIKE THIS!)

              (Also, getting covers is awesome. It would be hard to give that up. Oh, right, I don’t have to! *beth runs away cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West in a waterproof spacesuit*)

            • @ABeth … great comment.

              The best way for SG to repair the whole situation is to take one of her ‘trunk novels’, edit it with her current skills, and indie-publish. There is no question she will have immediate success because she already has a fan base and so has a jump on the rest of the authors starting out.

        • I think I’ve fallen in love with the food analogy.

          I respect your prespective, and maybe PTSD is too strong a term. The other thought was ‘chip on our (collective) shoulders’ but that has a different connotation.

          AND I get the point about how (collectively) we don’t discuss how to make our writing better, just how to market it better.

          We all know there is a lot of crap out there…not my books, or your books, but we’ve all seen it…maybe we should be talking more about how to improve quality?

          There are all kinds of sites where writers can post work or take free classes. I spent a great deal of time on those sites “honing my craft.” Honestly, if it wasn’t for Authonomy or Forward Motion I’d still be struggling to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

          Great points, Camille LaGuire!

          • Hey, another Forward Motion For Writers member? Nice to see you here. By the way, the free workshops are starting up again big-time in 2013. Plus there are the “Back To School For Writer” classes starting in September. I plan on taking advantage of them. I love classes to help bring my craft up to a new level.

      • No PTSD. Her remarks concerning other authors being lazy and not bothering to learn their craft were totally uncalled for.

        I’m not going to bother to hold a grudge, but they were ugly and mean remarks that made her look bad.

        • Granted, “Lazy” was over the top, but really, where do we go to ‘hone our craft’ and how to go about it?

          I know what I had to do – I joined an author critique site, took some classes and posted some work. I learned from the judgement of my peers. Then I took the revised work to another site to get a second opinion.

          Not everyone has the RL time to invest 2 years revising a single novel that way. I thought it was well worth it – my 2nd novel benefited from the experience.

  6. She’s been doing the same job for 40+ years, and doing it successfully. And like Camille, I think some of what she said was taken out of context, and that perhaps she’s right on one front, and that learning to be resilient (which is not the same as the dismissive “harden up” we discussed elsewhere) is not a bad thing. It is to be hoped, as well, that some kind and enterprising soul offers to help show her how those old manuscripts could be turned into cold hard cash.

    Camille is also correct (as she often is), that people should consider not being quite so knee-jerk and ready to challenge someone to fisticuffs at any perceived slight. Be more willing to educate (politely) rather than bludgeon.

  7. Grafton’s problem isn’t that her words were taken out of context but the context into which *she* put them in.

    This bit had me on the verge of laughter-induced injury:

    “When I’m asked for advice I warn many writers about the charlatans lurking out there. I warn about the risk of being taken in by those who promise more than they actually deliver and do so at a writers expense.”

    So she routinely warns writers about the big publishing houses? 😀

    • Felix, until a couple of years ago, the big publishing houses were the best thing going, and self-publishing was the realm of crooks and charlatans. And the picture she was painting of the industry (especially of self-publishing) had not changed in forty years.

      Seriously, she took her eye off the ball, but there was no reason for her to doubt that what has been absolutely true for so many decades can have changed so quickly.

      She’s not an idiot, she just has a completely understandable blindspot.

      • Camile –

        I agree with Felix’s point. The Big Publishing houses both are and were charlatans.

        The fact that they were the only thing going meant they could get away with it.

        • Mira:

          I read his point as claiming that she should treat legitimate publishers the same as the vanity press she believed she was talking about when she said “self-publishing.”

          All that does is show an extreme ignorance of both Grafton and also what vanity press really is. And of the realities of publishing before indie publishing came long.

          She doesn’t go around telling people to drink the coolaid and suck up to publishers. She doesn’t neglect to mention the bad practices. She knows publishing, and gives realistic advice on it… for people interested in traditional publishing.

          When self-publishing was not a viable option, you HAD to work with real publishers. You couldn’t just say “Stay away from them too!”

          • My point is that she saw the metaphorical “mote in the self-publishers eye” instead of the much bigger and prominent beam in the BPHs’. (I’ve been lurking around here long enough to know I don’t have to list the contractual “sins” of the BPHs. But I could list a few from just the last month–to keep the list short.)

            It’s all a matter of where she comes from.
            She sees the world the way she wants to see it, unchanged since 1960, rather than how it is. Which is typical of an industry still trying to run on a 19th century model and crashing into modernity at every step.

            The book industry has seen 4 retailing revolutions in her lifetime yet she has internalized none of the four. And she blythely seeks to promote 60’s value of blissful conformity instead of informed decision-making. Self-publishing isn’t for everybody to pursue but it also isn’t for everybody to avoid.

            Inserting 60’s sensibilities into 21st century America (unless you’re writing MAD MEN) is a sure prescription for disaster. And she just volunteered as the poster child for the next few weeks at least. In her day, meekly putting up with “Industry standard practices” may have been the only viable option but its the 21st century out there. No flying cars but we do have car-sized robots on mars, cancer cures in testing, pocket-sized libraries, death rays and neuronic whips, and plenty of techie razzle dazzle. And we have the internet and social media; wannabe writers are no longer naive waifs at the mercy of slick-talking agents and publishers.

            Or traditionalist writers.

            Times change: the wisdom of one era becomes the misinformation of the next. Or worse, the flame bait.

        • Agreed. And everyone is forgetting that aspiring writers are “wannabes.” And anyone who writes in a coffee shop is just trying to get attention.

          Just as with a political gaffe, we got the truth to begin with. Now we get the damage control. Nowhere in the original and offensive remarks were these charlatans mentioned. Just the words “lazy” and “wannabe.”

          Not buying it, Sue. A simple apology would have gotten my retraction. These attempts to “clarify” have me shaking my head.

          • I have to agree with Hugh, here. If there hadn’t been a hue and cry against what Grafton said, would she have bothered with her “clarification?” No. She isn’t clarifying her remarks at all, but saying something completely different than what she said the first time.

      • Camille,
        A “completely understandable blindspot”? I bet that’s an understatement. I would imagine Putnam is keeping her on a tiny desert island, far away from the nasty new world of self-publishing (and 35-70% earnings.) I seriously doubt they want her updated on the new wave. =)

        • Not if she’s got trunk books that she might figure out how to publish — and that she’d get rather a lot more cash per sale. That sort of knowledge could be very dangerous… to her publisher.

  8. Given that the interview itself was the context we had within which to interpret Ms. Grafton’s statements, I don’t feel I took her remarks out of context at that point. I read and re-read the interview, and felt that she said what she wanted to say on the subject, and was fairly quoted by Red Tash. I’ll stand by not misunderstanding her intent at that time.

    That said, props to Ms. Grafton for owning her lack of understanding on the subject, and her confusion between self-publishing and “self-publishing” schemes. She is almost certainly not alone in that among people who’ve made their living in establishment publishing for as long as she has. The fact she sought out more information and more understanding speaks well for her.

  9. I’m glad Ms. Grafton realized she used a poor choice of words in the original interview.

    To me what’s more disturbing is seeing the same mistakes made across different industries over and over. I entered the computer field in the late ’80’s when PCs rapidly replaced mainframes. I watched too many older colleagues claim the PC was just a fad, and subsequently get released from their job because they no longer had the skill set to be relevant.

    In any field, the individual needs to keep abreast of current trends and learn adaptability. I actually feel sorry for folks like Turow, Picoult and Grafton, who can’t figure out how to make the changes in their field work for them.

  10. It does seem there is a fundamental issue of language, in that the phrase “self-publishing” really did refer to exploitive vanity publishing almost exclusively until, what, 2009? And the way we use it now, it refers to an last antithetical process, insofar as the direction in which the revenue generated flows. I almost rather we referred to DIY publishing / today’s self-publishing as direct publishing or something like that, but I think the toothpaste’s already out of that particular tube.

    • Hi, Genvieve. I agree that the term self publishing comes with a full set of cheap luggage and I think that’s why we now have all kinds of indie definitions. I think the problem of referring to self publishing as DIY publishing is that there a thriving business out there for DIY books so there will just be a different confusion.

      • How about disintermediated publishing? A mouthful to be sure, but it is not a term loaded with prior meaning 😉

    • Actually, self-publishing was never the same beast as vanity publishing. I still have a copy of Tom and Marilyn Ross’s Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 1986 edition. It’s full of (now obsolete) information on how to deal directly with copy editors, typesetters, designers, printers, and distributors, how to deal with retailers, how to get reviews and attention for your book, and above all, how NOT to get taken in by vanity presses.

      The trouble is that vanity presses have been selling themselves for decades as if they had something to do with self-publishing, and boatloads of ignorant people have bought the lies.

  11. A nice apology.

    • She never once apologized.

      • But that’s about the best you’re going to get, Hugh. An apology is one of the hardest things for a person to do.

        • The only real reason for ‘accepting’ her ‘apology’ is that her remarks are not worth holding a grudge over. She has blinkers on and doesn’t bother to follow the trends in her own industry. What does that say about her? It certainly doesn’t make me think I should be worried about her opinion. She showed herself as rude and ungracious with her remarks about writers being lazy, but she’s not important enough to me to be that upset that she was rude.

  12. Ignorance is usually a poor excuse, especially when it’s in your chosen profession, but I thought she owned her error well. So I, for one, applaud her follow-up interview.

    If Ms. Grafton educates herself on the changes happening around her I wonder how her relationship with her agent will change, along with all the other people who kept her in the dark.

    We may just see those long-lost manuscripts sooner than we all think.

  13. So, she clarifies one short comment (without a doubt at the request of her agent/publisher) by admitting her ignorance about self-publishing, and everyone says, “Yay, Sue!“ and disregards what she said next about the authors themselves?

    “The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish. I’ve got one sitting on my desk right now and I’ve received hundreds of them over the years. Sorry about that, but it’s the truth. The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, 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. This is not an quick do-it-yourself home project. Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare 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. Don’t get me started. Oops..you already did.”

    Am I being punk’d? 🙂

    • Dan, at the risk of sounding churlish and taking a beating, she’s right. I read lots and lots of self pubbed stuff. And I use the “look inside” feature on even more. And you know what? There’s a serious lot of crap out there. She’s absolutely right in what she says that too many writers think they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread and arent’ bothering to learn the actual craft. Some newbie throws together 50K words in NaNoWrite, and on December 1st it’s for sale on Amazon. I’m not saying it’s true for ALL self pubbed work by a long shot, but based on my totally unscientific experience, for every 10 self pubbed novels I buy, maybe ONE actually holds up and is readable the whole way through. That’s a pretty big fail rate. There’s an awful lot of the Dunning–Kruger effect out there. IMHO.

      • Look, Kat, it’s clear that a lot of people want to believe that Grafton is a wonderful, saintly woman who just misspoke or was misunderstood, so I give up. And the next time that another big-name author does the same thing, I’ll stand aside as people make excuses for them, too.

        • Only as regards the paragraph you quoted, I didn’t say she was misunderstood, or needed to be defended.

          I said she was absolutely correct. Too many people publish without bothering to learn how to write.

          • So all self-published authors are people who can’t be bothered to learn how to write? That’s what you think she’s correct about? Because that is what she said.

            • This position of some close-minded people will become ever more tenuous as more and more established authors move into self-publishing. Lawrence Block, Brandon Sanderson, and Terry Goodkind are a few of the latest. Sue’s comments also ignore those of us in self-publishing who have had piles of money shoved our way by major publishers, along with contracts that nobody in their right mind should sign (and yet most do).

              Sue will run out of letters in the alphabet before she has a chance to thank us, but it will be because of indies holding out and traditionals jumping ship that ebook royalties move from the ridiculous lows common today. And as non-compete clauses vanish from the boilerplate, it will be these two camps to thank. As contracts in the US begin to expire after five or seven years, just as my foreign rights contracts do, it will be these two groups.

              The move to self publishing and those of us who choose to stay there will make writing more lucrative and contracts more fair for everyone. And the people who will ultimately benefit can call us names and denigrate our devotion to the craft while we fight for what we believe is right.

        • Dan, I don’t think for a moment she’s completely changed her mind about author-centered publishing. For one thing, she still knows next to nothing. And I don’t think anyone misunderstood her original remarks, which were contemptuous of those of us who publish our own works. I do think, if she’s found another way of thinking about this, she won’t be out there like Jodi Picoult and Brad Thor and I don’t know how many others who denigrate what we’re doing to any journalist who will listen.

          Yes, a lot of indie authors publish books that don’t stand up in writing or editing quality to a lot of big-pub books. And a lot of people on the other side–and yes,I wish there weren’t sides to this, but there are; it’s not all just “publishing.” Not yet–a lot of those people judge all of us by those books, or fear the infamous “tsunami of crap.”

          We have to justify our professional existence and our books, whereas authors like Sue Grafton don’t, even though indies like Hugh Howey can write rings around her. It’s bloody unfair. But I’m done burning her in effigy. I really think Red Tash made us some major inroads with one grumpy bestselling author, and that’s a start. I don’t think we scared Sue Grafton into a retraction; I don’t think the few of us that spoke up have that kind of clout. I think she actually went seeking some understanding, and found a bit of it. Time will tell, I guess.

      • Yeah, sorry about that Kat. I’m number 9 on that list. (I get impatient).

        Dan, we hammered her when she made the comments. Now that she issued essentially a retraction (which went a lot further than many would do), we’re forgiving her and moving on. If she continues (or another Author says similar things) we’ll hammer her (them) again. But I don’t see any reason to hold a grudge against Grafton.

        • Why is it necessary to “hammer” someone who is in error? Isn’t educating them more effective? And doing so politely? Strictly from personal experience, if someone is “hammerering” me, I’m highly unlikey to hear a thing they’re trying to say, and highly likely to write them off as, shall we simply say, a “very bad word”?

          • Exactly, but I’d take it further: What’s the point of wasting your time on it, period?

            And wasting time of your fellow writers on it? When you just “hammer” you don’t add anything to the knowledge of anyone — you just waste everyone’s time, including that of your friends.

            Why not just say “that’s not my experience” and then give your side of the story in your own blog post? Or even in a comment on the article?

            Or even not say anything at all?

            Do you really think “hammering” anyone does anything but cause you to lose credibility?

            • Maybe I used the wrong word. Would you prefer “call out” or “correct”?

            • Wait a minute, I saw Camille used “challenged” earlier–that’s a good word. Please, substitute “challenge” for “hammer” in my earlier post. “Hammer” was a bit much? Then again, I liked Howey’s STFU response.

              Camille, you’ve waisted a great deal of time here defending Grafton–ineffectively, I’ll add. Sorry, if that sounds confrontational. I don’t mean it to be because I generally enjoy your comments.

      • I agree that there’s a lot of crap out there in indie publishing, but there’s also a lot of crap out there in the traditional world. Ever made the mistake of picking up a copy of Pregnesia?

        The thing that irks me most about Ms. Grafton’s comments is her implication that if a publishing house bought off on it, then it is wonderful. I think one of the reasons the traditional world is in decline is the quality it puts out. Not the only reason, but part of it.

        • I couldn’t agree with you more! There are great books that are self-published, and there is also garbage. But the same goes for traditional publishing, they put out a lot of garbage too. Therefore it’s a ridiculous argument, based on an old school, one-sided author’s opinion. And it’s an argument that within a few years will no longer be valid, as traditional publishing houses – who thought that they would always be the only gatekeepers, continue to slide into the abyss with their old fashioned ways.

    • Dan, it’s a question of knowing when to let something go. Both sides have spewed vitriol in a conflict that probably won’t exit in five years. Believe me, I understand your feelings. I had a NYT best selling traditional author I know and respected spit on me when I said I was going to indie publish. Yes, I literally had someone else’s spit on my face. She made even less of an apology than Ms. Grafton a few months ago. But it’s not worth carrying a grudge for years.

    • You are being punked, yes.

      I’m glad you posted this. I thought I was the only one.

    • What’s so hard about realizing she has a diff context for what self publishing works were like along with the process itself? I think she was right about self pub books from 10 years ago. Now you have talented and dedicated new writers (plus old “pros”) forgoing trad publishers altogether. Not the case for 95 % of her career.

      Also…how old is grafton now? 65? She may not spend time on the Internet outside of a few key shopping sites. My parents don’t. They picked up email in like 1995 so it’s more a choice than lack of access. The places you hear about the new self pubbing are forums like this…not places someone like my parents (and maybe grafton) would go. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to let the offense go when she admits she spoke without the most current info. I read that as relating to the entire subject which includes the author part.

      • Age is no excuse. Lawrence Block is older than Grafton and he’s become an indie pubbing wiz.

      • Oh,give me a break. If Lawrence Block can figure out how to use a browser and self-publishes, I should think Sue Grafton could as well. Most people in her age group worked for years on computers. The idea that computers were invented ten years ago and the dear old-folk never saw them before is absurd.

        • Using a computer in no way shape or form equates to trolling the Internet or using it as a social tool via blogosphere, twitter, forums which are the hotbeds for disintermediated publishing. The people of that age who use the web in the same way someone of 30 does are the exception not the rule.

    • Dan I don’t see anything wrong with that quote up to the following point.

      “Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare 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. Don’t get me started. Oops..you already did.”

      Her apology then states that she is unaware how self publishing actually works these days and doesn’t understand how people can make money self-publishing. Given that confession I can understand why she believed that the only people self publishing were the newbies. She obviously does not know that established authors are self publishing and that many are making good money.

      I have never read a single Grafton book and I don’t really have an opinion of her but it seemed like a sincere effort to apologize based on her outdated notion of self-publishing.

      • Tom, more from her statement:

        “My remark about self-publishing was meant as a caution, which I think some of you finally understood when we exchanged notes on the subject.”

        Not only does she attempt to re-frame her “lazy” comment and subsequent lambasting of self-pubbers as being a caution to writers about the “charlatans” out there (something which she didn’t even partially reference in her original interview), but she implies that other people are dumb for not understanding that non-existent connection.

        The only thing she kind of admits regarding her harsh words about authors (not the self-publishing industry itself, which she had no choice but to admit she knows nothing about) is that the authors may work hard. Hey, thanks, Sue!

        She didn’t come close to clarifying or walking back her remarks that self-pubbers are entitled, disrespectful, voyeuristic amateurs. Why? Because she was honest about her feelings the first time, and she made sure that people knew that.

        I’m a firm believer that, if you truly didn’t mean what you said, you leave NO doubt that you think you were an insensitive jerk. I can’t believe so many people are throwing themselves back at her feet after this mostly non-apology. But, hey, vive la difference, and that’s why I love this place.

  14. Who said anything about carrying a grudge? I just don’t think she should be applauded for issuing a half-assed, p.r.-driven apology for things she obviously meant to say (but never thought would come back to bite her). But that’s just me.

    Aaaaanyway, moving on.

    • I wonder how much was one of those “forced apologies” where she suddenly discovered just how much she angered people by what she said.

    • Not just you; me, too. It’s fine that she apologized — we all screw up — but what’s the point of claiming, as some here are doing, that we somehow misread or misinterpreted what Ms. Grafton said, when she herself admits that she was wrong? One’s words really do mean something; how can any writer believe otherwise?

  15. There’s a slight problem here. Ms. Grafton knows the trade-publishing side of things well; therefore she is perfectly aware that many writers have the first book she or he has ever written trade-published. Yet, she is not calling these novelists ‘wannabes’ or ‘disrespectful’.

    Also, she’s making a statement about indie authors “without bothering to read, study, or do the research” about indie authors first (whilst telling authors they need to do exactly that).

    Sue’s statement:
    “I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, 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.”

    And there’s another problem – the apology is hardly an apology. It’s just a mishmash of words calculated to diffuse and it’s worse than no apology at all. Language is meant to be clear and direct. I think Ms. Grafton needs a lesson in the proper use of language.

  16. It is fine that she apologized but for someone who is a professional writer, and presumably reads some trade publications, the degree of ignorance of new publishing trends is almost eccentric in its scope. I would have understood better if she felt like Turow that traditional publishing is still the better option, but to have never heard of successful indie writers means she has almost wilfully cut herself off from her profession. Come on, surely she heard that Lawrence Block has gone indie?

    • Ignorance of the law is no defense.

      There is, however, a warm fuzzy feeling an established author gets from the publishing industry (until the author’s books don’t sell, and the author is dumped by the publishing house).

      It must be very hard to give up that warm fuzzy. The feeling that the gods have anointed you to be one of the elite. Dick Francis, for example, died before it happened to him. Francis (and Grafton) write current-world mysteries – and it is statistically unlikely they will be read 100 years from now.

      I feel for the traditional writer in one main way: their warm fuzzy is an incredibly expensive habit. Lawrence Block has been mentioned. He is probably now setting up lovely streams of income from his writing he has publication rights to. Ms. Grafton is not.

      “We have this golden goose who writes for us, makes us heaps of money,” says a publisher. “And all we have to do is give her a tiny bit of the income – and some warm fuzzy – to keep her happy. Because she is clueless that she could get a lot more from her own work if she sold it herself.”

      Ignorance of modern publishing opportunities costs a lot. The punishment fits the crime.

  17. The way I read it, her wakeup call wasn’t driven by regret at having offended the easily offended–it was more that she suddenly saw how powerful the new opportunities can be sometimes.

    And I completely agree with her that the amount of sheer dreck that shows up on amazon and smashwords these days is mind-boggling. I wouldn’t have things any other way, but come on, people, let’s not be afraid to call a spade a spade…

  18. Umm, I think a lot of you missed the experience her previous comment was based on. She’s had 30+ years of experience watching vanity presses fleece authors. I’m always surprised that people expect long time authors to be that aware of how self-publishing has changed.

    • “I’m always surprised that people expect long time authors to be that aware of how self-publishing has changed.”

      In pretty much any other business, workers are expected to know what’s happening in their field of business.

      • Yes. And most writers have been perfectly fine to be coddled by their agents, editors, and publishing companies until very recently.

        Kris Rusch has been writing for years about how that behavior needs to stop.

      • LOL. I know plenty of people who know nothing about what’s happening in their field outside their office building. When all your friends/coworkers have the same blind spots as you how often do you notice new things?

        • So, I guess the next in a long line of things that we have to assume in order to excuse her rant … after “She doesn’t keep up with her own industry” … is “Not only does she not keep up with her own industry, but she’s not even self-aware enough to realize that she probably shouldn’t be speaking about it.”

          • Excuse her for having an opinion that’s wrong? Lots of people are wrong and speak out anyways, politics is full of it. As a Canadian I see people like Ann Coulter and others say the 911 hijackers came from Canada for example. Talking like that about a situation where many people died annoys me a hell of a lot more than some author making a comment in ignorance. She’s a political commentator and should know the facts in her ‘industry’.

            JR Tomlin below has a comment ‘perhaps they’re just lazy’. Complacent would be the word I’d use.

    • It’s the industry in which presumably they make a living. Of COURSE, they should be aware of important changes in the industry. Smart ones are. The others… well, perhaps they’re just lazy.

  19. I’ve got 40 years experience watching vanity presses misrepresent their editing quality and costs and promises of ‘distribution.’ I’m also well published by two of the big six, so called. We ‘long time authors’ are not luddites. Most of us know VERY well about ebooks, the opportunities there, the brilliant idea of indie publishing, the huge income to be derived in ebooks, esp when one has an established platform from wide bookstore and international distribution as Grafton and myself and many many other ‘old authors’ have. But, many ‘old authors’ are legally constrained often by prior contracts signed esp in the early 1990s forward that often carry a non-compete clause and also a clause by way of A. Vitale, grabbing ‘all rights not yet invented.’ Serious. BUT: Given the world today, it begs credulity that a ‘long time author’ doesnt know the score in all manner of publishing opptys. That one who attacked self-pub WRITERS in the interview, NOT the Vanity Publishers. Sorry, but the creds just are not there for ‘not knowing.’

    Also, big publishers didnt just start printing pap or crap ‘a couple years ago.’ That’s as ignorant as Grafton was with her original remarks about authors writing in coffee shops, people publishing on their own, and onward.

    Lastly, anyone who gives ‘much time to young writers’ would then know, as many of us know, that many many young writers, work their minds and creative spirit to the bone and STILL are not the most facile writers in the world. The trope about oh how hard one has to work in order to be a REAL writer, has NO basis in reality. It may be so, but it also may not be so. Hard work alone is not enough. One would also need luck, and breaks. Fortunately in indie publishing, the breaks of someone taking your 8th or 20th or 1st novel, is not dependent on years of waiting around.

    Market says that there will be many indie publishers who will compete with all formulaic novels written for big six. None of the formulaic series writers of the big six are without being shadowed in this very moment. I know two good writers who are writing their own alphabet series, and another writing a numeric series (far more expandable by far) not as fanfic, but because they think they can do far better in plot, twists and intrigue that the current entrenched in old publishing world. We’ll see. My hunch is there will be room enough– with the readers– for both and all… it’s just that indie publishing at its best will be up and running–and selling– from 12-18 months before the old guard writers ever see their hardback in the mail and their pb 12 months later, and their series novel ebook overpriced 3-6 months after first pub in hb.

    It’s a new world, a highly COMPETITIVE world that’s based on good writing and speed of publishing. “Old authors’ who are hoping the new world will go away, are living in X-land, for x’ed out of the running. I know of no profession, racing, tennis, building, florists, or doctors where those who pride themselves as being the top of the top, do not make the time daily to be aware of what is new, what controversies prevail, what tools are effective, and especially, who/what is gaining ground and going to outrun them, not in talent, in technology. The ‘old authors’ work as I see it is to praise the authors who strive, to dunn those, by name, who take advantage of the hopeful and/or inexperienced. That did not happen in the interview. Not even close.

  20. When I woke up this morning I almost dreaded getting online. I hoped I had not inadvertently joined a lynch mob and I’m glad to see that I haven’t. Some seem to be still voting on the subject though.

    I think if we go back to her original interview and ask ourselves a few questions this will be easier. First, think objectively; what did Ms. Grafton have to gain by saying what she said? If your answer is nothing, then what was her intent? She isn’t known for being a voice for the traditional publishing machine, as we see in say Mr. Turrow. If her intent was to make a bold statement the venue she made her remarks in was rather small, if compared to what she could have used. She doesn’t strike me as the crusader type, and I don’t think she’s a publicity hound as I see in our friend Ewan.

    I did something simple with her remarks. I transferred them to Word and substituted “vanity” for “self” and “indie” and then read it again. Give it a try.

    Then stay objective and ask what do we as self publishers have to gain by beating this issue to death? Are we trying to recruit her to “our” side? Rescue her from her big six publisher? What do we have to gain?

    Ms. Grafton is a successful author. She makes a good living by writing and has a huge fan-base. She gets to write every day! Isn’t that what we all are striving for? What reason does she have for following the indie movement? She has no need to do so.

    “The indie success stories aren’t the rule. They’re the exception. The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish. I’ve got one sitting on my desk right now and I’ve received hundreds of them over the years.”

    How does she have hundreds of self-published books that she’s received over the years? The self-pub that we know has only been around for a few years at the most, unless she meant vanity publishing?

    I think she made some ignorant remarks using the wrong terminology, and I’m ready to move on to the next post.

    What else you got for us today PG?

    • How does she have a self-published book on her desk that came from vanity publishing, which practically vanished three years ago? Isn’t it more likely that the book on her desk is from the age of POD?

      • Vanity/Subsidy publishing is still alive and well. AuthorSolutions and it’s many offshots was just purchaced by a big 6. Tate is still around, still taking money. In fact, in this indie climate, more and more subsidy pubslishers are popping up like mushrooms, ready to take money from eager newbies who’ve heard “theres’ gold in them thar hills”, so there is a constant, ongoing need for vigilance. And “POD” stands for Print On Demand and is how many, many publishers work today in a perfectly valid way. If someone buys the paper version of your self pubbed work, it’s POD. Unfortunately, too many people use the term “POD” and “subsidy” as if they were interchangeable. They are two entirely different things.

    • Right there with you. Glad to see the discussion thoughtfully avoiding the lynch mob mentality.

  21. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind; and six Sue Grafton novels the world has never seen are a pretty good amount of backlist for her to be able to fix up and sell. Realizing you have potential money sitting around doing nothing is a great incentive to rethink one’s assumptions.

    Re: “hundreds of self-published books” — A lot of would-be authors used to send their mss to established authors (even when told not to). Probably a lot of people also send gift books or blurb request books to authors they like or admire. (And she probably buys books at mystery conventions, also.)

  22. Grafton and her context, knowledge, motives, or experience really aren’t that important. What is important is challenging false information when it’s expressed in public. The ideas that were expressed are wrong regardless of who expressed them. They are fair game.

  23. We’ve been seeing a lot of this lately (remember the fuss that brewed up with Shannon Hale a few weeks back). I think the TradPub authors are starting to step out into the sunlight, rub their eyes, and see that there are alternatives out there.

    I think Sue’s original words were spoken out of faith in what the traditional industry has been telling her and her fellow writers. I really like that she was willing to admit she might have been wrong about Indie publishing.

  24. Sue Grafton admits being out of her league when it comes to self-publishing and I believe she is, in spite of numerous notes with many because she seems to associate it with e-books only.
    She is also confusing self-publishing with vanity publishing (I warn many writers about the charlatans lurking out there. I warn about the risk of being taken in by those who promise more than they actually deliver and do so at a writers expense.)
    Perhaps Ms. Grafton is just plain old out-of-touch, as her statement is meant to be apologetic and sincere but may have caused a deeper hole to form. Time to be quiet for a bit, I think.

  25. I’m going to make this short as I have books to write.

    Do I believe that Sue has been living under a rock and had no idea that indie publishing is now profitable for many authors? No. Did I see an actual apology in her statement? No. But that’s okay. What Sue Grafton says doesn’t change my personal goals as a writer.

    And while I agree that many indie books are not ready to be published, there are those gems that are paving the way for a much better standard in the publishing industry.

    Those are the authors whose opinions matter to me.

  26. I’ve been traditionally published for 30 years by such places as HarperCollins and NAL/Penguin. I’ve just SELF-PUBLISHED my new mystery, the first in a series.

    It ain’t half bad, but it ain’t superb either. I’ve been working to become a better writer for these 30 years, and, lord knows, I’m inching along.

    The only part of this equation and discussion I find odd is the assumption that in working hard at our writing, we’ll, perforce, get better. Sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t. I’m sure Ms. Grafton is entirely clear about her own shortcomings, as I am about mine.

    We do the best we can, and I think we should be teachers to one another.

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